It used to be aftermarket stocks, angled foregrips, oversized selector switches, and pistol grips. Now muzzle devices are the craze. As with most things gun related, the sheer number of products on the market and all the marketing chatter makes it difficult for a consumer to make a proper, informed decision. There are hundreds of muzzle devices on the market, so it can be a confusing world out there. This is an informative post to help people understand what these devices do, and how to choose a good muzzle device.
Muzzle devices can be categorized into the following:
1. Flash-Suppressors (Flashhiders, will be referred to as FH)
2. Compensators (Comps)
3. Muzzle Brakes (MBs)
4. Suppressors (Silencers) I will not be covering suppressors because I do not have much knowledge on suppressors.
Products categorized within 1, 2 and 3, often share each other’s elements, but are usually dominantly one or the other. Often times they are misnamed, or called by the wrong name, further adding to the confusion.
1. Flash Suppressors
Flash suppressors are the most common muzzle devices. A FH is what typically comes standard on your AR-15… it’s known as the A2 “Birdcage” Flash Suppressor.
Despite what you may have read, a good FH really does suppress muzzle flash. Their main function is to redirect, accelerate, or decelerate the exhaust gasses to reduce flash, or to redirect the amount of hot gasses that are visible. I won’t go too much into the mechanics of it.
You are not going to completely eliminate flash at night, but you can certainly reduce it to a point where it is hardly visible. The A2 ‘birdcage’ FH does work pretty well. If you take it off and fire your rifle, you will know what I mean. A lot of flashhiders have some compensating features built into them as well. The A2 FH works well, and does provide a bit of compensation.
Some flash hiders work better than others. Its worth paying more for the good ones. Some of my favorite aftermarket FH include the Vortex FH and our new VG6 Zeta flashhider that is still under development. The Vortex is a bit of an industry standard right now, especially if you don’t mind the ringing noise it produces. (I don’t mind it). Another good option is the Phantom flashhider, which provides a little bit of improvement over the A2 FH.
Compensators redirect exhaust gasses to control muzzle movements that happen at the moment of firing. Primarily, they are tuned to a specific caliber, and sometimes for barrel length.
With a Compensator, concussion and noise levels are increased, sometimes to muzzle brake levels. Although you’re still going to feel most of the recoil with a good comp, you’re gonna keep the muzzle right on target. They help speed up your follow-up shots.
Compensators are popular with the tactical rifle crowd. The Battlecomp being extremely hot right now. Prices can range from 100-150 dollars. I personally love muzzle brakes because a pure compensator will not produce the ‘wow’ factor of recoil reduction.
Muzzle brakes are probably one of the oldest muzzle devices around. You see them on weapons from anti-material sniper rifle platforms to artillery pieces. On small arms, they help the shooter manage recoil better, or make it possible for a shooter to fire a firearm that would otherwise be impossible to shoot. With a muzzle brake, the exhaust gasses hit a wall and push the barrel assembly forward, reducing actual recoil. Although muzzle brakes have been around forever, it was not until recent years that they gained more mainstream popularity.
What does a muzzle brake do on our rifles? It is all about recoil. Most consumers who have not fired a rifle with a good brake do not realize how well good muzzle devices work. Most muzzle devices on the market right now are competition oriented.
Competition brakes are popular (read necessary, if you want to compete with the best) with 3 gun and other competition shooters. Look into likes of Mikulek Brakes, JP Brakes and such. These hard-core competition brakes virtually eliminate recoil to the point where muzzle climb is nil. The downside is, you also get a lot of gas blow-back, i.e. gasses coming right back at you, increasing noise, increasing discomfort, and annoying the crap out of your friends around you. Muzzle flash is also a problem.
Other brakes are marketed more to general shooters. However, there aren’t that many brakes out there that allow for practical use of your rifle.
One thing of note: competition brakes do not necessarily outperform brakes that are marketed as general use.
Note applicable to all muzzle devices: No muzzle device, especially compensators and brakes, are perfect. This is because barrel length, ammo, fitment of the reciprocating elements of the rifle and other factors make differences in how the muzzle device is tuned. Furthermore, stance, size and ability of the shooter makes a difference in subjective felt recoil and muzzle rise. There is no way around it; lots and lots of R&D time should go in to best fit the targeted consumers. Your brake might be one customer’s favorite accessory on his rifle. Others may be unimpressed. There is definitely a subjective element to it. My recommendation is to read many reviews and decide for yourself before dropping 150 dollars on a muzzle device.
How to pick a muzzle device: Not all muzzle devices are created the same. A 30 dollar muzzle device will not get you the results that say, a 100 dollar muzzle device would. Here are some guidelines on how to pick a well performing muzzle device. Specifically, the following guidelines are for those of you looking for a muzzle brake and comps for a general, practical rifle, or something that will go on your duty patrol rifle. For non-tactical, competition specific applications, these guidelines are not as important.
- High quality materials: With all the high pressure and temperatures, you need good materials for longevity and sustained performance. Look for stainless steel or better. Don’t fall for things like ‘mil-spec high strength steel’ or other ‘buzz’ words. Lesser materials will wear out faster, unless it is a really big muzzle device. Related to this is surface finishing/hardness, as heat treatment or finishes that involve heat treatment will increase longevity in your muzzle device.
- Quality/Fit/Finish: Tolerances and precision matter when it comes to performance. Long story short: get one that has been CNC’d. Believe it or not, a lot of engineering goes into designing a good muzzle device. Typical of a top-tier brake, the VG6 products use advanced computational methods and analysis, high speed cameras, and many many rounds of field testing. To bring R&D results to a product a good device will have to have been CNC machined.
- Size and weight: Some customers care a lot about how big the muzzle device is. For aesthetics, or to maintain a short barrel, or sometimes to pin/weld on 14.5-14.7″ builds.
- Looks: Don’t get a product that you aren’t going to love!
- Compatibility: Your job may require you to run a muzzle device that is compatible with suppressors and such. Do the research to find out that your clamp-on suppressor will work with your muzzle device.
Factors 1 and 2 are probably most important indicators of a good, high performance muzzle brake. I really recommend that you purchase a top-shelf muzzle device, even if it costs more (Except for a few underpriced, high value ones like ours). It will be worth it. A good muzzle brake will make a ‘night-and-day’ difference in your follow up shots. A cheaper one can range from hardly noticeable to marginally noticeable. Good luck shopping!
Jerry works for Precision Delivery Systems, an AR-15 accessories retail and wholesaler who is partnered up with VG6 Precision, a manufacturer of muzzle devices, mounts, other accessories. Their most popular product has been the new VG6 Gamma 556 tactical brake.
The Things Worth Believing In Addendum:
I previously did an evaluation on the VG6. You can read it HERE.
AND a little rule of thumb I always use to tell if a device is a Flash Hider, Comp or Brake is the following.
Flash Hiders typically are cone shaped on the interior with a large exit opening which allows the gasses to escape rapidly forward.
You will also note that the vent slots on this A2 are all on the top side of the device which vent some gasses upward, providing a bit of compensation.
Comps and Brakes usually have a small exit opening. This forces the escaping gasses to strike the “Wall” at the end of the device and get funneled out of slots and ports along the sides. This is what lets then do what they do.
For Brakes look for large ports…typically on the sides of the device. For Compensators look for slots/holes that would direct gasses is particular directions…often times UP in order to “compensate” for the tendency of a barrel to rise/jump under recoil by pushing gas upwards. Some devices on the market today are composites that provide the recoil reduction of a Brake and the muzzle control of a Compensator.
Note that these are just “rules of thumb” and not hard and fast rules. Read any and all instructions and descriptions before purchasing your muzzle device.