Muzzle Brakes

From left, muzzle brake mounted on an AR-15, a .30 caliber muzzle brake on a .300 Weatherby Magnum and a Bird Cage flash suppressor seen on many AR-15s.

Generally, when I go to the shooting range, I like to pick a shooting station, where I unload the firearms I plan to sight in or just practice with and mind my own business until I’m done.

I’m not anti-social, but I usually assume that others are more interested in their shooting rather than spending their time socializing with other shooters. At any rate, I think most of us go to the range to shoot instead of socialize. We all do communicate up and down the line of shooters for safety concerns and to decide when it is safe for people to go down range to retrieve or set up targets.

Avid shooters are really a friendly bunch for the most part, and they do notice what others are shooting and doing at the range. From time to time, someone will wait until I stop shooting to ask me about what I am shooting or what kind of flash suppressor I am using on one of my hunting rifles or AR-15s. All I have to do is explain that I have muzzle brakes, not flash suppressors on my rifles, and a conversation that lasts from five to 10 minutes ensues.

“Well, they sure look like flash suppressors,” is the usual reply.

Actually, muzzle brakes do look like some kind of flash suppressor to those who don’t know the difference. They even do a pretty good job of suppressing the flash that normally follows the bullet out the muzzle of the barrel.

The difference lies in the purpose of a muzzle brake. The purpose is to control recoil, barrel rise and side-to-side movement during shooting, which is caused by the torque of the bullet being forced down the barrel by the burning powder. The advantages are less recoil, less upward and side-to-side motion while firing, quicker realignment of the sights on the target and better accuracy.

When a rifle is fired, the pressure from the burning powder forces the bullet and the gases behind it forward and out the muzzle. The muzzle brake has holes in the top and the sides of the muzzle brake. As the pressure and gases enter the muzzle brake, much of it is directed upward and to the sides of the brake, thus countering barrel rise, side-to-side movement of the barrel and felt recoil.

The bullet, which has already achieved its peak muzzle velocity, simply continues toward the target. Some of the better muzzle brakes have holes that direct the pressure and gases up and slightly back, as well as to the sides and slightly back, which further counters the backward movement of the rifle or its recoil.

One visual difference between a muzzle bake and a flash suppressor is that the holes are usually more numerous and appear only on the top and sides of a muzzle brake. Holes on the bottom of a muzzle brake would allow pressure and gases to be directed downward, which would allow more barrel rise.

As far as reducing felt recoil, there are good muzzle brakes and better muzzle brakes. Muzzle brakes do reduce felt recoil. Those muzzle brakes not only direct pressure and gases up and to the sides but are also more effective at reducing felt recoil.

Most companies that produce muzzle brakes will try to exaggerate how much their brakes will reduce recoil. Just to give you an example, Weatherby makes its own muzzle brakes that they claim reduce muzzle rise better than any of its competitors.

Maybe they do, but they also claim that the normal recoil of about 38 foot-pounds of a .300 Weatherby Magnum will be reduced to about 18 foot-pounds with one of their “Weatherby Accubrake” muzzle brakes installed. I own a .300 Weatherby Magnum with the muzzle brake installed. Felt recoil is definitely reduced, but it is still a little more than a .30-06’s 18 to 20 foot-pounds of recoil.

In all fairness, muzzle brakes do have a couple of disadvantages. They add an inch or two to the length of the barrel and they are loud. I have had a couple of people at the shooting range move down one more station because my .300 Weatherby was too loud for them.

They might have done that even if I didn’t have a muzzle brake, but it seemed to bother them with the sound coming out of the side of the brake as well as straight down the barrel. Most people at the range are either familiar with muzzle breaks or they just figure I’m shooting a gun that is far more powerful and loud than would ever be needed in North America.

Muzzle brakes are not for everyone. Whether they are practical or necessary often determines whether they are used or not. Professional guides who have to be right by their client during the shot hate them and some concessions ban their use.

Like many things in life the better designs are very good at what they do.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He was a member of the faculty of Texas A&M University for 25 years. There he taught orienteering, marksmanship, self-defense, fencing, scuba diving and boxing. He was among the first DPS-certified Texas Concealed Handgun Instructors. He can be contacted at