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Musings on Muzzle Brakes

Using muzzle brakes is a simple and effective way to reduce recoil.

At this point it’s probably impossible to nail down exactly who invented the muzzle brake.

It’s not the most complicated of devices, but then again I only say that because I’ve seen muzzle brakes. Pulling ideas out of thin air is always harder than assessing them once they’re here.

If I had to guess, I would say that the muzzle brake is the invention of some poor grunt who had to spend time around a recoilless cannon.

These artillery pieces, which have now gone the way of the dodo, made use of shells with perforations in the casing and a series of baffles in the cannon’s chamber to redirect powder gases.

By forcing the gases to run what amounted to a scaled-down turbine, all of the recoil was bled off, and a howitzer shell could now be fired from a ten foot long tube mounted on a jeep.

Obviously, if you put the holes drilled into a recoilless cannon’s chamber on the other end of the firearm, you can get a version of the same effect.

While it can’t be said that Roy Weatherby invented the muzzle brake, I feel pretty safe in saying that he invented the best reasons for their existence.

Roy loved big guns, and big guns kick really hard. Roy wanted to sell a lot of guns to a lot of people, and since most people prefer to get kicked less instead of more, something had to give.

Almost from the beginning, Weatherby’s really big boomers, the 460 and 378 cartridges, have come equipped with muzzle brakes. Originally, these brakes were nothing more than small slits cut into the muzzle of the gun, which directed a small amount of powder gas back towards the shooter.

The first versions of these brakes didn’t do a heck of a lot to reduce recoil, but they did take the edge off and allow for the very fine Mark V action to become popular.

Over the years, Roy and his progeny got better and better at building muzzle brakes. The brakes on current production rifles can now make a .375 H&H feel like a 30-06 on your shoulder, which is no small feat.

Of course, it didn’t take too long for the rest of the shooting industry to catch onto the fact that muzzle brakes could be desirable on sporting arms. These days, just about every rifle manufacturer offers a model that comes with a muzzle brake.

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Dozens of companies offer aftermarket brakes that can be installed and a few companies — MagnaPort, for instance — will even drill a brake into the barrel of your gun if you so desire.

So who makes the best muzzle brake? Answering that question really isn’t as easy as it sounds.

For starters, I should say that any muzzle brake will reduce recoil – that’s just physics. A muzzle brake is nothing more than a hole, or series of holes, that are located somewhere on the barrel, usually near the muzzle, and drilled or cut at about a 45 degree angle so that they are facing toward the shooter.

When you pull the trigger power ignites and gas expands inside the barrel, building pressure and propelling the bullet forward. Some of the gas, however, flows back through the muzzle brake holes and the rifle is essentially pulled away from your shoulder.

You might guess and say that a greater number of larger diameter holes is definitely the thing to look for. The only problem with riddling your barrel with holes is that at some point you’re going to notice a drop off in performance.

Obviously, we need to keep some of the gas in there, and simply affixing a longer brake to the end of a standard barrel will eventually cause some utility issues.

No muzzle brake can reduce recoil down to zero ft/lbs, so what a shooter should look for is a brake that brings recoil down to a level which is acceptable for them, while still offering good accuracy and maximum utility in terms of weight, length and balance.

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If I can offer one tip in purchasing a muzzle brake, it would simply be to get one with holes large enough for a Hoppe’s covered Q-Tip to enter – otherwise, they really suck to clean.

Personally I’ve always likeds the idea of muzzle brakes because they are such simple units. No gadgets, no batteries, just a bunch of holes that actually work every time — now that’s hard to beat.

That having been said, there are a few things I don’t like about muzzle brakes that I think any potential brake buyer should take into consideration. For starters, muzzle brakes don’t just direct powder gas back in the general direction of the shooter, they also throw the noise back there.

Muzzle brakes make for really loud guns. Just like any hunter, I’ve noticed that a rifle’s report doesn’t really register when that big whitetail is in your sights, but physics are physics and if you aim enough sound waves at your eardrum then psychology goes out the window.

There are a number of muzzle brake-equipped guns I would definitely never fire without ear protection, even out in the field. On occasion, sitting next to a solid object will bounce the noise back toward you, so sidling up next to a barn to shoot chucks or plopping down next to a big rock to fire at an elk can really knock you stupid with a muzzle brake.

This effect increases with greater muzzle velocity, making magnums with muzzle brakes something to be cautious of.

All things considered, muzzle brakes are one of the better options for sopping off recoil. Naturally, a recoil pad should always be your first thought, but brakes have a lot going for them.

In terms of function, a brake is far simpler than any of the inertial, hydraulic, pneumatic or who-knows-what by now gizmos on the market. It’s pretty hard to have a hole drilled in a piece of steel fail on you, and that alone makes a muzzle brake a great idea.

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These days, muzzle brakes aren’t even permanent accessories in a lot of cases. Ruger and several other companies offer rifles now with muzzle brakes that you can screw on and off as you please.

If you decide you prefer recoil to noise, you can always remove the brake and replace it with a small weight so the balance of the rifle doesn’t change.

If you’re interested in less recoil, I’d recommend trying a few holes in the barrel instead of some technological wonder.

Musings on Muzzle Brakes