I own a few AR-pattern rifles in various calibers and enjoy shooting them. I have guns in 9mm, .223/5.56, and now 7.62×39. So, I wouldn’t exactly call myself an AR expert but, as the saying goes, this ain’t my first rodeo where they are concerned. I know what works for me and what I like. I like this Bear Creek Arsenal (BCA) side-charging AR, and the caliber it came in ― I’m a fan of the Russian “short thirty” and enjoy shooting it. If you’re looking for a decent AR in that caliber, this is the gun for you.
Quick Summary of the Bear Creek Arsenal AR 7.62×39
This accurate and reliable AR, with its 16-inch barrel and collapsible stock, would be a great addition to any gun safe. Given the caliber, it opens this gun up to jobs that a .223/5.56 can’t do, at least legally. As an example, in my state, .223 is illegal for deer, but the 7.62×39 isn’t. It’s a deer-legal caliber in a handy, familiar package that can use all your other AR attachments and doo-dads. It’s a win-win.
Good and Bad
- Familiar AR-pattern rifle with M-LOK attachment points on the handguard
- 15.25″ Picatinny rail
- BCG is staked from the side and rated for full auto
- Side-charging – no rear-mounted bolt handle that can cause scope interference
- Rear sling swivel included
- Fit & finish are excellent
- Very accurate and reliable with my ammo
- No magazine is included
- No sights
The pros outweigh the cons, in my opinion, and that’s what this is based on ― my opinion after shooting this rifle several times. The only “cons” that are not opinion-based is that no mag or sights are included. Not having sights I can see as many ARs don’t include them, but the missing magazine puzzles me. I’m not quite sure why they don’t include one. I did look on the BCA website and saw that no magazine was included with any rifle they sell as far as I can tell. I ordered the recommended ASC magazine, a 20-rounder, and it has worked perfectly.
Why not a 30-rounder, I hear you ask your computer monitor. Well, that’s because 20-rounders tend to fit a little more easily onto a shooting bench rifle rest. Plus, they are easier to load to full capacity.
One more point that could be con of sorts, at least to me is that the bright, paint-filled engraving on the left side of the mag well is a bit distracting, at least to me. I didn’t include it on the above list because it may not be an issue for some shooters, but it is a bit of a distraction for me. (At least I can blame my poor shooting on it!).
Who Is Bear Creek Arsenal?
BCA is owned and operated by the Moore family in Sanford, North Carolina. The family has a history of being not only master machinists but also shooters.
Just like the people behind the Diamondback DB9R 9mm, BCA started off by making barrels, receivers and other parts for gun manufacturers. They made private-label guns for other companies as well. After this, sister company Moore Machining introduced an AR rifle to the marketplace. The success of this led to moving the entire operation to the current BCA location. The company produces rifles with professional fit, finish, and function. I was truly impressed when I saw just how many different models they make, not to mention the side-chargers. I’ve always been a side-charge fan. The company is doing well if my rifle is any indication.
Who should buy this AR?
As I look at this well-made AR sitting on the table, I am thinking about its role in a gun collection. Why would you want this specific gun? It’s not in caliber 5.56, or in a popular pistol caliber like 9mm ― I have ARs in those calibers ― so what’s so special about the 7.65×39? Well, there are a couple of things that I can think of.
First of all, ammo for the gun is still available in this time of nonexistent ammo supplies. You might have to look for it, but it’s out there. This also reinforces the point that, once ammo is back in volume, 7.65×39 should be even cheaper and more readily available. (Having said that, I just learned today of the stoppage of Russian ammo imports so time will tell).
Another reason to own this gun is that it is not a .223 or a 9mm ― it’s in a caliber that is deer-legal in my state as I mentioned above. I just have to use either JHP or SP bullets, which is not a big deal. This rifle is a variation on BCA’s standard AR, but with side charging. That alone in my book makes it a great addition to a gun collection.
Add this to the other justifications I listed, and I think you could surely do worse for your AR dollar.
Bear Creek Arsenal AR Specs and Features
|Barrel Length:||16 inches, heavy barrel|
|Material:||4150 chrome moly vanadium|
|Thread Pitch:||5/8 x 24|
|Gas System Length:||Carbine|
|Gas Block System:||0.750|
|Gas Hole Diameter:||0.093|
|Charging Style:||Right Side Charging|
|Magazine Capacity:||None Included|
The gun arrived at friend Duane’s gun shop in its cardboard box ― nothing special there. I took it out of the said box and was impressed with the fit, finish, and overall quality look of the rifle. The only thing that I noticed but was not sure if I liked was the bright silver-filled engraving on the left side of the mag well. It seems a bit distracting to me, but I’m more into plain Jane, bling-less guns.
The finish was evenly applied with no drop-outs or bare places evident. The furniture was solid. The M-LOK handguard readily accepted a Viridian green Laser Hand Stop that I added to it. See the photos below for details. The rail showed no gaps and was a great place to stick my TruGlo Ignite Mini red dot sight. I’m not sure if I’ll leave both of those items on the gun, as I might not need both of them. If I decide to hunt with it, I’d imagine I’ll replace the red dot with a scope but might leave the laser hand stop in place ― it is pretty handy. Look for reviews soon on both of these items. There are more musings about sights for this gun below.
