The AR type rifle is equipped with a bolt release, which releases the bolt whenever it’s locked to the rear, hence its name. There are times when we use the charging handle – loading the rifle when the bolt is in battery and clearing malfunctions – but anytime the bolt is locked to the rear – reloading the rifle – we press the bolt release, not cycle the charging handle. Working the bolt release is ergonomic, efficient, and the way the weapon is designed to operate.
A right-handed shooter reloads the rifle by using the support hand to insert and seat the magazine – I tug to insure it’s seated – and then slides the cupped fingers up the magazine and mag-well which positions the thumb in just the right place to press the bolt release. The left-handed shooter seats the mag with the right hand, and uses their trigger finger to release the bolt. The AR is designed to be ergonomic, so hitting the bolt release is much quicker than cycling the charging handle.
This technique is also efficient. You can maintain your cheekweld on the rifle while keeping the muzzle on the threat, ready for follow-up shots if necessary. To cycle the bolt you have to lift your head up off the stock, and normally at the same time the muzzle drops off target. Any extra motion, like cycling the handle, lifting your head, large slapping motions with your hand to hit the release, which under stress usually takes shooters 2-3 slaps, or dropping the weapon’s muzzle off target means you’re wasting time. When reloading an empty weapon time is crucial, and efficiency is key.
The more you work the charging handle the more chance there is of you creating a problem. For example people will ride the handle forward with their hand, which slows the bolt assembly down enough that it doesn’t strip a round off the mag or chamber it correctly. This is especially true with a fully loaded magazine because it takes a lot of force to strip those first few rounds out of the mag.
Shooters will short stroke the handle, creating a stoppage, such as not ejecting a round or empty case. When it’s necessary I can work the charging handle, but anytime the bolt is locked to the rear pressing the release is our best option and course of action
Use the bolt release. That’s the way the AR rifle is designed to operate and it’s ergonomic, which translates into efficient and quick. Practice all manipulations; learn when to use the bolt release or why you cycle the charging handle. Then, when you need these skills you’re able to apply them properly and without conscious thought. This may seem like a small matter to some, but in a fight often times the little things can lead to ugly stuff. Train and practice accordingly, so you’ll fight properly.