A Beginner's Guide to Muzzle Brakes
Josh Wayner for TTAG
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A question I am often asked is if a person should get a muzzle brake for their rifle. There is some ground to cover in answering that question, so let’s start with some definitions.

The Different Muzzle Devices

In today’s shooting world there are many guns that come with threaded muzzles that can accept a variety of different attachments. The most common three today are muzzle brakes, flash hiders, and suppressors.

Occasionally you will see some alternate nomenclature such as ‘rise eliminator’, ‘silencer’, and ‘flash suppressor’ being used. These are odd terms that I avoid using because they are just slang or fancy Tactical Polo Bro lingo.

‘Silencer’ is a technically incorrect term for a suppressor as it merely prevents serious hearing damage to the shooter. No gun is “Hollywood silent.” In fact, most guns equipped with suppressors are still loud as hell. They just take the edge off for the most part.

A flash hider — also called a flash suppressor — essentially just redirects the fireball at the gun’s muzzle in more productive directions. A common flash hider is the military A2, which has a solid bottom to keep dirt and dust from being kicked up when firing.

Some flash hiders are multi-pronged and others have small slits or ports. These devices don’t reduce recoil and only come into play when firing in low light conditions or when you’re just trying to make your gun look cool, which is arguably 99% of what flash hiders do.

It should be noted that, even if you’re using ammo that’s already using low-flash powder, there will still be some flash just as there is still some noise with a suppressor.

A Beginner's Guide to Muzzle Brakes
The SilencerCo ASR brake is a chambered brake. It has three baffles that deflect gasses to reduce recoil. The Next Level .450 Bushmaster brake is a radial brake that effectively reduces the beastly recoil of the big-bore cartridge. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

A muzzle brake is different from a flash hider in that it has ports that redirect the muzzle blast to reduce recoil, as it should be noted that the vast majority of a gun’s recoil comes from the muzzle blast itself. The dramatic expansion of gasses can be tamed.

A suppressor reduces recoil just by merit of trapping that gas and preventing it from expanding. A muzzle brake forces the gas out of one or more angular ports, with the angle of those ports allowing the gun to essentially be pulled forward, thus negating the recoil impulse.

A Beginner's Guide to Muzzle Brakes
SJC Titan compensator (Jeremy S. for TTAG)

Different muzzle brakes do different things and can be used for different purposes. There are two main kinds that I will address: radial and chambered.

A chambered brake has a series of open ports that the bullet passes through. Each port bleeds off more gas to allow the recoil to dissipate. A chambered brake typically has ports only along the three and six o’clock sides, but some have ports at twelve o’clock as well which can force the muzzle down to prevent jump, especially when shooting off a bipod. This is commonly called a compensator.

A Beginner's Guide to Muzzle Brakes
Examples of flash hiders. While they do not reduce recoil, they do mitigate some flash at the muzzle. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

Compensators are essentially a type of muzzle brake that is designed to prevent muzzle jump and not just the rearward recoil impulse. There is some confusion over just what the true differences are between a compensator and a muzzle brake, but for the purposes of this article we will lump them together since there is no real clear-cut separation.

A Beginner's Guide to Muzzle Brakes
Armageddon Tactical CompTek Type I Compensator/Brake (Jeremy S. for TTAG)

This tends to vary by manufacturer. Consider compensators to be a subtype of muzzle brakes and you’ll get along fine.

Radial brakes have ports drilled around the entire body. These ports are quite small, but they work in tandem to keep the muzzle in the same place. A down side to radial brakes is that, while very effective, they tend to kick up lots of debris if in the field. Using a radial brake while prone can result in lots of crap being kicked up all over you and your gear.

Who Needs A Muzzle Brake?

I hear it at the range all the time…a person who can’t master their rifle needs to put a brake on it. This is especially common for hunting rifles. Instead of going with a smaller caliber or a gun that fits them better, a typical “fix” is to install a brake. A muzzle brake typically cuts recoil by 50% or more, meaning that an otherwise powerful gun can be fired comfortably.

