[Hands-On Review] Bear Creek Arsenal AR-15: Is It Good?

Continuing our quest to review every AR-15 on the market, we’re finally making it to Bear Creek Arsenal!

BCA AR-15 (1)
BCA AR-15 with a Bushnell AR Optic 1-4x LPVO.

While “budget” AR-15s aren’t as budget-friendly as they used to be, we wanted to find out just what the budgetist of the budget brands can offer in times like these.

From the photo booth to the range, I’ve put it to the test and the results might surprise you.

Or maybe not, I’m not a mind reader.

1014
at Bear Creek Arsenal

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

I’ll run you through who BCA is, what the AR-15 has to offer, as well as the good and bad features I found.

By the end, you’ll be armed with the knowledge of whether this AR deserves a place in your gun safe.

Let’s get to it!

Table of Contents

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Bear Creek Arsenal

Ask an AR-15 owner in the know about BCA and you’ll probably learn three things.

First, they are very budget-friendly rifles.

broke meme

Second, they are literally the only brand that offers a side charging AR-15 that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

Third, their customer service team is one of the best in the industry.

And that’s pretty much the whole story.

While there are dozens of AR-15 makers these days, BCA has carved out their niche in the market by offering cheap rifles in a huge range of calibers and styles.

Then, they back it all up with outstanding service.

Specs & Features

The rifle BCA sent out for review is a very standard AR-15. 5.56 NATO, 16-inch M4 profile barrel with a 1:8 twist.

Carbine gas system, 15-inch M-LOK handguard, mil-spec trigger, M4 style stock, and A2 style grip.

BCA AR-15 (2)

The only change I made to the rifle was to add a MagLock to the rifle to make it California compliant and a Bushnell AR Optic 1-4x LPVO.

Before the Range…

Almost all of my guns, to me, are tools. As such, I treat them and view them in that context.

So when I get a tool that doesn’t look as pretty as it could, it doesn’t really bother me.

Trijicon MRO Being Dropped
We’re not tender on our AR-15s around here, the High-End Optics Torture Test was fun!

But…this BCA upper was really pushing the limits of what I would have tolerated personally.

If I had handled it in a store first, I would have put it back and asked for one that didn’t look like a showroom floor sample.

Before taking this to the range I brought the rifle into our office so our awesome photographer could take some proper pictures with good lighting to really show what I’m talking about.

Top of the list is this weird bird poop mark. No idea what caused it, but ew.

BCA Bird Poop Mark (2)
Why??

Also, this image highlights the very uneven looking finish.

ewwww

Weird blotch between the FA and brass deflector.

BCA FA Blotch
At first I thought this was just oil, but it won’t clean off so…ya.

Above the charging handle is all scratched up.

BCA Scratched Above CH
My money is that a dull apprentice dropped it.

And the barrel is scratched up in multiple places.

BCA Scratched Barrel
BCA Scratched Barrel (2)

None of these is a real problem. None of the scratches look deep enough to go to bare metal and it’s all cosmetic.

But still…I prefer beating up my own tools, not having one come looking pre-worn.

On the Range!

Some good and some bad on the range side of things.

In total, I put about 300 rounds through the BCA rifle on the first day plus and then about as many again on added training days. 

For the first 30 or so rounds I had constant malfunctions — literally, every second or third round was a failure.

disappointed
Literally MFW it failed on shot #2

It took me a little while to figure out what was going on, but I finally discovered that the trigger was failing to fully reset.

I would pull the trigger, the rifle would go bang and fully cycle. Pull the trigger again…nothing would happen.

Tap, rack, bang immediate action would solve the problem — but this was because it was shaking the fire control unit into resetting.

Once I tracked down that the trigger didn’t want to reset, it was as simple as pushing the trigger forward a few millimeters and it would reset and be happy.

After the first 30-rounds, I stripped the rifle, took a look inside the lower, and didn’t find anything out of place or wrong.

I could manually reset the hammer and dry fire the lower without the upper attached and recreate the problem.

blade reaction gif
Unexpectedly getting to train your immediate action drills.

I wiped out the area and hit it with a little gun lube because when in doubt, lube it. The second set of 30 rounds ran “better” with only 4 failures to reset, but this pattern continued for a while.

Around the 100 round mark, the problem started to solve itself and I managed a full 30 rounds without an issue.

Over the next 200 rounds, I only had 1 failure to reset.

I let the rifle rest multiple times during all of that shooting mostly because reloads were slow as hell with a CA maglocked rifle. 🙁

But Why?!

I don’t know. After getting home I stripped the rifle and took out the FCG to take a close look but nothing looks wrong.

