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Muzzle Brake Blast

Muzzle Brakes: Muzzle Blast & Ground Signature

Muzzle brake designs vary widely, and their blast pattern varies significantly as well. I wanted to capture the muzzle blast somehow to help you see the differences between the 20+ models in my field test. There is no established method for doing this, so I had to get creative.

My first attempt was with a fog machine. Don’t laugh! My idea was to set up some high-speed cameras (one from above, another from the side), flood the area around the rifle with fog, then fire the rifle, and watch how the fog was dispersed. It was a bad idea. I returned the fog machine.

A friend showed me another approach, and it was clever. Instead of trying to visualize the blast by watching what is cleared out of the way, his idea was to blast material through the brake itself and see where it went. Brilliant! I funneled baking soda into vinyl tubing, tunneled the tube into a rubber stopper, and shoved the stopper into the chamber of a barrel. Just add an air compressor, blow gun, high-speed camera, and voila … new insight!

This allows us to visualize how each brake redirects gas, and helps us understand a couple of things:

  1. How much gas is being directed down at the ground (i.e. ground signature)
  2. How much gas is being directed back toward the shooter
  3. How much work each part of the design is doing (how much are the top ports redirecting compared to the side ports, how much are the last ports redirecting compared to the first ports, etc)

#1 is especially important for those of us who shoot a lot from the prone position. In those situations, the muzzle is just a few inches off the ground and if any gas is redirected towards the ground … you’re going to be eating sand, grit, small insects, and whatever else isn’t bolted down. All jokes aside, if that stuff gets in your eyes, you’re not firing a follow-up shot. It’s more than inconvenient. It’s a real problem.

I purposely included one omnidirectional muzzle brake design in my field test, meaning it blows an equal amount of gas in all directions. That is the Shrewd muzzle brake. These types of designs are notorious for kicking up dirt. The upside is they don’t have to be timed, which means you just screw them on tight and go. You don’t need to pay a gunsmith to “time” them or use crush washers or locking nuts. It’s a quick and simple design.

While this isn’t as scientific as other parts of this field test, I’m hopeful it still offers insight. I actually shared a couple of these photos with Darrell Holland, and he thought it told him a lot about performance and gas dispersion. He even said years ago he used talcum powder and flour to do something similar! I heard a quote one time: “Why do people always ‘reinvent the wheel’? Because it was a really good idea!”

Bonus: These photos also let you see how each brake looks on a big bull barrel. The barrel is an MTU contour.

I wanted to draw attention to a couple of images:

  • The Badger FTE photo is a little different, because the MTU barrel I put it on wasn’t contoured to fit it. Sorry … it’s the best I could do.
  • You can see the JEC muzzle brake sends a ton of gas up, which is likely why it did so well at staying on target.
  • The JP Recoil Eliminator has an interesting blast pattern. That brake is clearly a unique design, so that isn’t too surprising … but still interesting.
  • The OPS muzzle brake didn’t redirect much powder … that may be why its recoil performance was so poor.
  • Of course, the Shrewd brake shows a fun snowflake design. There doesn’t appear to be as much gas redirected, compared to some of the other designs. And you can clearly see how much gas is being directed down, which means it may have a significant ground signature and kick up more dirt.
  • On the Surefire muzzle brake, you can see the model I had wasn’t symmetric. It had one hole on top that was a different size than the other. You can see in the photo there is more gas coming out of one of them, which may be what caused the horizontal deflection in the test that analyzed how well it stayed on target. It appears Surefire has tweaked that recently, and their newest models have symmetric holes on top.

The overall rating for these is simple for the prone shooter. The Shrewd gets a vote of no confidence, and all the rest are acceptable. Those that redirect a lot of gas may kick up a little more dirt, but I didn’t find it distracting or a problem in any way. I used the APA Little B* Muzzle Brake in a couple matches recently, and I was never distracted or bothered by dirt being kicked up. I’m not saying there isn’t any ground signature … it just was a non-issue in my experience with all the brakes, except the Shrewd.

