The Muzzle Brake: What is It For?

SBA5 Brace from SB Tactical

The purpose of a muzzle brake is to reduce recoil and “muzzle flip” (the rise of the muzzle due to recoil) by redirecting the propellant gases as they seek to escape the barrel of a firearm. A muzzle brake (also sometimes referred to as a recoil compensator or “comp”) may be either affixed to the weapon permanently or temporarily connected to the end of the barrel.

Why a Muzzle Brake?

If you look at most older guns, they typically have a barrel that is not threaded for anything. Your grandfather’s Remington 700 was a utilitarian rifle he used to harvest meat and defend the farm against predators. However, in the past 10-20 years the muzzle brake has become immensely popular; even some shotguns have them. But if shooters have gotten away without them, why should you consider one?

First, we should look at what recoil is. Newton’s Third Law (conservation of momentum) basically states the force the bullet exerts to go forward has to also happen to the gun. Equal and opposite reactions. This force is then felt as recoil on the shooter as the gun is pushed back into the hands and shoulder.

Because there really aren’t any firearms where the barrel is perfectly centered on your arm, muzzle rise will occur. Think of the height of the barrel above your hand as a lever. The higher above your hand, the more prominent the muzzle rise will be, but how do we tame that?

rainier arms xtreme tactical muzzle brake
The ports in a muzzle break redirect gas before they can fully act on the shooter via increased recoil and muzzle rise. [Photo: Rainier Arms]

How Muzzle Brakes Work

If your grandfather was talking, he would likely tell you to suck it up and deal with it, be a man or something like that. However, we like to work smarter not harder and for those who compete or use a firearm for self-defense, any advantage is a good one. When the bullet is fired it is being propelled by a substantial amount of hot gas rushing forward and as they leave the barrel, they ordinarily just shoot out the end. With a muzzle brake, we are able to harness this gas by directing them rearward or in some cases out the top of the brake. This creates another force in the case of rear venting brakes that helps push the firearm forward. Think of it acting like a little rocket on each side of the barrel. A top venting brake or one that has a vent on the top is designed to stop muzzle flip like we were talking about above. The gas helps push the barrel down allowing the shooter to have quicker follow-up shots.

While all of this is fantastic, it comes at a cost. Due to the porting of the gasses rearward concussive blast is much more noticeable then without. Your neighbors in the range hut might not be super happy with you. The more angled back the vents on the brake are, the more concussion is felt. In a covered shooting position, this can be a bit uncomfortable with just foam plugs in your ears. In fact, we have one brake that is so aggressive with its porting that you get hit by bits of carbon, but boy does it work. The other issue with this is shooting close to the ground in prone or laying on your side i.e. urban prone. If there is anything on the ground like dust you will likely eat a bunch of it.

With all this said though, muzzle brakes are here to stay. The reduction in felt recoil allows larger calibers to be shot more comfortably, allows competition shooters to complete stages faster and in some cases allows people with disabilities to shoot firearms they might not be able to.

Don’t confuse a muzzle brake with a flash hider or suppressor though. A flash hider is designed to reduce the visible report of the muzzle blast coming from a barrel. This is something that is typically used on military rifles. A suppressor or silencer on the other hand is designed to slow the gasses coming out reducing the audible report of the rifle and because the gas is going slower on exit it also works to reduce felt recoil.

Ryan Houtekamer

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