It’s not coated in grease or has a chipped part or anything.

I don’t see any signs of obvious wear either as something wore into spec during cycling.

BCA Trigger (1)
Nothing looks out of sorts

Once it started working, it ran flawlessly. Still is.

I would also like to note that yes, the rifle was cleaned after the photo shoot and before it’s first range trip.

But Wait, There’s More

I did however find another MASSIVE blem and this one causes me some concern.

Before now none of the blems were anything more than cosmetic, this one might be more than that.

BCA inside trigger area blem (1)
BCA lower inside the trigger area…heat damage?

To me, that looks like heat damage of some kind. While it’s not in a critical area, and aluminum doesn’t really temper as steel does, whatever happened to this lower happened after it was anodized.

At best this was yet another quality control miss, at worst…this is considered within spec.

Either way isn’t good.

Now the Good News

Other than the trigger issue, everything ran perfectly. Tula ammo, Wolf Gold, IMI, the BCA ate it all.

It was also surprisingly accurate, this was shot at 50-yards using a Bushnell 1-4x LPVO off of a tripod sitting down using Wolf Gold.

BCA @ 50 yards with Bushnell 1-4x (2)
BCA @ 50 yards with Bushnell AR Optics 1-4x

Sure, that isn’t long-range match quality — but for a barebones AR-15 with a mil-spec trigger, “meh” ammo, and a 4x LPVO — I’m very happy with it.

The top two shots were mostly me, I called them high — without getting out my good shooting bags and breaking into my fancy .223 ammo, I’m willing to call this rifle right around 1.5 MOA.

Best .223 Bang-for-the-Buck
7.40
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Going 10 for 10 on steel at 100- and 200-yards was no problem.

By the Numbers

Reliability: 1/5 (<100 rounds), 5/5 (>100 rounds)

The trigger not resetting was a real issue. And since it wasn’t something I could point at and say “ah, that’s the cause” I’m marking it down as a QC failure more than anything.

It works now, but it did take time to get there. This is why you should always test a firearm before trusting it.

Accuracy: 5/5

This really pleased me, for a barebones AR-15 and a mil-spec trigger I was expecting a lot worse — but the BCA put rounds where I wanted them and did it with a huge range of ammo and weights.

For what it is, it’s great.

Looks: 1/5

Bird poop mark, scratches, weird blotches, if this upper were a blem I would understand and not think twice about it.

But I double-checked with BCA before writing this and they confirmed that this was a standard factory unit and that it had been inspected before being placed in inventory and inspected again before being mailed out.

Ugh

It was also test-fired at the factory, so that might explain a little bit of it but not all of it.

Since it was inspected at least twice, I guess bird poop marks are within spec…?

Ergonomics: 5/5

It’s an AR-15. The nice thing BCA does is give you a sling attachment point at the castle nut, so that helps plus things up a bit. The sling points in general are great with more QDs on the stock and handguard.

Customization: 5/5

Again, AR-15.

Value: 1/5 (complete rifle), 4/5 (separate upper and lower)

The complete rifle from BCA is a staggering $1,014. Even in a pandemic, right after an election, with AR-15s flying off the shelves — that is a ridiculous price for this rifle.

1014
at Bear Creek Arsenal

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

However, the separate complete upper and complete lower are also sold and combined are under $700 total. During these times, that’s a much more reasonable price.

Even with the blems and the trigger issue, under $700 for a complete rifle is a good deal.

I would strongly recommend testing your rifle and ensuring that it is 100% functional before trusting it though.

1014
at Bear Creek Arsenal

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Overall: 3/5

I can’t say this would be my first choice for an AR-15, but it’s not a wrong choice either. And with almost everything being sold out right now, if this is in stock and in your price range — go for it.

difference between screwing around and science
Don’t forget to write down your results after you test your rifles!

Brands like BCA are built on price and volume. Nothing catastrophic happened and the rifle does run great now and it required zero actual maintenance or replacement parts.

For a range or training rifle, this works.

Break-in periods for high-end rifles enrage me, but a break-in period for a budget rifle makes complete sense.

Conclusion

This rifle passes my standards…but barely. We as an editorial team even had a discussion on if we should even give it a passing grade or not.

At the end of the day though, it does run. Outside of the trigger needing to be broken-in, the rifle runs perfectly and is surprisingly accurate for its specs.

1014
at Bear Creek Arsenal

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

If Cs get degrees, this BCA is the AR-15 version of that philosophy personified.

Are cosmetic blems a hard pass for you? Had any experience with BCA? Let us know in the comments! For some higher-quality rifles, take a look at the Best AR-15: Ultimate Guide!