The rifle is a true, dyed-in-the-wool AR, and if you are familiar with that platform, you’ll be right at home handling this gun. Pop the rear pin out and drop the lower down from the upper. Remove the bolt handle screw and bolt handle, pull the BCG out and you’re ready to clean or inspect the gun.
Features and Handling
The Bear Creek Arsenal AR 7.62×39 side-charger shares features with other AR-platform guns. The best feature, for my money, is that it is side-charging:
I have trouble manipulating a top-mounted charge handle when a scope is installed. This is due to my over-the-top klutz factor, even when I use an extended charge handle. So, the lever on the side of the receiver obviates any hassles found with top-charging systems.
One drawback I can see to the side charging system is you must remove the bolt handle screw and bolt handle to remove the bolt out of the upper.
The removal of the bolt handle meant the rear of the upper had to be altered to ensure it contained all the gas in the gun. They solved that problem by placing a bolt and an “O”-ring in the spot that would’ve been occupied by the bolt handle.
The AR-style controls are standard. The magazine release, bolt release, and safety are all in familiar positions. Add in the flash hider, pistol grip, and buttstock, and you have an AR that you’ll want to hang on to.
Bolt release and safety along with the bright silver engraving.
Multiposition buttstock. Aside from being a bit sticky to move, it worked well and stayed where I put it.
Right side. Standard mag release and trigger guard. The bolt handle works as a sort of deflector for cases as it cycles to the rear and then back. I had this happen a time or two when I shot it. No need for a forward assist ― that’s another function for the bolt handle. But I had zero feeding or extraction issues. The TruGlo Ignite Mini works well also.
A2-style flash hider. The green dot below is the “on” switch for the Viridian Hand Stop Green Laser. This is one cool piece of equipment. Wrap your finger around the button, and you have a bright green laser dot on your target. Here’s another shot of it:
One last feature before moving on ― the gas key. The gas key is staked from the side as all BCA BCGs are rated for full auto, according to the website frequently asked questions (FAQs) section. This is a good thing. I’ve seen some staking jobs that were sketchy ― not here.
Overall handling was just what you’d think it would be. It was easy to shoulder, easy to get on target, and easy to shoot repeatedly. I had zero malfunctions, which is something considering that the only ammo I have is steel-cased Russian FMJ and SP. Even so, the ASC mag was perfect as was the rifle.
So, we come to the part of this review where I would like to discuss the rifle’s caliber in a bit more detail. I have mentioned the fact that I like this caliber. That hasn’t always been the case. I once owned an SKS that I shot some but just couldn’t get into.
The gun put me in mind of someone taking a pine 2×6 board and roughly carving a rifle stock out of it ― not exactly terrible but crude to the extreme. I hated the way the gun (didn’t) fit me, and the stock’s wrist and grip were way too thick. I remember thinking at the time that “if they only made an AR in this caliber, how great that would be.” I’d heard of others hunting deer and hogs with the short thirty but had no experience myself with hunting.
My state only recently green-lighted the 7.62×39 for deer, and only that with expanding bullets. So, after they did that, my curiosity got the better of me. It came to a head when Bear Creek asked me if I wanted me to review one of their ARs. Being the shy, introverted shooter that I am, I practically broke my computer keyboard typing back an enthusiastic “YES!”, which started that ball rolling.
The ‘Russian Short’ has a Serious History
Back to caliber. What is there about the .30 Russian Short (its other, “official” designation) that appeals to me? The cartridge itself is interesting. Introduced by Russia in 1944, the intermediate cartridge found a home after the war in the ubiquitous AK-47. The rest, as they say, is history. To this day, the .30 Russian Short is popular among several militaries around the world and countless thousands of civilian shooters. Russia got away from the 7.62×39 in the mid-1970s when they adopted the AK-74 and its 5.45×39 cartridge. That doesn’t take anything away from the 7.62×39. As stated, it’s more popular than ever. If you are looking for a mid-range .30-caliber round for hunting, self-defense, plinking, or other use, this one should fulfill your need.
As for maintenance, anything you do unto your other ARs, do unto this one. It comes apart, as I mentioned above, like any other rifle of this pattern ― with the exception of the bolt handle ― and you clean it the same way. I would, however, put a very light film of oil in the barrel and chamber. I do that for all bores, no matter if they’re chrome-lined or not. The operative word here is “thin” ― don’t glob the oil in there. It wouldn’t hurt to run a dry patch down the bore before you shoot it next time to be sure the bore is clean. That is something that doesn’t hurt to do anyway. A clean bore is desirable unless you are leaving it fouled on purpose. Finish off by using a chamber brush to get the locking lugs clean and put a light coat of lube on the mating surfaces. Wipe down the outside with a silicon or very slightly oily rag and put it away. Looking for a top-notch cleaning kit? Take a look at our hands-on gun cleaning kit review.