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Other Post in this Series

This is just one of a whole series of posts related to this muzzle brake field test. Here are links to the others:

  1. Field Test Overview & Line-Up: Overview of how the tests, what brakes were included, and which were caliber-specific.
  2. Recoil Reduction Results: Let’s get right to the meat!
    1. Recoil Primer, Test Equipment & Rifles: Explains how I tested, and what equipment and rifles were used.
    2. Results for 6XC and 6.5 Creedmoor: Recoil results for the mid-sized 6mm and 6.5mm rifles.
    3. Results for 308 Win and 300 Norma Mag: Recoil results for the mid-sized 30 caliber and large magnum 300 rifles.
    4. Summary: Overview of recoil results from all rifles, and overall ratings of each muzzle brake.
  3. Ability to Stay on Target: Lasers and high-speed cameras were used to objectively quantify how well each muzzle brake helps you stay on target through a shot.
  4. Sound Test: A high-end sound meter was used to measure how loud each brake was to the side of the rifle and at the shooter’s position behind the rifle.
  5. Muzzle Blast & Ground Signature: High-speed videos were shot of each brake to show the direction of the muzzle blast, and the impact that could have on the shooter.
  6. Overall Summary: Putting all the results together in a summary that is easy to take in, and do side-by-side comparison, allowing you to draw your own conclusions on what muzzle brake is best for your situation.

About Cal

Cal Zant is the shooter/author behind PrecisionRifleBlog.com. Cal is a life-long learner, and loves to help others get into this sport he's so passionate about. Cal has an engineering background, unique data-driven approach, and the ability to present technical information in an unbiased and straight-forward fashion. For more info, check out PrecisionRifleBlog.com/About.

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20 comments

  1. This was easily the most creative solution to a complex problem that I have ever seen! Usually people try to develop shadow graphs but for a fraction of the price you achieved pretty good results!

    • Ha! I can appreciate a MacGyver-like resourcefulness! You can learn a lot with a little pragmatism + creativity.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  2. The older SOCOMs and especially the MB556K (the SOCOM’s predecessor) are ported for a right handed shooter to counteract up-and-right muzzle rise when shooting offhand (meaning that the port on the top right is larger than the left) with a gas gun. That’s one of the reasons I don’t use Surefire brakes on my 5.56 rifles for 3-Gun, with my grip I actually get a slight down-and-left drift.

    I’ve spent the last few days teaching a carbine course, one thing we’re big on at the Tactical Performance Center is watching how sights/dots track in recoil and how much a slight change in stance or grip can affect the path of the muzzle and how the body returns it (talking close-range carbine, not precision rifle). One thing I notice a lot is left handed shooters get a LOT of push to the left with the old Surefire brakes since the bigger top port is actually working against them.

    • Thanks for the insight, Brian. That clearly aligns with what I experienced with that brake as well. It’s good to know Surefire adapted, because that really was a poor design.

      Thanks again,
      Cal

      • Thanks for putting all the effort into the field testing you do! It’s also pretty neat that you reply to every comment on your blog, most don’t bother nowadays 🙂

        Have you looked at the SJC Titan brakes at all? They’re pretty gnarly (about twice as loud as a Surefire) but on a 5.56 gun they keep the muzzle pretty dead still. I know you’re out of pocket on these tests and everyone has their own pet favorite no-name brake, but the Titan is one of the most popular brakes in the 3-Gun world.

      • Thanks, Brian. Glad you’re finding it helpful. It is tough to respond to each comment, but I really am just about helping fellow shooters … so I make it a priority.

        I have seen the SJC Titan online, and heard a couple guys talk about it … but I’ve never experienced one in person. They just don’t seem to be as popular in the precision rifle world as some of these other models, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t just as effective. Sometimes different communities just don’t adopt some stuff, and it isn’t related to merit. It’s sometimes just a lack of awareness or marketing among that crowd. So I appreciate you making us aware of it! 😉 If I do another one of these tests in the future (maybe 2 years from now), I’ve thought about letter my readers vote on which brakes should be included. I’ll try to keep that one in mind for that. Thanks for taking the time to share.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  3. Cal,
    Currently traveling in Berlin and wondered about making Leica LSR or S and B scope purchases abroad? If possible to get better prices and then get it home unscathed! Thought of you as the guy that might have some SA on this.
    Thanks.