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39 Leave a Reply

  • Chris Fail

    Bought a BCA upper a while back to stick on an 80% lower as my first AR. Went with a fully assembled upper thinking it would be smarter than trying to build my own with 0 experience on the platform. Out of the box the flash hider was completely loose, no torque at all. Figured "oh well, budget upper, I'll just tighten that and... Why is the barrel wobbly?". Yeah, the barrel nut was completely loose, 0 torque. Sent BCA an email pretty much saying "uhh, what", was told that that was completely fine and I should just torque it down with the ar-15 barrel nut wrench I apparently keep in my back pocket I opted to return the upper and buy PSA instead. If Bear Creek doesn't care enough to make sure the damn barrel is attached, I don't even wanna know what else would pass QC

    3 weeks ago
  • BoboPhet

    At over $1000, I would hardly consider this BCA to be a "Budget" AR-15. Between the uneven finish, the damaged finish, the apparent heat heat damage and the reliability issues you experienced, this rifle belongs on the seconds rack, period. For less than $800 one can purchase a Ruger AR-556 or S&W M&P15 Sport II, without blems, uneven finish or reliability issues. Or step up to a Springfield Armory Saint B5 or Saint Victor for less than you paid for the BCA. And like the Ruger and S&W, the Springfields do not have the blemishes or reliability issues that you experienced. The BCA was test fired at the factory? And they didn't notice the trigger reset issue? Are they conserving ammo by test firing only one shot? There is no way that the BCA you tested would ever join my other ARs in my safe.

    3 weeks ago
  • Richard Behrens

    I just recently bought a BCA side charging upper 16" barrel with a vey nice 15" M-Lok handguard chambered in 7.62x39. T\It was very good price and came with the BCG. The fit and finish are very good and no blemishes, nicks or scratches at all.

    3 weeks ago
  • Racer X

    I purchased a BCA fluted stainless Hunter rifle kit, minus the bare lower back in 2017, and last year a 7.62x39 side charging upper, with nitrided bolt. Just 2 weeks ago, an "AR-10" complete upper, also with a nitrided bolt carrier group. It lines up perfectly with my DPMS "AR-10" lower. The way I look at it, whenever the barrels get shot out, a Faxon Match barrel will replace them. But they shoot just fine as-is.

    1 month ago
  • WPC

    Damaged in shipping somehow? I got one of BCA's free (Veteran's Day deal) barrels and built my first AR with it. Not alot of rounds through it but as accurate as I am. I agree though $1k is not a budget price, and any AR should work 100% right out of the box.

    1 month ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      I don't think so, it was packaged very well and the external box had no signs of damage.

      1 month ago
  • Bob D.

    I have a Diamondback lower, mated to a BCA upper. My BCA is 16”, chambered in .223 Wylde. I have put several hundred rounds through this weapon. I have run a variety of .223 and 5.56 ammunition of different weights and bullet designs. I had three mis-feeds of the purple-cased DHS range rounds, but haven’t had a single feed problem since. I had to tighten all of the hand guard screws after about 75 or 100 rounds, but I didn’t check them before my first trip to the range. Overall, I am extremely satisfied with my BCA upper and with the Diamondback lower. It is both accurate and reliable. The fit and finish are excellent.

    1 month ago
  • Pawolf

    Recently got a 20"side charging 6.5 Grendel upper. Fit and finish seem fine and no problems mated to a Ruger lower. 100 rounds of steel and brass and not a single issue and getting right around 1 moa with hornady black and 1.5 with Wolf steel. Also got a 10.5 inch 556 pistol upper and it looks fine too, waiting for my lower to try it out.

    1 month ago
  • David

    I purchased a 7.62x39 side charge upper back in June of 2020. The cost then, with shipping, was $227.05 and now it's $400? Glad I purchased it when I did. It only took 20 rounds to make it run perfectly. It had one FTF and one FTE in that first mag. It has run flawlessly since then. Cosmetics were perfect on mine. It also hits the target I'm aiming at.

    1 month ago
    • Dakota Harless

      Do you think it was a mag problem? I hear 7.62x39 is mostly magazine related issues and not the lower/upper.

      1 month ago
  • Lyndon Jernigan

    How about reviewing a true "budget" AR? Not many of us would consider a thousand dollar gun a budget rifle, not unless that third stimulus check has hit the account and the second gummie has kicked in. I just got a Radical Firearms 16" Socom 5.56mm AR for $599. That's a true budget rifle price! It's incredibly well built, runs flawlessly and is spot-on accurate, no matter what ammo I cycle through it. Everything about this rifle is solid and consistent.