Sights were not included with this particular rifle, although they do come with some models that BCA makes. They leave it open for you to add whatever style of sight you want, such as red dot, scope, or laser. I counted the lack of sights as a con above, but I would imagine that judgement would vary according to the individual buyer.
Some shooters don’t want sights on their new ARs because they have something in the on-deck circle to add to the gun as soon as it comes home. I generally favor plain open sights, but I happened to have the two optics I mentioned above, so why not stick them on the gun? I won’t leave both of them there, but they’ll work for now. Who knows … I may put a scope on it for deer season.
I stuck my trusty TruGlo Ignite Mini on the rail and got it sighted at 50 yards. Right before I was going to go to my backyard range, I received a shipment from Viridian, which included the above-pictured green Laser Hand Stop.
Not one to waste an opportunity, I added the hand stop to the handguard. I will be reviewing each of these sights, along with others from these companies, at a later date, so stay tuned. You don’t necessarily need both a laser and red dot on this AR, but I wanted to test them. I would imagine I’ll leave the laser on for close-range shots and replace the red dot with a scope or irons of some sort. (A quick tip concerning zeroing the green laser ― a tiny turn of the adjustment key moves the dot pretty dramatically, so go easy).
I shot a few targets in my backyard range at 50 yards and was very pleased. I always preface my shooting commentary with the statement that I admit to not being the best shot around. It works better to admit it upfront and be done with it. I was impressed with the ammo and even more with the way this thing shot.
As you can see from the targets, the rounds made a couple of nice groups. Obviously, they’re not centered in the bullseye, but that’s easily remedied.
Here is a 5-round target shot with Russian steel-cased 123-grain FMJ ammo:
The point of impact is low but pretty well-centered.
The next 5-shot target shows what happened when I shot the same type of ammo except that the bullet was a soft-point, not a JHP:
Thoughts on Sights
Not bad for a red dot sight that covered the center square at the distance I shot. This ammo is more than capable of providing some quality practice once I get the dot or scope zeroed. Another option for sights other than a scope would be adding a set of plain-jane iron BU sights and leaving the green laser on and zeroed. That may be the way to go with it, come think of it. If I hunt with it, it won’t be at a great distance, so iron sights would work, and the laser could come in handy if the shot is close-in. Anyway, I’ll figure it out before deer season.
I truly enjoyed shooting this rifle and was more than pleasantly surprised at the accuracy it displayed. Add in the fact that the Russian .30 Short doesn’t belt you as some cartridges do ― I just came off a review of a Marlin .45-70, which is a molar-rattler! ― and I think you’ll have a very good range experience. This gun is accurate enough to hunt with, to be sure, and I may be doing that this fall.
The ammo I used was more than up to the task. I would like to try some brass-cased commercial stuff once it’s available, if for no other reason than to get cases to reload. As long as I am shooting soft point bullets, I’m good in the woods.
Other ARs to Compare?
In terms of competing products, there are a few ARs out there in this caliber. Of course, if you opened it up to AK-style guns, we’d be here all day. A few of the companies that come to mind are Windham, Rock River Arms, and Sig Sauer. I’m sure that there are others out there, but these stand out. They all make good guns, for sure ― you have to decide which way you want to go. I will say, though, that the Bear Creek Arsenal AR’s price is lower than the prices on the guns I just mentioned, to the best of my knowledge. You could do worse for your Russian-Shorty-AR dollar than this BCA.
Bear Creek Arsenal stands out for another reason. They have a long history of making gun parts for other companies. This, in my view, is an advantage over less established gunmakers. I’ll take experience every time. Folks who’ve built parts for others tend to know what works and what doesn’t.
Bear Creek Arsenal AR 7.29×39 Conclusion
Do you want to get into the 7.62×39 game? Don’t want an SKS or an AK? Here you go: this Bear Creek Arsenal AR looks to be a big winner, from my experience.
The rifle is accurate. Shooting nasty, steel-cased Russian ammo into tiny groups says something about this rifle. I could see dialing it in with iron sights or a scope to the point where it could accompany me into the deer woods. Out to 150 yards or a touch farther, I’d think Bambi’s great-great-granddaughter might be in a bit of trouble.
The Bear Creek Arsenal AR is reliable. I had no stoppages or other glitches when I shot it ― this is one of those guns you just can’t wait to get back outside with. I’ve had some guns to review that were not my cup of tea, so I did the review and sent the gun on. This gun was not one of those. Being a handgun-mostly guy, I had my reservations about this AR-in-an-AK-caliber. But they soon left as I picked up this rifle. They were gone for good after putting holes in paper that touched each other.
Granted, there are some things I’m not too kicked in the head about with this gun, but they are mostly personal, not objective. The main thing I don’t like is that there is no magazine in the box when you open it, but I assume they have their reasons for doing that.
The pros far outweigh the cons ― this is one solid rifle. So, when 7.62×39 ammo makes a return in quantity, think about picking up one of these. You’ll have more fun than should be allowed. If you own one, let us hear from you below. As always, keep ’em in the black and stay safe!