Legendary Riflemaker Melvin Forbes Passes Away

posted on June 11, 2024

Melvin Forbes, founder of New Ultra Light Arms and a pioneer in the building of light rifles, passed away at his Granville, W.V., home on June 5, 2024. He was 77 years old.

A lifelong West Virginia resident, Forbes was born on Nov. 25, 1946 in Morgantown, W.V. After graduating from high school in 1965, Forbes started as a mold maker in the glass industry. An interest in firearms led him to start a part-time job as a gunsmith, and he developed his skills as an expert machinist, eventually teaching classes at the Monongalia County Vocational School.

In 1984, Forbes founded Ultra Light Arms to develop what became known as the Model 20, ultimately recognized as one of the most capable lightweight rifles ever made. Forbes' rifles were sold across the world and were featured widely in outdoor writings. By 1999, Ultra Light Arms was successful enough to attract the attention of Colt, which bought the company. Unfortunately, under Colt's management, Ultra Light Arms struggled, leading Forbes to buy it back.

At the 2011 NRA Publications Golden Bullseye Awards, Forbes was recognized as the year's Golden Bullseye Pioneer, with then-NRA Publications Editorial Director John Zent recognizing that Forbes "shook up the shooting and hunting world with his five-pound rifles that shoot every bit as good as many twice that heavy." In 2012, Titan Machine bought Ultra Light Arms from Forbes, but the name folded under the company's management, leading Forbes to buy the brand back yet again. This time, he re-named it New Ultra Light Arms to distinguish it from the old. In 2022, Forbes sold New Ultra Light Arms to Wilson Combat, which continues to build Forbes' signature Model 20.

Forbes was a community figurehead, having served on the Granville town council. Recognizing the need to foster gunsmithing skills, Forbes and his family established the Melvin Forbes Next Generation Scholarship at Montgomery Community College in North Carolina for students of gunsmithing. The first scholarship will be awarded in the fall of 2024. Forbes was an avid outdoorsman, fond of fishing and hunting. He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Patricia, two children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.


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