    1 month ago
  • Michael

    hey guys! sup pewpew? Well i only purchase a BCA AR 47 in of course 7.62x39 and have built my own lowers with either mil-spec nickel-tef trigger or stainless Mil-Spec.They just run smoother and with all Anderson lowers are great solid guns at a low price by building them myself! The upper i have had no blemishes and runs great along with nice features. Im thinking they were maybe training someone that built yours?lol But i cant say for sure as i have not purchased a brand new complete gun from them yet. But your review dosnt scare me. Too many Exp. gunners have purchased their products with great reviews. Maybe you just got a lemon that fixed it self?hehe thanks for you input though it will help me on my next purchase. Its just going to be another upper though since i have a bald lower at the moment? Going with a 6.5Grendel! :>)

    1 month ago
  • sound awake

    i have 4 bear creek arsenal uppers theyre not like "super pretty" but nice enough for the price and they all run like a sewing machine: 1) 18 inch fluted .223 wylde chamber 1/8 twist mid length gas that shoots factory match ammo less than 1 moa to 300 yards with a vortex 4-16x on top and a rock river arms 2 stage match trigger in the lower its the upper for my "budget mk 12 spr clone" - $400 2) 10.5 inch 7.62x39 that is 10 inch steel plate capable at 300 yards with tula and a 2 moa red dot on top - $230 3) 16 inch 7.62x39 that 2 weeks ago i put 5 rounds in a group just under 2 inches at 200 yards with tula and a primary arms 1-4x on top - $360 with billet upper receiver 4) 16 inch 350 legend that regularly puts hunting ammo in 1-2 inch groups at 100 yards - $350 the mlok slots on the rails are a bit tight for mounting accessories at first but theyre still usable bonus: every upper shipped free and i got them all within a week of ordering and all arrived with a premium nitrided "angled flats" bolt carrier group caution: i personally wouldnt buy a ar rifle for 1000 from them... especially when my local gun shop regularly has sig treads saints m&p 15s ruger ar 5.56s and stags in the 900-1100 dollar range

    1 month ago
  • Keith

    Maybe you should tryout Radical Firearms AR-15. At almost half the cost I'd pit it up against rifles costing 1/2 again what they cost........

    1 month ago
    • Lyndon Jernigan

      I'm with ya, Keith. I just posted up about my Radical Firearms 16" Socom 5.56mm AR. What a great rifle! I've got a few other higher echelon AR's, but the RF has become my favorite to shoot. Love to see PPT give Radical Firearms another look.

      1 month ago
  • Tee

    Overall, it doesn't sound like a great buy. Strange that it's 30% less if ordered in 2 parts. Anyone know why?

    1 month ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      I asked BCA and was told that the price difference was because of "extra labor that goes into building and transferring a completed option as opposed to a nonFFL upper and just having to FFL the lower."

      1 month ago
  • Greg

    Thanks for the review. I bought what they called an "Bear Essential 223W Complete Rifle" back in November 2019 for $365 !! It has a 16" barrel and looks very similar to the one you bought and tested. However, the one I received was flawless in aesthetics and has never mis-fired. And very accurate. I agree it is a basic AR-15, but man, for $365 (pre-pandemic price), I am very pleased. They must have let their aesthetic quality control slide a bit trying to keep up with orders, but maybe they should have looked who ordered it; the great PEW PEW Tactical !! (and sent you a spit shined version). Geesh.

    1 month ago
  • Robbe

    Perhaps it is just me, but a rifle that gets 5/5 in all categories but looks and value (although a 4/5 for upper is close) is an exceptional rifle. I bought a BC A 7.5 upper in 556 and it has been exceptional... bought a 16 upper in 556 soon after (no range time yet). I say buy an upper, an Anderson lower, a good trigger, and a can of spray paint. A SHTF rifle that may not win a popularity contest but will hold its own.

    1 month ago
  • Barry Beard

    I purchased a BCA side charging 7.62 rifle about 3 years ago. The quality is excellent. Zero issues to this day! Two years ago, I purchased a 223 complete upper, a 300 Blackout barrel, and a 9mm barrel. There were no blems and zero issues with any of those! The quality was excellent when I purchased those items. I am appalled at the condition of the rifle received by the author! Unfortunately, It sounds like things have changed at BCA!

    1 month ago
  • Dave

    Built an 20” target upper using BCA barrel with 1 in 9 twist. Took about 100 rounds for barrel to come in. Almost replaced barrel, just too stubborn to give up. Finally dialed in a 50 gr fmjbt load that’s under 1 moa. For the cost of that upper, I made out great.

