The AR-15 has some of the best ergonomics of any rifle in production. But one of the lacking aspects of these ergos, is the charging handle.
Originally, the handle was designed to be used with the shooting hand’s middle and index fingers. The problem with this is two-fold: first, it causes the shooter to remove their shooting hand from the pistol grip, so they can’t fire the weapon if they suddenly need to. And second, it relies on somewhat fine motor skills to perform a common, but critical function of the gun’s manual of arms.
The latter being an issue during high stress moments, where adrenaline dumps cause a lack of fine motor skills. This could make a shooter fumble with the controls when a successful reload matters most.
Years later, shooters learned to charge the handle from the left side with their support hand to mitigate part of this issue. This was done in light of experience gained from clearing malfunctions and running guns hard in competition, and combat.
The problem with this, is that the charging handle and its latch aren’t designed for the increased pressure and tension on one side. Thus, utilizing mil-spec standard charging handles in this manner can lead to premature wear and failure.
In response, many companies have come up with their own versions of the charging handle that incorporate larger handles and reinforced components. Yet, most of these solutions fail to address the core problem: the use of a charging latch.
So when I heard the folks at Devil Dog Concepts were taking a different approach, I jumped at the prospect of reviewing their new product.
Enter, the DDC Hard Charger.
While other side-charging AR-15 rifles, carbines and pistols utilize a custom upper receiver and bolt carrier, DDC’s Hard Charger actually works with a standard AR-15 upper and carrier. It does this by shifting the changes to the charging handle to the outside of the device.
Essentially, they’ve built a side-charger that operates via a modified standard charging handle. While this might seem complex or possibly fragile, the truth is far from it. Because the DDC charger utilizes a Picatinny rail clamp to secure the forward portion of it, the Hard Charger has no additional leverage on the system.
Another advantage of the DDC system, is that is allows the gun to be charged like a standard AR-15 as well, since it uses a modified standard charger. This is ideal since it permits the system to keep operating even if the DDC special charger manages to fail.
Plus, since it uses a standard AR-15 upper, if other types of uppers are similar - like Wolf’s A1 - the DDC functions flawlessly on them as well.
This all sounds great, but how does it hold up to hard use?
I’ve had the DDC Hard Charger on a BCM mid-length upper that my wife, and any range guests use, now for roughly four years. In that time it has seen upwards of 10 thousand rounds. More than that, it was utilized for malfunction clearing drills I was taught by the IDF a few hundred times. This means it has seen vastly more hard use over that time period than normal.
In all this time, I’ve never had the Hard Charger fail to operate or malfunction seriously. The only thing I’ve noticed, is after 2,000 suppressed rounds, it starts to drag a decent amount inside the receiver. Though, this is the case with nearly all charging handles after so much carbon build up.
It’s an ingenious system that seems to work very well in testing. But here’s the real question: “Is it worth $169?”
Arguably, that depends. It’s not a matter of whether the product is made well enough to justify the price - it certainly is. It’s more a question of whether it adds enough functionality or improves the ergonomics of the host rifle enough to warrant the extra money.
For me, I would recommend for the shooter with tens of thousands of rounds downrange and hundreds of hours experience on an AR that it isn’t worth it. I say that, because that sort of shooter will already have so much muscle memory built up. So much so, that the different manual of arms necessitated by the Hard Charger will only slow down reloads and weapon manipulation.
But for shooters either new to the platform, or those more acquainted with side-charging designs like the Galil or the AKM, will likely find the DDC very comfortable and familiar. Overall, the Hard Charger is a well designed, well thought out design. If I really didn’t like the controls on the AR, the Hard Charger could easily remedy that. While its a neat addition to the AR-15, it would be a must on AR-inspired designs like the MPX.
Shooters interested in purchasing one, can do so over at DDC’s website.