Muzzle brakes aren’t just for high-recoil rifles. Competition shooters almost always put a brake on their rifles as a way to make even low-recoil guns easier to fire. Competitions that require fast shooting see many brakes as they make rifles like the AR-15 feel like they have no recoil at all. Long range shooters prefer them because they allow the shooter to see hits through their own scope and then make adjustments on the fly.

Hunters is a group that benefit from muzzle brakes for many of the same reasons as competitors. Many hunting rifles are higher-recoil and are fired from awkward, stressful positions in the field. A brake can make it so that the hunter can get back on the gun faster after the first shot. Hunters who take longer shots are again benefited by being able to spot their hits.

The Downsides

There are a few downsides associated with muzzle brakes that need to be considered. The first of these is noise, which is probably the most problematic part and a major reason why some people straight-up hate them. While a good muzzle brake will reduce felt recoil substantially, it will also substantially increase the amount of perceived noise and pressure a shooter feels.

A Beginner's Guide to Muzzle Brakes
Courtesy SilencerCo

The SilencerCo muzzle brake seen here makes a standard 16″ AR rifle almost unbearable to fire, even with hearing protection in place. The noise and blast feel much greater than with a flash hider and the concussion at the muzzle can be felt in the sinuses. While it virtually eliminates recoil, the gun isn’t fun to fire in any great volume with the brake in place.

Many hunters prefer to go to the field without hearing protection thinking that it will be just one shot and they won’t need it. I made that mistake last year with a .450 Bushmaster carbine.

I ended up taking a few shots due to an almost instantaneous malfunction and I profoundly regretted my lack of hearing protection. I had a terrible ringing in my ears for weeks. I didn’t think it would be that big an issue due to the fact that I’ve hunted for years with a muzzleloader that has a very long Kentucky-style barrel.

The muzzle loader is a relatively quiet gun and I’d compare it to a loud firecracker in most cases, but certainly not ear-shattering. The .450 Bushmaster’s chambered brake caused me some serious hearing damage that day and it was a completely preventable situation.

I wear light hearing protection in the stand now as a result. I can still hear game coming, but won’t hurt myself by taking the shot in tight wooded confines. I have since installed a radial Next Level Armament .450 Brake.

The blast and concussion are two separate issues. Some shooters I know take a Tylenol after a match because of the headache they come out with. Many won’t talk about it for fear of seeming unmanly, but your body is telling you something. I had had shooters complain of their eyes hurting, their sinuses aching, and low-grade migraines after firing SBR-length guns and carbines with muzzle brakes attached.

To Brake or Not To Brake?

Most people don’t really need muzzle brakes on their guns. Large caliber rifles such as the .450 Bushmaster, .338 Lapua, .300 Win Mag, and others like them certainly benefit from reduced recoil. I believe that most people that own and use rifles that generate tremendous recoil will want a brake as the benefits outweigh the possible downsides.

A Beginner's Guide to Muzzle Brakes
The standard A2-style flash hider on the far left is often just a fancy thread protector. The Next Level .450 brake is very compact but effective. The two SilencerCo ASR devices on the right can accept suppressors that thread on over top of them. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

But what about people who shoot huge guns like .375 H&H, .458 Win Mag, and .416 Rigby? It’s rare to see safari-type guns with brakes simply for the reason that those guns aren’t shot that often and carried a great deal by people who have a desire to maintain a classic aesthetic.

I have seen big game hunters with braked rifles, but they are few compared to those who go with a bare muzzle. The .338 Lapua guys who shoot steel at a mile have a different set of needs than a guy with a .416 taking on a cape buffalo.

A Beginner's Guide to Muzzle Brakes
Courtesy rexsilentium.com

Pistols with muzzle brakes are a bit of a weird topic. Most modern pistols don’t need a brake. I would say that it makes virtually no sense to add a brake to a common 9mm pistol unless you were going for looks.

Length is immediately added to the barrel and noise at the muzzle is increased dramatically. A handgun hunter may benefit from a brake on a big bore revolver, but even then it’s not necessary in most cases due to the added blast. Firing a braked .460 S&W feels like setting off a grenade in your hand.

Competition shooters are a group that typically benefits from a good brake. This is a case where a speed-shooting competitor needs to keep their gun level to the target, usually while firing reduced or special target loads. It is common to see 1911-style guns with a brake on the muzzle in these competitions.

