If you own and AR-15 you can pick from a virtually infinite catalog of options to set up your gun. A few years back there was an explosion of new charging handle designs that made various promises at various price points. Now that the designs have matured I wanted to compare one of the highest priced charging handles with a standard charging handle. Is one of these really worth 525% of the other? Off to Brownells I went.
For the standard handle I selected the Brownells branded $19.99 charging handle. It came in a plain bag with the usual yellow Brownells label. It’s clean with semi-matte finished anodizing. The latch spring feels strong, requiring twenty-two ounces of pressure to completely open the latch. Does that matter? Probably not as it takes a lot more than that actually charge your AR, but at least it provides some basis for comparison. If low profile and/or light weight are priorities, you should be excited. You get both for twenty bucks.
For the top tier AR-15 charging handle I selected the $104.99 Radian Weapons Raptor SD (aka, the AXTS Freedom Bone, not to be confused with the B1 Bomber moniker). It is a descendent of the AXTS Raptor charging handle. AXTS is now Radian Weapons. Apparently I got one of the last AXTS branded versions Brownells had in stock so I’m linking to the Radian branded version here.
Rather than a basic bag, this work of art is packaged in a shiny blister pack with a multicolor insert touting the benefits of the Raptor SD / Freedom Bone. Not included in that list are light weight, low profile or low cost.
On the other hand, we do find information not available for the less expensive standard handle. It’s made of 7075 aluminum which is used in aerospace and many AR-15 receivers and other parts. In other words, it’s really strong. Then the Raptor SD / Freedom Bone is Mil-Spec Type 3 anodized. Type 3 is thicker and harder than the other common standard, Type 2, making it more durable. Made in Salem, Oregon, the charging handle comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
But the stuff that gives the Raptor SD / Freedom Bone the big price tag doesn’t need a fancy label to bring it to your attention. Just looking at it you know it’s going to be a lot more expensive. Like it’s father the Raptor, the handle is ambidextrous with large wings protruding. These wings provide a couple of benefits.
If you’re running a scope on your AR it can be tough to get hold of a standard charging handle. The wings of the Raptor SD / Freedom Bone protrude far enough to give you an easy grasp. Whether or not you’re running a scope, you also can use the “blade” technique to charge your gun (using the outside palm of your hand to pull the charging handle back towards you).
What about the “Bone” or “SD” feature? “Bone” must have come from the appearance. The cuts and ports resemble a spine. “SD” is a moniker that is not often associated with AR variant rifles but is forever tied to the suppressed Heckler and Koch MP5 (the MP5SD). SD is shorthand for “sound suppressor” in German. So this version of the Raptor was created to work with suppressed AR-15 rifles. Feel free to use that as trivia at your next dinner party.
Gas to the face isn’t something anyone wants to experience, regardless of the source. But the incidence is rising. Adding silencers to guns is becoming much more common across most of the United States and should the Hearing Protection Act ever become law, silencers will enjoy an exponential increase in adoption by folks like you and me. But adding a silencer to your gas operated AR-15 is going to push more hot gas right to your face. Not fun.
Pressurized gas exits your upper receiver via the channel your charging handle operates in. A standard charging handle is essentially a round peg in the square channel of your upper receiver, creating two direct paths for gas to shoot back to your face. The Freedom Bone is squared, matching the upper receiver. As the gas shoots rearward the cuts catch it and direct it down through the ports instead of to your face. Is it 100%? No, but the manufacturer doesn’t claim it is. Does it help? You bet.
One other benefit, the Radian/AXTS charging handle looks awesome! And at five and a half times the price of the standard Brownells charging handle, shouldn’t it?
So how can we determine if the Raptor SD / Freedom Bone is worth 525% of the standard charging handle? Well, if you were to count the words dedicated to each in this story 525% is a bargain. Much to my surprise, I’ve dedicated 850% more words to the Freedom Bone. No, that doesn’t exactly prove the value. After all, you can buy five standard charging handles for the price of one Freedom Bone.
In the end, it all comes down to your priorities. If you’re running suppressed, it’s a lot easier to appreciate the value of the higher end handle. The same is true if you shoot left handed. Personally, if I’m upgrading an AR-15 on a budget I’d have to start with the trigger, but I’ll confess that I’ve wanted to try a Raptor for a long time and I’m pretty impressed with the Freedom Bone.