Tiger McKee

Shootrite Firearms Academy

Manipulating the AR Rifle – Charging Handle or Bolt Release?

The AR type rifle has a charging handle to manually operate the bolt assembly, and a bolt release to be used whenever the bolt is locked to the rear. We use the charging handle to load the rifle when the bolt is in battery by cycling the handle to chamber a round. To clear malfunctions the charging handle is cycled to clean out the stoppage. Anytime the bolt is locked to the rear we use the bolt release instead of the charging handle. The AR was designed this way for a reason. It’s ergonomic, so working the bolt release is more efficient, and using the charging handle to release the bolt increases the chance of you inducing a malfunction in the rifle.

While manipulating the charging handle there are a couple of things to pay attention to. The rifle stock should always be in your shoulder, and the muzzle pointing in a safe direction. (Whenever you load the rifle the firing pin hits the primer. With a high or sensitive primer it can discharge during loading.) The charging handle is cycled using the support hand. Because of the way our shoulder, elbow and wrist of the support hand function there is a tendency when cycling the charging handle to pull back, up, and to the right. (This is for a right-handed shooter operating the charging handle with the left hand.) Make sure to pull the handle straight back and to the rear. Otherwise you can twist the charging handle, which locks up the bolt carrier, taking your rifle out of the fight.

When reloading the rifle with the bolt locked to the rear, use the bolt release. When people use the charging handle they will let their hand ride the handle forward, not releasing it completely, so they don’t get enough spring pressure to chamber a round. 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.

A right-handed shooter reloads the rifle by using the support hand to insert and seats the mag, tugging on it to insure it’s seated, and then sliding the hand up the magazine so the thumb can press the bolt release. It’s quick, simple, and efficient. The left-handed shooter seats the mag with the right hand, and uses the trigger finger to press the bolt release. Even the Colt manuals for the M16A1 and Sporter rifles say to use the bolt release. Any extra motion is wasted time, and if you’re reloading an empty weapon it means time is critical.

Use the bolt release. That’s the way the AR rifle is designed to operate, and it’s ergonomic, which is 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 they will occur without thought. This is the way to train and practice for fight properly.


September 19, 2010 - Posted by | AR-15

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