At the end of the day it will be a personal choice to brake or not. A brake on a home defense rifle is a hard pass for me as the blast and concussion would result in disorientation. Will a flash hider be better if firing a 5.56mm rifle indoors with no hearing protection? Hard to say, but why go there?

Would I want a brake on a carry gun? Again, probably not. The Tactical Polo Bros in the audience will defend their Roland Special to the end, but in real life nobody carries guns like that and if you do, you should rethink your carry preferences or perhaps take an actual self-defense course.

Muzzle devices brakes compensators flash hider
Jeremy S. for TTAG

The choice is yours. Muzzle brakes are common and widely available, but don’t be surprised if they aren’t your cup of tea. You really can’t go wrong with a flash hider in 90% of circumstances, but for that remaining 10%, reduced recoil can help at the expense of added noise and discomfort.

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44 COMMENTS

  1. They are great for pissing off the other people at the range. And this being the internet you have to spell it break.

    • A way to be known as “that guy” at the range.

      Even worse if it is a bench rest range with baffles in front to limit elevation.

  2. No muzzle brakes for me. The trade off in reduced recoil as opposed to the muzzle blast is not worth it. I say that even though I own a Remington 700 in 7mm Mag. It has a Mag-Na-Port break installed. It was there when I bought the rifle. It’s my bean field rifle. I usually discharge it from an enclosed stand with the muzzle well out the window. Understand, when I built the Hilton I set 4X6 pressure treated posts in concrete. It’s like a shooting bench 10′ in the sky. When I touch that rifle off I can feel the stand vibrate. I keep threatening to remove the brake and replace it with a thread protector. On a different note, I always understood that a flash hinder was intended to hide the flash. See the Lee-Enfield Jungle Carbine and some BREN LMG for example. A flash suppressor is designed to disperse the flash. Birdcage. Then you have that stupid little thing the Russians put on the end of an AK (not the AK-74 muzzle break) that was supposed to keep down U/R muzzle climb by redirecting muzzle blast U/L. Yeah, right.

    • Forgot to say, anyone that needs a muzzle brake on a .223/.556 for the real world? Maybe they need to rethink their world.

      • Got an 10.5” SBR AR range toy that I only shoot suppressed. The silencer is QD type that screws on to a muzzle device. Manufacturer recommends muzzle brake over a flash hider as it acts as sacrificial blast baffle especially on a barrel so short.

        • Different, you called it a range toy first. That is exactly my opinion of it. But, hey, have fun!

        • Sounds like a meme gun my son made in Phantom Forces. It was a very short 5.56 carbine with a monster optic on it. Trying to shoot auto while aiming through the scope was very “bouncy”.

          He was doing okay with it and other people started copying his setup.

  3. I mostly shoot rifle caliber single shot handguns with a rifle scope. A good brake is key to using rifle scopes; rifle scopes work better for long range shooting.

    Many of the good brakes are blocked off on the bottom to help avoid the dirt / debris issues. One of my Contender barrels has a radial brake & it does kick up some dirt.

    I have a couple big bore revolvers, one of which (a FA 454 Casull) I’ve shot with no brake / porting, Magnaported, and with a radial brake. I shoot the radial braked version best.

    They can be annoyingly loud if you are nearby, but I think that’s somewhat overrated – I shoot matches where we all have rifle caliber single shot handguns with brakes, and we all seem to get by ok. Typically these are various rifle cartridges from 22 to 30 caliber, usually not magnums (although I’ve shot next to a 338 Lapua specialty pistol before).

    I wear hearing protection (I’ve got a good, custom fit, in ear set) whenever I’m shooting or hunting.

    • Mike, I used to have a FA in .454 Casull. 7 1/2″ Field Grade. I sent it back to FA to have the black micarta grips fitted. A tack driver. No muzzle brake. None needed. No scope either. That’s just me. No harm, no foul. I thought of scoping a TC Super 14 in .35 Remington once, but never did. Interesting comment. Keep shooting.

      • I shoot a 10″ Contender in a couple different calibers, with no muzzle devices. Now, that .223 barrel puts put out a pretty good fireball, in my estimation, similar to the .22-250 out of the rifle. I even handload it specifically for that short barrel, but it still has a bark. But I don’t shoot competition; these are hunting guns.

