Bear Creek Arsenal BC-15 Complete 5.56 NATO Rifle Length Upper

Recently, I got to spend some time with the Bear Creek Arsenal BC-15. Bear Creek Arsenal is known for quality firearms and accessories, at affordable prices. There’s no magic to this, it’s actually a simple formula. They build everything in-house, machining barrels and receivers from bar stock and billet. Then they sell directly to the consumer, eliminating the markup that wholesalers and retailers typically add. Whether you’re building an AR on a budget, or just want a plinker with money left over for ammo, they’ve got you covered.

Bear Creek Arsenal BC-15 Complete 5.56 NATO Rifle Length Upper right side view.
Bear Creek Arsenal BC-15 Complete 5.56 NATO Rifle Length Upper right side view.

 

I reached out to them requesting a specific upper, as I wanted to build a budget AR-15. Note that this doesn’t mean cheap, just affordable. My requirements were a 16″ barrel, with a mid-length gas system and some M-LOK slots for accessories. Nothing too fancy, I just wanted that softer-shooting gas system, ready to accessorize to my needs. With dozens of uppers and full rifles to choose from, this was an easy request for them. Their BC-15 fits that bill exactly, with their own patent-protected right-side charging handle, and it even includes the BCG. Current price is $211.96, which sounds low, but only because it hasn’t been marked up two times before it gets into your hands.

Bear Creek Arsenal BC-15 Complete 5.56 NATO Rifle Length Upper left side view.
Bear Creek Arsenal BC-15 Complete 5.56 NATO Rifle Length Upper left side view.

Specifications and Features

  • The BCA BC-15 AR-15 billet upper is a budget AR-15 upper in name alone. It’s got a quality 16″ 4150 Chrome Moly Vanadium barrel chambered in 5.56 NATO. This steel is the choice of the military, as it’s durable and handles the high heat of sustained fire very well. Whether or not you have a rich Uncle Sam providing your ammo, you can still expect a very long life out of this barrel. It’s also threaded 1/2″ x 28, and topped with a muzzle device.
  • With a 1:7 twist rate, this barrel will easily stabilize a brand range of bullet weights but should prefer some of the heavier rounds. While the M4 contour might not be everyone’s first choice, it’s perfectly fine for most applications. Although a heavier profile may offer even better accuracy, that would also require better ammo. And that would be contrary to the goal of this rifle, which is to keep things affordable.
  • My first AR had a mid-length gas, and I have come to appreciate that over the carbine length. Obvious benefits are greater reliability and smoother operation. If it goes bang every time, makes follow-up shots quicker, and helps parts last longer, I’m all for it.
  • Bear Creek Arsenal makes their own handguards, and they’re finished quite nicely. They’ve got four QD swivel holes, two each at 3 and 9 o’clock, fore and aft.  Magpul’s M-LOK slots along the sides and bottom allow for easy attachment of lights, lasers, hand stops, and more.
  • Of course, the bolt carrier group is included, as this upper uses BCA’s awesome right-side charging handle.
  • Everything has a Parkerized finish which looks great and should wear well. If that doesn’t appeal to you, they offer the same upper with a Black Nitride finish as well.

My build for this review

I’m fortunate to have a local friend who’s a home-based FFL. My Aero Precision lower with a budget LPK (no trigger) was less than $100 in total. Digging through my spares, I found that I already had a buffer tube and buffer, along with some Hogue furniture. Another local friend hooked me up with a Timney AR-15 Competition trigger. Yes, the trigger retails for more than the complete upper, but I paid much less than retail. Had I used a mil-spec trigger and had to complete the lower with a new stock, grip, buffer, and tube, I would still be at around $200 for the finished lower.

A complete AR-15, based on the Bear Creek Arsenal BC-15 Complete 5.56 NATO Rifle Length Upper.
A complete AR-15, based on the Bear Creek Arsenal BC-15 Complete 5.56 NATO Rifle Length Upper.

 

Temporarily, the BC-15 is topped with an Athlon Midas TSP1 green/red dot. There are plenty of things to like about this optic, including the price. I’m doing a full review of it, which will be published in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, it’s ideal for this rifle, as it carries an MSRP of $299.99, but can be found for a bit less. It matches the character of this project – “budget”, without being cheap. And most of my magazines are Magpul, because they are affordable too, and they just plain work.

