A muzzle brake or a recoil compensator is usually a small somewhat cylindrical device that attaches to the end of a rifle’s barrel at the muzzle. Muzzle brakes can be affixed to the barrel of either a rifle or pistol. Perhaps the most famous muzzle brake that most shooters and non-shooters may be familiar with are the old style Cutts compensators used on the iconic Thompson submachine gun that was developed to effectively control muzzle rise and aid in fully automatic shooting.
What does a Muzzle Brake do?
The primary role of a muzzle brake is to redirect the flow of combustion gasses after a round is fired. When a round has fired, the gas produced by the burning of powder pushes the firearm rearward. For the bullet to move forward an equal pressure must push backward – that process is called recoil. It is part of Newton’s third law of gravity which states, “that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”.
We see similar muzzle devices on handguns where they are referred to as compensators and are used primarily in competition. Some shooters may not understand the need for a compensator on a pistol but there is a big difference between shooting competitively where accuracy is critical on follow up shots and a tenth of a second or tenth of an inch in group size means the difference between going home with a trophy or not.
Most muzzle brakes have vents or ports along the sides and top. These cause the pressurized gasses to escape upwards and to the side. This part of the process reduces the felt recoil of the firearm by preventing or diminishing the rise of the muzzle which in turn improves shooter accuracy by stabilizing barrel movement and allowing a faster recovery time between shots.
Many muzzle brakes can also act as QD (quick detach) mounts for silencers or sound suppressors. When used in this regard the muzzle brake aids sound suppression by restricting the flow of gas and other debris and by acting as a sacrificial “blast baffle”. This means that the stainless steel of the muzzle brake takes the brunt of the blast, particularly when a short barrel is used for a high-pressure rifle round. Thus, prolonging the usable life of the silencer or suppressor because that blast is not degrading the titanium, stellite or Inconel used in the baffles of the silencer.
Does having a muzzle brake make a big difference?
Depending on the construction of the brake and the firearm in question, some muzzle brakes can decrease recoil by as much as 50% and in a few cases even more. This is relative, as a less than optimally designed brake will not make much of a difference on a high pressure round and even a perfectly built brake may not show any effect on a firearm with little to no recoil to begin with such as 22 Short or 22 LR.
It can make a difference with regard to vertical recoil. Supersonic rounds can often cause muzzle rise, especially when shooting full auto. Some shooters control this by mounting a vertical foregrip. The problem with that solution is that shooters tend to muzzle the weapon. The muzzle brake eliminates that factor by helping the shooter stay on target and not induce fatigue or shake by forcing the rifle in a downward position while firing.
Can a muzzle brake be added to any AR?
Muzzle brakes are not specific to AR pattern rifles and most brakes can be added to any rifle.
The best and most traditional way to install a muzzle brake is by means of a threaded barrel where the internal threads of the muzzle brake are compatible with the external threads on the rifle barrel. ARs chambered in 223 Remington or 5.56 NATO are most often threaded in ½ x 28” ARs chambered in a .30 caliber load such as 300 Blackout are typically threaded in 5/8 X 24”.
If the AR barrel has no threads, there are muzzle brake designs that are attached by using set screws or other alternative methods. However, direct thread seems to be the best way to mount a muzzle brake reliably.
Benefits of a Muzzle Brake
Muzzle brakes are most often used to tame recoil on high powered hunting rifles and dangerous game rifles. Most tactical rifles followed the military method of using flash hiders as recoil. Muzzle rise may be an issue for some when shooting full auto, but much of that can be taught as a shooting discipline.
However, silencer manufacturers discovered that muzzle brakes actually can help prolong suppressor life and as civilian manufacturers began offering different rounds with more recoil than their military counterparts such as 458 SOCOM or 50 Beowulf; muzzle brakes started to become much more appreciated by the tactical and precision rifle shooting communities.
Downsides of a Muzzle Brake
The main disadvantage to most muzzle brakes is that they can make a rifle seem louder, particularly if the flash or concussion is diverted laterally. Most of the time a shooter may not notice this noise level due to hearing protection. Oftentimes, a shooter’s companions at the range shooting alongside the shooter will notice this via the side blast and concussion, particularly if the shooting position is covered.
Likewise, a muzzle brake may throw dirt, debris, sand, etc. from the surrounding area up and into the line of sight of the shooter. This can be circumvented by covering the ground with a tarp or shooting mat prior to taking a shot from a prone position.
Just like any piece of gear, a muzzle brake requires its own level of maintenance. It’s not much but cleaning the ports on a muzzle brake with carbon cleaner and pipe cleaners or a metal brush may add a little bit more time to your cleaning schedule.
Lastly, some muzzle brakes can add unnecessary length or weight to the barrel of the firearm. In most cases this is relatively minimal, but it is worth noting, particularly if you are down to weighing your gear in ounces in order to make a long foot trek more comfortable.
When should you use a muzzle brake?
Flash hider vs. muzzle brake
Sometimes veterans transitioning from the military stick with flash hiders similar to the types used on their M16s and M4s. Flash hiders tend to have longitudinal cuts or slits as opposed to the rounded ports found on a muzzle brake.
Contrary to popular misconception, flash hiders merely suppress the flash so as not to disturb the shooter’s night vision. They do not hide it from potential targets or other shooters.
Use a muzzle brake when you need to stay on target or if you want to prevent or reduce soreness from repeated recoil of the rifle butt.
Why is a muzzle brake useful?
Muzzle brakes are useful whenever you want to tame recoil and have faster follow up shots on a rifle that may be otherwise tough to shoot. One need only look at the ones found on anti-tank guns to realize how this design can trickle down and tame harshly recoiling small arms fire.
They are almost a necessity on larger guns with a recoil impulse like 300 Remington Ultra Mag and other safari grade or hunting caliber rifles intended for big game. They also are a great addition for precision rifles and sniper rifles, as they aid in accuracy.
What is the best muzzle device for an AR pistol?
AR pistols and SBRs (short barreled rifles) have shorter barrels than AR rifles. A high-pressure rifle cartridge generates much more muzzle blast due to the unburnt powder and propellant gasses combusting as it hits the air. A muzzle brake makes much more sense on these types of firearms. They are responsible for much more recoil reduction than what a flash suppressor or any other muzzle device can offer.
Shop U.S. Arms Company Talon Muzzle Brake
One of the finest muzzle brakes on the market today is the M-905 Talon muzzle brake from U.S. Arms Company. Previously only available to US Special Forces sniper teams, this patented brake utilizes an aerospace proven design to effectively reduce recoil 94%. Its unique design allows for incredible performance.
The Brake is currently offered in . .223 caliber in 1⁄2” x 28” thread pattern. Check out the website for availability