      • My eyes were always bad & they’ve gotten worse. I wish I could shoot iron sights but … not practical for me. I’ve got a red dot on it now, which works pretty well.

        When I had pistol scopes on my Contender, I didn’t always have brakes. Once I saw how the long range guys setup specialty pistols, I went to rifle scopes & brakes. There are so many more options with rifle scopes … but once you are using one, a good brake is important (well, except for my 22 K Hornet) unless you like wearing your scope!

        A friend of mine’s husband does hearing aids for a living; he made me a set of custom molded active hearing protection – they weren’t cheap, but they are comfortable & work great. So, I wear them even when I’m out hunting.

        The accuracy & range achievable with the specialty pistols with this setup is hard to believe unless you’ve seen it.

        Like you said, YMMV .. I have guns with & without brakes. I like them all.

  4. “‘Silencer’ is a technically incorrect term for a suppressor as it merely prevents serious hearing damage to the shooter. No gun is “Hollywood silent.” In fact, most guns equipped with suppressors are still loud as hell. They just take the edge off for the most part.”

    Starting at 15:05

    • My brother uses subsonic .22LR in a bolt-action to shoot raccoons off his deer feeders. Even without a can, it’s suprisingly quiet. Didn’t even set off e-muffs.

      • Dred, with decent barrel length, a closed system and standard velocity ammunition, I’ve cleaned a hickory tree of grey squirrels before they know what’s happening. Not park squirrels. You know, the wild ones, the ones that live with bobcats, coyotes, rattlesnakes (I skinned one that had a rabbit in him.) raptors and me. I love a fried squirrel. What you said didn’t suprise me a bit.

        • I’m awaiting moderation for a comment about hunting with a .22. No foul language. Fuck this site.

  5. So, I’m putting the finishing touches on an AR pistol in 350 Legend, and am planning to shoot it from the jaw like Rhett Neumayer teaches. With a properly adjusted sling, it’s pretty comfortable and stable. I am accustomed to the blast from the Contender, but I usually shoot that from arm’s length, and I have long arms. This one will be different. Anybody run a linear comp, to push the blast out front? I’m looking at this one:

    https://kawvalleyprecision.com/product/kvp-2-25-magnum-linear-comp/

    A bump up in recoil doesn’t bother me, but there will be some blast because this 10.5″ barrel came with a standard A2 flash hider. I’m thinking a linear comp will help. Any thoughts or experiences on this?

  6. Some muzzle brakes come with an optional blast shield for use on guns with shorter barrels.
    Super fancy competition-style brakes often come with removable screws on the top ports, allowing for hand-tuning the strength and direction of the compensating force.

  7. You can call a silencer a suppressor under the guise of “it doesn’t really silence”
    I take the position that it’s called a SILENCER. The ATF calls it a silencer. You register it with the ATF as a silencer not a suppressor so I’m going to call my Trash Panda a silencer because that is what it is known as. If I go to my silencer’s website, it’s not listed or advertised as a suppressor, it’s called a silencer.

    Wayners assertion that silencer is a technically incorrect is like saying a shooting star isn’t really a star or shooting so you have to call it something else. Who cares, so what? It’s also not technically a can either. It’s a silencer, the rest is semantics. That’s what they are, that’s how they are sold, that’s how the ATF classifies them and that’s what’s on an ATF form 4, SILENCER!

    • There’s good reason to push the terminology in the direction of “suppressor”. If the average voter knew that it’s not like in the movies and they don’t make a gun truly silent, then people would sooner understand them as hearing protection devices, which is what they are. Then we might be able to buy them off the shelf one day without the wait or $200 tax stamp.

    • Shooting stars are not something that many want to outlaw or keep restricted, so the fact that they aren’t really shooting or stars is a non-issue, whereas calling suppressors silencers is a legitimate issue as it misleads much of the public on the legislative front.

  8. Hiram Maxim’s first patents for his first silencer in 1909, although he started selling it in 1902 before he received the patent, called it a silencer.

    United States Code calls it a silencer.

    The ATF calls it a silencer.

