AR-15 Forward Assist: What Is It & Should You Use It?

The AR-15 – praised for its modularity and versatility. One particularly interesting part of the AR-15 rig is the forward assist, which is basically a fail-safe located on the right-hand side of your AR-15 you can employ when you have faulty chambering.

Now, whether you should use forward assist depends entirely on your personal preference as well as your use case. Hopefully, by the end of this guide, you’ll be able to make an informed decision on whether you should buy a complete AR-15 or upper receiver with a forward assist or without one.

AR15 forward assist

What Is A Forward Assist On An AR-15?

Forward assist makes sure the bolt is fully locked in the firing position. It’s a device that allows you to manually push the bolt forward if it fails to go into battery (fully lock) after chambering a round. In other words, if the magazine cycles a bad round that doesn’t fully seat, you can use the forward assist to manually close the bolt.

Forward assists are typically located on the right side of an AR-15’s upper receiver. However, the location can vary depending on the model of your type of upper receiver.

Where Is The Forward Assist Pawl Located?

The forward assist pawl is located on the right side of the upper receiver, near the ejection port. There are a lot of AR-15 parts, so it’s easy to get confused. Luckily, the pawl is easily identifiable as it forms part of the forward assist button. Simply press the button to activate the forward assist, and the pawl will force the bolt to move forward into the locked position.

Should You Use Forward Assist On Your AR-15?

It depends on your situation. Semi-automatic rifles, more specifically, the AR platform, are designed to cycle smoothly. Therefore, you will rarely need forward assist.

However, it does occur due to a faulty round or a dirty chamber. In such a situation, you should decide whether it is worthwhile to risk firing a bad round or simply just remove it. Excessive use could lead to wear and tear on your BCG. So, I would say it’s primarily useful for ensuring the bolt is fully in battery, and should only be utilized in tactical and hunting scenarios. There are many other AR15 modifications you can make depending on your intended use case!

Should Hunters Use Forward Assist?

For hunters, having the next round readily available is crucial. However, if a round is faulty, it is best to address the issue before attempting to hunt with that round, as it can lead to malfunctioning or even unpredictable ballistics – possibly injuring the animal.

Additionally, a forward assist can be loud at times, and that extra noise can potentially scare away game, so it is best to abstain from using the forward assist when hunting.

Should Competition Shooters Use Forward Assist?

It depends on the type of competition shooting you participate in. For instance, if you participate in a competition that relies on accuracy, a forward assist is not needed.

However, if the competition is a combination of speed, time, and accuracy, then a forward assist and knowing how to use it quickly can make all the difference if you experience a malfunction.

Should Range Shooters Use Forward Assist?

I’ve rarely heard of range shooters needing to use a forward assist. Nonetheless, it still remains a good idea to be familiar with it. Understanding how and when to use the forward assist prepares you for a wide range of shooting scenarios, even if it’s not something you’ll use every range visit.

How To Decide Between Forward assist vs No Forward Assist?

It comes down to personal preference and use case. If you expect to find yourself in situations where quick, reliable action is necessary, a forward assist could be beneficial.

On the other hand, a forward assist can be redundant and add unnecessary weight and complexity to your rig if you are a casual shooter.

AR-15 forward assist

Do All AR-15s Have Forward Assist Buttons?

No, not all AR-15s have forward assist buttons. Some manufacturers offer AR-15 models without a forward assist, often referred to as “slick-slide” uppers. I like this type of AR-15s because they are usually lighter and have a cleaner, more streamlined appearance – perfect for self-defense or situations where maneuverability is key.

However, the best AR-15s often include forward assists, but the firearm is crafted with such quality that you don’t even feel the difference between them and the “slick-slide” uppers.

Do They Make Upper Receivers Without Forward Assist?

The same applies to AR-15 upper receivers – not all upper receivers have forward assist. Those without forward assist are ideal if you prefer a more minimalist design or simply do not see the need for a forward assist in their specific use case.

Does Forward Assist Affect The Bolt Carrier Group?

The forward assist does not directly affect the BCG. AR-15 BCGs are responsible for chambering, extracting, and ejecting rounds. Meanwhile, the forward assist is only used to address potential malfunctions in the chambering process. These two components operate independently of each other, but both play pivotal roles in the overall function of the rifle.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the term chambering mean in the context of firearms?

Chambering, regardless of whether it is a bolt action hunting rifle or a semi-auto pistol, refers to when a round is loaded into the firing chamber, preparing it for firing.

What role does the forward assist play in addressing potential malfunctions?

The forward assist is ideal in situations when the round does not chamber properly. The mechanism helps to seat the round properly, resolving potential malfunctions related to bolt actions.

What are some common scenarios in which the AR-15 forward assist might be useful?

The three most common scenarios when an AR-15 forward assist can be useful are faulty ammunition, a dirty chamber, and cold weather.

The Bottom Line

The forward assist is a feature that some find indispensable, and others see as optional. Its utility is highly situational and dependent on the type of shooting you do. Therefore, deciding on whether to include it in your AR-15 rig depends on your use case – whether it be hunting, competition shooting, or just casual range shooting. Ultimately, the addition of a forward assist should elevate your shooting experience, not compromise it.

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

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