November 28, 2021

When To Use A Muzzle Brake

muzzle brake

Should I Get A Muzzle Brake?

A muzzle brake is a popular firearm accessory, and a whole lot of shooters have them. Should I get one, you ask?

Well, that depends.

A muzzle brake is kind of like a tuxedo. It’s not only appropriate, but arguably necessary in some instances, such as a formal dinner or wedding. However, it’s completely out of place at the beach…unless it’s in Antarctica, and you’re wearing it to blend in with penguins or something, but you’ll end up freezing if you do a darn fool thing like that.

Anyhow, when should you get a muzzle brake?

What Is A Muzzle Brake?

muzzle brake

A muzzle brake is not exactly a complicated device. Functionally, it’s a recoil compensator. What makes a muzzle brake different than a compensator that you might use on a pistol?

Basically, a muzzle brake on a pistol is called a “compensator” but if you use it on a rifle – or for that matter, something bigger – it’s called a “muzzle brake” but it all adds up to the same thing.

It is a pretty simple device. You stick a tube on the end of the barrel and drill holes in it in such a manner as to direct propellant gases as they leave the muzzle.

Why does this matter? Muzzle rise, of course!

So, muzzle rise – which is related to though different from recoil – is where the muzzle rises after a shot is fired. Recoil, strictly speaking, is the energy directed into the shooter by virtue of Newton’s Third Law (for every action there is opposed an equal and opposite reaction) whereas muzzle rise is when the muzzle is pushed up. FELT recoil, however, is partially that plus the muzzle rise.

How does this happen? When you fire a gun – a rifle, shotgun or even a pistol – there is a part of the body that contacts the gun. Long guns contact the body at the shoulder with the butt and in the hand with the grip, pistols in the web of the hand with the grip alone.

Now, imagine a horizontal line extending forward from where the gun contacts you. If the barrel is above it, even by a centimeter, this creates a fulcrum as the muzzle will rotate upwards. The bigger the gap between contact and the barrel and the greater the recoil force due to the bullet being fired, the greater the torque.

A muzzle brake directs exhaust gases upward and/or to the sides, depending on the porting on it. This minimizes muzzle rise and thus the felt recoil.

Downsides Of A Muzzle Brake

downsides muzzle brake

There is a cost to everything, including to a muzzle brake. What are they?

First is cost. How much depends on a few things. The muzzle brakes you can get for your gun, plus installation. This can run a few hundred or more. Some guns require a barrel be installed with an integrated muzzle brake, which will have to be installed.

The second is noise and flash from gunfire, though this effect is more reserved for rifles than with pistols. Your .45 ACP won’t become a fire-spitting, 200 dB handheld dragon. However, a rifle in .300 Winchester Magnum will get a bit of that. It will be louder and there will be a bit more flame coming out the business end.

A muzzle brake on a .50 BMG is all but essential, but you better double up on the hearing protection.

Additionally, rifles with muzzle brakes tend to need shorter barrels in order to accommodate them, and less barrel means a tad less velocity. A great many 22-inch and 24-inch guns are plenty accurate, but it is something to keep in mind. Some are removable, so you can take it off if need be…but you’ll have to re-zero the gun.

When You DO Want A Muzzle Brake

want muzzle brake

So, when should I get a muzzle brake?

When it makes the most sense to deploy one.

Let’s flesh that out a little bit. A muzzle brake makes sense if either of the following applies:

You need to make fast follow-up shots

You have a big gun

The former is why most service guns from the M14 onward have had them including sniper rifles and also why compensators are popular with the competition crowd. You can keep a bit of sight picture during the recoil impulse, get back on target more quickly and thus get more lead downrange faster. This matters in a competition scenario AND if your life is on the line.

As to the latter…

Basically, the big, scary rifle calibers all but require a muzzle brake to do much shooting with them. As a general rule, anything more powerful than a .338 Winchester Magnum (including the stouter .30 caliber magnums such as .300 Remington Ultra, .300 Weatherby Magnum or the savage .30-378 Weatherby Magnum) benefits by having one. However, anything more powerful than .270 Winchester in a lightweight rifle (ie 6 lbs or less) is also a good candidate to make them more shootable.

However, this doesn’t apply as much to dangerous game rifles. If you bought an elephant gun, stiff recoil is part of the bargain and increased flash is not a good thing in the field when you need to be able to see a really big critter that’s really mad at you, especially in low-light conditions.

Sam Hoober  

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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