    1 month ago
  • Will

    A new AR for $1,000 that looks like Fido's hind end and also won't function? Big "PASS" on this one. I can't imagine any inspection at all that would let that piece of crap get thru. I have had AR's at half that price (S&W and Ruger) that looked good cosmetically and never failed to function, new or in later use. Surely this was a "loaner" rifle for journalist, etc.

    1 month ago
  • 76shovel

    I ordered and received a .300blk pistol upper from BCA, $267.13 delivered. Granted that was mid October 2020 but the price was fine and I didn't notice any particular finish or function issues. It is more accurate than I am. Maybe not typical but I am happy.

    1 month ago
    • Marc Haughaboo

      Same experience for me...

      1 month ago
  • James Houston

    I own many BCA uppers and none of them have ever give me one problem. They run and they run well. If any of the parts looked like yours I would definitely have sent them back. It looks like the gun you have in the pictures was tortured.

    1 month ago
  • Johnny Bullington

    I'm shocked that Bear Creek shipped you a rifle in that condition, at least cosmetically. I've bought complete uppers and parts from them for builds. I've never had anything come to me looking like that. And I have never paid more than the mid $300s, usually less for a complete upper. That was before the current craziness but as you pointed out, you can buy their uppers and lowers separately and come in under their complete rifle list price. I hope that the unit they sent you was an inadvertent screw up on their part and not an indication of things to come. I also hope that they take a serious look at how/why they shipped such a substandard unit to you. I would really like to see a response from BCA.

    1 month ago
    • Jim L.

      I sold firearms for over 40 years retail for 3 different stores. We inspected every fire arm shipped to us, and that includes a well known national retailer. Bottom line we would have shipped it back to the MFG or wholesaler. Customer good will is too important not to

      1 month ago
  • Cactus31

    I'm willing to be that disconnector had a barely visible, yet thumbnail-detectable burr that prevented 100% reliable trigger reset. A bit of 600-grit or an un-drunkenly used fine file will fix that. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't seen this issue multiple times.

    1 month ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      This is very probable.

      1 month ago
  • Javier Antonio Quinones Ortiz

    This isn’t the time to buy firearms or ammunition. Wait 6+ months. The Palmetto State ARs are a much better value.

    1 month ago
  • Dennis Sumner

    Got my 450 Bushy upper a week ago. After cleaning, chambered a round and had to use two hands on the charging handle to cycle. Took it in, stripped it down and lubed the bejesus out of it, finally got it to (barely) eject. Cases dribbled out onto the bench and wouldn't even come close to picking up next round or lock back. Shoots great "single shot", followed everyone's advice and opened gas port to .076, still snowing so I have to wait to shoot. As for customer service, I have multiple e-mails to them with no reply yet.

    1 month ago
  • Ben K

    I literally cannot fathom why anyone is buying BCA or PSA at the prices they're selling them for these days. You can still get an Aero for $800 or a BCM for $1400 if you sign up for in stock notifications and act fast. What a joke.

    1 month ago
  • David

    I purchased a BCA side charging upper in .223 Wylde, matched it with an Anderson stripped lower & AT3 six position stock for my first AR build. All parts matched up perfectly and runs every type of ammo without a hiccup. The resulting rifle is every bit a "bacon defender" as the A2 I carried long before you were born. Fit and finish are as showroom perfect or better than the "high end" models I have gazed upon, without the "higher cost". My experience with BCA has been exemplary, but obviously everyone's mileage may vary.

    1 month ago
  • Randall

    I bought a 6.5 grendel upper from BCA and the round would not go all the way into the chamber. Very bad QC. They sent me a good one and it seems to work okay now.

    1 month ago
  • Steve Riche

    I think they sent a demo. I have had only what looked like PSA gear arriving at my home. I have to break in all brands before hiccups disappear. Just saying.

    1 month ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      I confirmed with the company before writing the article, it was not a demo/blem/T&E unit. It was a standard factory unit that had been inspected again before being sent out.

      1 month ago
      • Clay

        To PPT Editor: Your review sounded like a commercial for Bear Creek. I left my comments a few days ago and they evidently hurt someone's feelings. Do you print all comments or are they censored or hand selected?

        3 weeks ago
        • David, PPT Editor

          Comments are monitored and removed if the comment is overtly rude, obscene, spam, or a personal attack. I don't see any comments of yours that were removed though -- the past week or so we've been doing a lot of backend server changes that might have caused some comments to be lost.

          3 weeks ago
    • Robert

      What have you been buying that needs to be broke in every time? It should work right the first time out the box period !!

      1 month ago
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