Today, many gun enthusiasts expect the AR-15 and similar rifles to come with forward assist.
Some feel the mechanism is essential for easy handling and firing. Others feel it’s a mere add-on they either don’t understand or will never use.
Whether you think the forward assist is necessary will ultimately depend on personal preference and how you plan to use your firearm.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, here’s everything you need to know.
A Historical Addition
Before the introduction of the AR-15, the U.S. military used self-loading rifles like the M1.
This type of rifle involved a reciprocating charging handle that the shooter could physically manipulate and beat into place to ensure complete bolt closure and prevent misfires.
A single spring determined whether the user could physically accomplish this task.
If the gun and ammunition were too dirty, the user would have to disassemble the rifle and clean it.
Of course, taking the time to complete this process could be the difference between life and death on the battlefield — something the U.S. Army didn’t want to risk.
In 1963, they convinced the Secretary of Defense to approve the M16A1 for jungle warfare. One year later, the Army deployed the model to Vietnam.
By 1969, the new firearm was the U.S. military’s standard service rifle because it was far more reliable than its predecessors.
Forward Assist and the AR-15
Eventually, engineers and gunsmiths began to include the forward assist mechanism on the AR-15 and other ArmaLite rifles.
However, the primary reason for this addition was still military application.
On the battlefield, military personnel may need to repeatedly fire their rifle without worrying about dirt and debris blocking the bolt and causing a misfire.
Some military drills even incorporate the forward assist every time soldiers charge their rifle, a practice that helps ensure its use becomes habitual.
These drills guarantee that the bolt always goes into the battery and never jams.
They can also help military personnel load rounds without giving away their position.
Instead of pulling the bolt back and releasing completely, they can ride the bolt forward and use the forward assist to quietly click the bolt into the battery.
Do You Need the Forward Assist?
There’s a lot of debate about whether a shooter needs the forward-assist feature.
After all, it’s not every day you need to silence loading your rifle or shoot 100 rounds a minute to defend yourself from enemy fire.
However, the average shooter may still prefer the look, feel and function of this optional feature.
Keeping the Forward Assist
For those looking to join the military, keeping the forward assist is a straightforward choice.
However, the average shooter can also benefit from this feature.
If the range is sandy or dusty, dirt can settle in the weapon and interfere with bolt operation.
While this buildup may not stop the gun from functioning, it may cause the bolt to become stuck in the chamber.
When this occurs, all you need to do is tap the forward assist button to finish the job.
If you’re planning to shoot a few hundred rounds a session, you may also benefit from a forward assist on your AR-15 or M16 rifle.
Instead of disassembling, cleaning and lubricating the firearm when it begins to lock up, you can use the forward assist to push the bolt through.
Then, you can spend your whole session sending bullets downrange without getting your hands dirty.
Foregoing the Forward Assist
Gun owners who have gone without a forward assist for years might believe forcing a round into the chamber is a bad idea.
In most cases, they’d be correct. If your bolt isn’t loading correctly, odds are there’s something wrong.
Maybe the chamber is filthy or you’ve put too many rounds in the magazine.
You might have also stripped a bullet from the case, causing a dangerous throat barrel obstruction.
In that case, using the forward assist may prove catastrophic.
Therefore, it might be safer to use a gun without the assistance mechanism, especially for beginning shooters.
Marksmen who forego the forward assist will have no choice but to unload and reload the chamber to clear it from any obstructions.
If this method doesn’t work, they’ll have to take the rifle apart and give it a thorough cleaning, which will ultimately help them know their firearm a little better.
Go With Your Gut
Is forward assist necessary? Well, unless you’re in the military, the answer will depend on preference.
If your gun comes with one and you like its look and feel, keep it on there.
Otherwise, you can choose to take it off or pick a rifle that doesn’t include the mechanism.
Ultimately, it’s best to go with your gut and do what feels right to you. Your shooting game will likely be better for it.
What do you think of a forward assist? Let us know in the comments section below!