Range time

With the unmagnified Athlon Midas TSP1, I wasn’t planning on shooting tiny groups at a distance. Instead, we just ran some drills on targets from 50 yards out to about 100 yards. We are limited to that distance for most of our shooting since we shoot on public land with a mountain as a backstop. Other spots offer a bit more room, but they weren’t available during the time of the review. Hitting soda cans at 50 yards was easy, though it felt a bit wasteful, given current ammo prices. Stretching things out a bit more was our 8″ gong at 100 yards. As much as I would like a steel IPSC torso (one of these days), that gong is a bit more challenging to hit. Yet we seemed to be able to land hits every time with this combination.

Optic (not included) and the right-side charging handle of the Bear Creek Arsenal BC-15 Complete 5.56 NATO Rifle Length Upper.
Optic (not included) and the right-side charging handle of the Bear Creek Arsenal BC-15 Complete 5.56 NATO Rifle Length Upper.

 

Although we only managed to put a few hundred rounds through the BC-15 upper, it ran flawlessly. That was with mostly inexpensive ammo I bought pre-Covid. It was a mix of factory ammo and reloads, from 55 to 70 grains, along with some 62-grain green tip. Which should help explain why I didn’t try to shoot for groups on paper. For an upper priced around $200, I’m happy if it goes bang every time, and hits “defensive-sized” targets at suitable distances. Based on my experience with this upper, better ammo and a magnified optic would make it an inexpensive option for coyote-sized predators as well.

Fit and finish

Earlier, I mentioned that the handguard was finished well. It’s better than expected for the price. Not as rough as some “cheese grater” handguards I have used, but not tumbled with super smooth edges either. The nicest handguards cost more than this complete upper, and I think BCA has found a good balance here as well. Fit and alignment of the handguard to the upper receiver was spot-on too. And the upper itself fit quite snugly on my lower, with minimal play. All fasteners were properly tight to spec. Overall, it really does look and feel more expensive than it is.

A bit more about the right-side charging

This wasn’t my first time using the Bear Creek Arsenal right-side charging handle. The BC-22 I previously reviewed sported this same feature. It’s an option that seems to have plenty of fans too, and for good reason. It addresses some of the most common issues with the typical AR-15 rear charging setup. The most obvious is that it’s much easier to chamber a round when shooting from a bench or prone. When running a scope, there’s no worry about clearance either. Whether charging or clearing a jam, it’s just much easier this way.

The BCA value proposition

Typically, firearms manufacturers will sell bulk orders to wholesalers, who mark them up and sell them to retail outlets. Those retailers then need to add their own markup before selling to consumers. Some manufacturers will also source certain individual parts from outside vendors, and use them to assemble complete firearms. So they pay a markup on those too. Everyone gets their cut, but that does lead to higher overall prices. Bear Creek Arsenal has a huge (over 340,000 sqft) manufacturing facility where they turn bar stock into barrels, and billet into uppers and lowers. This helps them control both cost and quality. And then they sell their products directly to consumers, which means we pay reduced prices due to less markup.

 

Conclusion

Even if you’re on a budget, you can still build a good quality rifle, thanks to Bear Creek Arsenal. If you’re a beginner, or new to the AR-15 world, this is a great way to get your feet wet without spending a fortune. Likewise, if you’re a more experienced shooter, and looking for an inexpensive upper or complete rifle, BCA has you covered. In addition to the BC-15 upper shown, they have rifle and pistol uppers with barrels from 7.5 to 24 inches. They’re also available in calibers from .17 HMR to .458 SOCOM. Multiple gas systems, twist rates, barrel profiles (and materials) as well as finishes are available too.

Some of us have been conditioned to equate low prices with low quality. Yet the AR-15 platform is incredibly simple, and therefore doesn’t need to be expensive. More money can certainly buy higher quality, but there are diminishing returns unless you happen to be engaging in combat regularly. For the casual user, whether for sporting purposes, predator management, or even defense, BCA has something to fit your budget and needs. Check out their full product line at bearcreekarsenal.com.

As always, I’d like to thank the folks at Bear Creek Arsenal for providing their BC-15 upper for my review. In case you’re looking for this particular model, it’s the BC-15 5.56 NATO Right Side Charging Upper with 16″ Parkerized M4 barrel with 1:7 twist, mid-length gas system, and 15″ M-LOK handguard. If you have questions or comments, please share them below.

 

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