A muzzle brake is an excellent way to reduce a firearm’s recoil, but it can come with some downsides. Here's what you need to know.
A muzzle brake is a common recoil-reducing accessory available for most modern small arms today. Because they are most commonly found on rifles, we'll focus on these for the buyer’s guide. But be aware that the muzzle device does exist for certain shotguns and handguns as well, despite some differences in design and terminology.
How A Muzzle Brake Works
Overall, how a muzzle brake functions isn't all that complicated. No matter its design, a brake redirects gasses at the muzzle to pull or push the gun much like a thruster. Generally this is in a rearward or sideways direction, counteracting the force of the recoil rearward into the shoulder.
Muzzle Brake Vs. Compensator
Before discussing muzzle brakes in greater detail, it’s important to know what separates them from compensators.
The boring reality of the situation is that it’s far more likely to come down to the marketing of a product rather than the specific way it functions. Companies often name a product a certain way to skirt restrictions or capitalize on market trends.
There is a tremendous amount of overlap between muzzle brakes and compensators, as they both utilize the expanding gas at the muzzle to redirect the gun in a constructive way. Simply put, the primary goal of a muzzle brake is recoil reduction while the primary goal of a compensator is to keep the muzzle level during firing.
Because of this difference, compensators are usually only seen on rifles that are intended to be fired from standing with little support. Compensators don’t do the shooter much good in a supported position, so if you are shooting off a barricade or with a bipod, a muzzle brake would be a better choice.
To make matters more confusing, there are a significant number of products available today that are truly neither a brake nor a compensator specifically but serve as neither and both equally.
Strictly speaking, a compensator is something that serves to reduce muzzle flip. Because of how they are currently made the vast majority of muzzle brakes could be considered to be compensators too.
The reverse is also true, and the result is that the terms have become nearly interchangeable for some individuals despite technical differences between the devices.
What this means for the buyer is that the individual qualities and features of a muzzle device should have a greater influence on your decision than whatever the manufacturer decided to name it. It also means that other aspects of a muzzle brake’s design are worth considering as well.
A substantial number of companies today make quick detach suppressor mounts as muzzle brakes. Companies like Q, SilencerCo and others all offer brake designs that are integral to attaching certain models of their suppressors. Even as standalone products, these usually deliver excellent function.
Muzzle Brakes For Rifles
As mentioned, the primary type of gun that benefits from a muzzle brake is the rifle.
In years past, it was not a usual thing to see a muzzle brake on a low-recoil rifle such as an AR-15. These types of rifles typically came with a simple flash hider, or during the ban years were not threaded at all. A muzzle brake on a rifle is most useful when recoil is too high for the shooter to maintain a proper sight picture in between shots.
In the old days, you would only typically find muzzle brakes mounted on large-caliber or magnum-class rifles. Because of the recoil of these guns, the ability to reduce their kick and gain confidence at long range was paramount.
What spurred brakes popularity on small-caliber semi-auto rifles was the end of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 2004. Up to that point, most rifles did not have threaded barrels thanks to the legislation. Today virtually all rifles come from the factory ready to accept a muzzle device regardless of their caliber. Times are changing, for the better.
There are quite literally hundreds of options when it comes to muzzle brakes nowadays. You can easily find one that will suit your specific firearm and shooting needs.
Many are designed for high-volume, rapid-fire competition shooting, and others to enhance precision. Concerning long-range rifles, brakes are favored to aid the shooter in spotting impacts on the target. Likewise, people interested in three-gun competitions often will mount a substantial muzzle brake on their AR to prevent the gun from rising under the recoil of a long string of shots.
Hunters similarly benefit from adding a muzzle brake, as it makes more powerful calibers easier to take to the field. They aren’t just for the recoil-sensitive, as a brake can help to improve your skill across the board and aid in making cleaner kills.
Large-bore rounds like the popular .450 Bushmaster are greatly aided by the addition of a muzzle brake due to it being chambered in light rifles. Under such circumstances, the brake helps its user put more meat on the table.
Muzzle Brake Vs. Flash Hider
While both are quite common, flash hiders are typically seen only on semi-automatic rifles that have minimal recoil, to begin with.
A typical flash hider does not have any function other than simply dissipating the physical flash of burning gas at the muzzle. There is no recoil reduction offered, and as such, it is a relatively uncommon sight on large-bore guns or magnum-class rifles. Because of their limited benefit and generally simpler construction, cheap flash hiders are often used as a placeholder muzzle device until the rifle’s owner decides to go with something else.
Large-format pistols and SBRs are especially well served by flash hiders because of their short barrels. These guns are quite concussive as it is, and benefit from something that tames the fireballs they often produce.
Muzzle brakes on short-barreled rifles tend to only increase the concussion and produce a more formidable blast. Because of this, a flash hider may be a better choice for certain short-barreled firearms.
Another reason that one may opt for a flash hider over a muzzle brake is that in many types of shooting disciplines, such as service rifle competitions, only the former is allowed. The common military A2 flash hider is a great example of this, as it is legal in most service rifle and CMP competitions. This is to ensure that no shooter is competing with an unfair advantage through the use of a muzzle brake.
