If you are coming over to the AR-15 pattern of rifles from any other traditional rifle configurations (bolt action, standard side-charging semi-automatic, etc.), the AR-15 feels odd. Why the charging handle? What’s with the buzz/rattle in the buffer tube after every shot? And especially, what’s up with the little plunger button on the right side behind the ejection port?
Well, that little guy is there to make sure the BCG goes fully into battery in case it doesn’t fully seat. Why wouldn’t the BCG fully seat? Lots of reasons. It could be a little too much grit from a long day at the range or getting fouled up from all that steel-cased ammo you bought for a song 15 years ago. Whatever the reason, the AR-15 gives you an option that no other semi-automatic does. Instead of ejecting the round in battery to try again, you can push the forward assist and fully seat that round to send some hate downrange.
Let’s take a look at what forward assists are and why you might want one on your rifle.
What Is A Forward Assist?
The forward assist is exactly what it sounds like: it is a mechanical feature on your AR-15 (or AR-10 if that’s your flavor) that pushes the BCG fully into battery, Basically, the way it works is simple: the forward assist is spring-loaded so it pops back out of the way as soon as you stop pressing it. When you press the forward assist, the internal component of the forward assist engages with the cleats on the BCG.
It is not designed or intended to push the BCG very far, just far enough to fully seat the cartridge in the chamber.
That’s all a forward assist for the AR-15 is, in a nutshell.
What Does The Forward Assist Do?
Occasionally, when you release the charging handle on your AR-15, the BCG won’t go fully into battery.
Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time), it’s because shooters are too timid just to let the BCG slap forward at full speed. They will ride the charging handle back into the locked position, which is not enough force to seat the BCG fully.
You gotta let it go, man.
Also, sometimes it is because of built-up dirt and shooting grime that the bolt won't fully seat. If this is the case, clean your dang rifle. But seriously, in the heat of the moment, press that forward assist with your palm and seat that bolt so you can get back to slinging lead.
Now, not every upper receiver comes with a forward assist. If you have bought a slick-side upper for your build, it won’t have a forward assist or a dust cover, in case that matters to you. It doesn’t change the overall shootability or function of the rifle, but you won’t have the function of a forward assist in case you need it.
Have AR-15s Always Had Forward Assists?
The forward assist button is not the original equipment on the AR pattern rifle. The original Stoner design did not have one on the AR-10 or AR-15, and the original M16 did not have it.
The M16 was adopted as a multi-service weapon to perform all armed functions of all branches of service, a real Swiss Army Knife sort of weapon. Considering it has been doing it for sixty years, it has done so well.
But on with the story. The XM16E1 was the first variant of the design to include the forward assist at the behest of the Army, and in fact, all branches besides the Air Force would adopt the XM-16E1.
Every subsequent model of M-16s would include the forward assist as a standard and necessary part of the rifle. While it may not make much difference at the 100-yard range or shooting vermin and predators in rural America, it proved important in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
Help! My AR Doesn’t Have A Forward Assist!
Okay, the first thing you need to do is panic.
It isn’t a big deal unless you run the crud out of your AR in 3-Gun, tac courses, or just for fun.
Also, if you run a ton of steel-case ammo, think about it (or clean your rifle every hundred rounds or so).
Can I Add An AR-15 Forward Assist?
If you have a slick-side AR, you are pretty much “sorry, out of luck” if you catch the drift. The upper has to be equipped with the forward assist tube to have the forward assist (not necessary in our line of side-charging uppers).
That said, it's really easy if you want to add a forward assist and dust cover to a slick side upper.
How To Install An AR-15 Forward Assist
Continuing from the last paragraph, the easiest way (and only way) to add forward assist to a slick side rifle is to buy a stripped upper receiver and an upper parts kit, which is just the forward assist and dust cover and their associated parts.
You can remove all the other goodies from your rifle and install them directly on the upper receiver with a forward assist and dust cover. Who knows, that slick side upper might come in handy down the road for a fresh build. We AR builders are scroungers and parts hoarders; it comes with the territory.
Bear Creek Arsenal Is Your One-Stop Shop For AR-15 Uppers (With And Without Forward Assist!)
Bear Creek Arsenal is proudly ready to hook you up with all the parts you need for a sick new build, whether you are content with slapping two complete receivers together or you want to assemble the whole thing from top to bottom.
We also have a huge inventory of fully assembled rifles ready to be shipped straight to your FFL, along with optics, spare parts, magazines, and everything in between. Also, make sure to check out our handgun parts for that sick Glock or Sig build!