    There is nothing wrong about calling it a silencer.

    • Even though the original inventor called it a silencer, it is bad to call it that from a public relations standpoint because too much of the public has their impression of silencers from the movies. Calling car mufflers silencers is just semantics, as people know that they don’t totally silence the vehicle because the general public has much more exposure to cars than to guns. But calling silencers “silencers” misleads people.

  9. Muzzle Brake? Check. 50 yard double tap? Check.
    If you are fighting with friends or CQB do not recommend muzzle brake. Suppressors are best if you can afford them, otherwise there’s some good flash hider/brake combos that do everything well. AAC makes great combo units.

  10. I have a brake on my AR. It was there when I bought it. It does make the AR loud and less pleasabt to shoot. Ive just been lazy about going to GS to get it removed

  11. “But what about people who shoot huge guns like .375 H&H, .458 Win Mag, and .416 Rigby? It’s rare to see safari-type guns with brakes simply for the reason that those guns aren’t shot that often and carried a great deal by people who have a desire to maintain a classic aesthetic.”

    No, they’re not used because of the increase in noise level that can damage everyone else’s ears. Bring one onto my property and you’re leaving now and never being allowed back.

    And I seem to recall doing a hell of a lot of shooting with a .375 H&H for years and never felt the need for any sissified trash attachments because IT DOESN’T KICK THAT MUCH.

  12. Silencer is the legal term, so I won’t argue it’s merits. It may not be as accurate as suppressor, neither creates silence, either. The noise of the action cycling becomes the next loud thing in line to hear. Racking the action will still be noisy whether its done by the operator or the cartridge.

    Most of the brakes discussed ten or more years ago were only recommended for bores measured in inches/mm’s mounted on tracked vehicles, or unwieldy, large magnums. For the most part normal guns at the most used flash hiders and frankly, lowest bidder gunpowder was half the reason. Modern composition powders almost eliminate flash – but that ammo isn’t cheap. Race guns adopted brakes to shave split seconds on timed events – the noise levels are elevated as explained. For self defense, most install them for internet points accruing to social rank that actual need. Some people also like to be brutally rude at ranges.

    One item not mentioned are the blast deflectors which have NO holes in the sides and direct all the noise forward. They can add a little recoil and a second shot won’t return to target quite as fast – but none of the noise is turned back 90 degrees toward the users ears and that is a benefit. I have one on an AR pistol and its almost bearable out of doors. For hunting with few rounds fired its tolerable. Under a canopy at a range its plugs and muffs regardless tho, which is a good example of how noisy a short barrel can be with 40% more pressure at the muzzle after firing. A roof, shooting bench, concrete floor etc is a really good example of what it would also sound like in a gunfight indoors – Hollywood never really deals with that. Everyone walks out slapping each other on the back and talking normally, no long term hearing loss from the teams veterans and them retiring early from it.

    Goes to wearing amplified muffs more and more in the field, and more keeping a set next to the bedside gun – you not only can hear more and better, it’s quick to put on and turn on. If you are in danger of waking up with a knife to your throat your doing Home Defense all wrong anyway.

    Josh has a good idea of the value of most muzzle brakes on modern guns – a nuisance at the range and about as effective as tats on our gender. You have to be a top 10% in skill to even take advantage of them. Otherwise they are largely useless – like $100 charging handles.

  13. So as a gun beginner, would a “backwards” blowing muzzle brake increase the recoil while decreasing the sound level greatly? Also could the increased recoil be accounted for better for AR guns with a strong spring in the stock?

  14. I have a 338 Win mag that the previous owner had the barrel shortened and the actual barrel ported. It shoots great and the porting actually reduced recoil significantly. It does have a deafening report and emits a huge fireball. I hunt black bear every year and it is my go-to gun. My 45-70 marlin also has factory ported barrel and it also shoots fine. Porting and muzzle breaks do reduce recoil on large caliber rifles. I would like to have a silencer for my 22 LR rifles but I am not going to pay the govt for a extra $200.00 tax for that privilege.

  15. What about ported barrel pistols? Is that essentially the same thing as a pistol with a brake, meaning louder and more concussion? Thinking about getting a range toy, wondering if porting is worth it…

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