Discussion On Report
Blast is the unfortunate elephant in the room when it comes to any kind of muzzle brake. The energy created during firing has to go somewhere, and as a result, its redirection by a brake is often as unbearable on the ear as recoil is to the shoulder. For this reason, many people decide that mastering recoil makes more sense than risking their hearing.
The increased noise level produced by brakes may also dissuade hunters from using them, as many prefer to keep their wits about them by not wearing hearing protection.
While the benefits of a muzzle brake are many, the discomfort of using one in a field setting is often not worth it. Whether you are considering mounting one on a tactical carbine, a long-range rifle, a shotgun or otherwise, the pros and cons of each scenario must be weighed.
Best Muzzle Brake Buyer’s Guide:
Best AR-15 Muzzle Brake:
Midwest Industries Two Chamber Muzzle Brake
While this two-chamber design may seem simple at first glance, it does more than meets the eye. The Midwest Industries brake may be simple, but its design is incredibly effective at redirecting gasses to mitigate recoil and balance the gun. There’s a video floating around online of a man mag dumping his AR-15 in full-auto with one hand, and this muzzle brake alone was enough to make it seem as if it were locked in a vise.
An interesting side note is this brake’s shape is very reminiscent of an AK-74 muzzle brake, considered by many for a long time to be the most effective standard-issue device of its kind. Midwest Industries make their Two Chamber Brake in a variety of calibers and thread pitches, but the 1/2×28 5.56 version is an excellent way to turn your low-recoiling AR-15 into a no-recoiling AR-15. MSRP: $47.95 // midwestindustriesinc.com
Best AK Muzzle Brake:
Definitive Arms Fighter Brake
This muzzle brake has become a go-to recommendation in many AK circles. It’s simple, effective and extremely lightweight, and it’s less than a quarter-inch longer than a standard AKM slant brake. It also has a 14x1LH thread pitch, meaning it’s ready for any standard AKM-pattern AK, the most common variety on the market. If mounting it on something besides a 7.62x39mm gun, however, know that it’s rated for up to .45 caliber.
Also, while not a true flash hider, the Fighter Brake has “flash regulation” capacities as well, keeping it usable in low-light conditions. Compared to many other muzzle brakes on the market, this is an incredibly balanced, non-concussive design that presents few drawbacks when compared to a standard-configuration AK. MSRP: $39.99 // definitivearms.com
Best Precision Rifle Muzzle Brake:
APA Gen II Little Bastard
For those with powerful, long-range rifles that want some help keeping their sights on target after a shot, the APA Gen II Little Bastard is a big help. Its three-chamber design reduces a good amount of shoulder pain as well. It features 5/8×24 threading and is rated for up to .308 caliber, making it ready to mount on the most common precision rifle models out there.
Another major feature of this muzzle brake is it’s self-timing, meaning that it's easily swapped between rifles without the hassle of properly aligning the ports each time. The Little Bastard has become popular with many competition shooters in recent years as well, but less so with those who shoot next to them. This brake is loud, and prospective buyers should keep that in mind. Besides that it’s an extremely effective solution for long-range shooters. MSRP: $160 // americanprecisionarms.com
Best Suppressor Mount Muzzle Brake:
SilencerCo ASR Muzzle Brake
This three-port muzzle brake is available in a wide variety of different calibers and thread pitches, making it compatible with nearly anything you might want to mount it to. From standard AR-15s to 9mm PCCs to big-bore bolt-actions, this is an effective recoil-reducing option.
The real feature of these brakes, however, is that they are compatible with SilencerCo ASR suppressor mounts. This allows the user to quickly attach and detach one of SilencerCo’s many suppressor options without any tools in the field, increasing the versatility of the weapon. Even if you have no interest in a suppressor, this model is an effective and relatively affordable option that is compatible with a huge number of different guns. MSRP: $64.40-$92.00 // silencerco.com
Best Recoil-Reducing Muzzle Brake:
Precision Armament M4-72
Of all the muzzle brakes on this list, this is the one that best exemplifies both the benefits and drawbacks of devices such as these. The Precision Armament M4-72 is big, heavy and very concussive. It spits flames out the side like a hotrod when it shoots too. This is not a subtle design and both its appearance and effects when firing can be described as having an intimidating presence.
If all you want your muzzle brake to do is mitigate recoil, however, this is likely the most effective model on the list to accomplish it with, as Precision Armament claims that the .223/5.56 version reduces recoil by about 75 percent. MSRP: $89.99-$99.99 // precisionarmament.com
Editor's Note: Adam Borisenko contributed to this article.
More On Muzzle Devices:
- Best Compensator Buyer's Guide
- Best Flash Hider Buyer's Guide
- How To: Choosing A Flash Suppressor, Muzzle Brake And Compensator
- Muzzle Brakes VS Flash Hiders
- First Look: HIPERCOMP Compensators