  4. Cal

    Agree with the above posts – incredibly creative!! I hope you are having as much fun devising and conducting the experiments as we are reading the posts!!

    • It is a lot of fun, Jeff! I have a blast trying to come up with as many things as I can to quantify and present to readers. There aren’t established practices for most of the things I test, so for the most part … I’m just trying to think of how I can give readers all the info they wish they had, or could learn if they had all the brakes to try out themselves. You can’t quantify everything, but I try to make a valiant attempt with a shoestring budget and a little ingenuity!

      I debated on whether to show this or not … but here is a little behind-the-scenes peak at me in my garage trying to capture these images. My wife took this, because she knew I’d make the final published photos look really cool and professional. But she thought it was funny how I could MacGyver my way there from all the household supplies I had strung out in the garage. Most of the stuff I either already owned, or I bought for less than $50.

      Behind The Scenes Testing

      It’s fun!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  5. Hey Cal, i love the test! I recently designed and am now manufacturing my own line of muzzle brakes and i would love for you to test it out and compare it to all these brakes in your test. I have claimed that my brake has the best recoil reduction on the market today but still is extremely pleasant to the shooter and some have doubted my claim. If you are interested, please email me at rjd28@live.com and let me know what cartridge you are going to test it on and what size threads and ill send you one asap. Thanks!

    • I appreciate the offer, Riley, but I’m done testing brakes for a while. I may do another round of testing at some point, but I’ll likely let my readers vote on which brakes are included. If your’s really does have the best recoil reduction, it should be popular by the time I do the next test, so maybe it’ll be included.

      Since you do design your own brake, I’d encourage you to create a test system like the one I made and do these tests yourself against some competitors. It’s a small R&D investment and would give you confidence and basis for claims like “the best recoil reduction on the market.” I’d certainly do it if I were making brakes. I think it’d help you develop and improve your product over time.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  6. Cal, i love the test! I designed and manufacture my own line of brakes and i would love for you to test it out. I make a 5 port, 4 port, and 3 port. I designed my brakes to be the most effective brake on the market at reducing recoil, while still being extremely pleasant to the shooter in regards to concussive blast and noise and I believe i have accomplished this goal. If you do another muzzle brake field test for the big guns such as the RUMs and/or the .338 Lapua, i would love to send you a 5 port to include in your tests. Please let me know!

    Thanks!
    Riley

  7. Cal,

    I can’t say enough about how much I enjoy your site. Possibly because I am in the process of building a custom 7 mm and some of your field tests have been very timely. I had been thinking about the APA little B* before your tests, but held off on buying anything until after your results were in. I found myself checking my email all the time to see if you had posted your next segment. Now that I’ve seen the results, I am still planning on going with the little B*. It looks like you had the Gen II for your tests. Any thoughts on how you like it? Does the fact that it doesn’t taper down to your barrel bug you, or do find that to be a non issue? I believe it is more of a cosmetic issue than performance. Just as an FYI, I went with a defiance action, proof research barrel, Timney calvin elite trigger, and a manners stock. I still need to get my glass, rings and muzzle brake. Thanks again, you do great work!

    Brent

    • Thanks for the kind words, Brent. Glad the timing worked out for you. I usually come across something like this right AFTER I buy something! 😉

      The APA Little B is a great choice. I do like the Gen II, but the Gen I is a good option too if you aren’t going to be using it on multiple rifles or changing barrels often. I don’t mind the look of the nut, but that is kind of a personal preference thing. There is no “right” choice there.

      Sounds like you’ve got an awesome build cooking there! Great components for sure. Good luck, and thanks again for the encouragement.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  8. Another great test Cal – very very nice! More great stuff to help us with purchase decisions.

    One question I have for you is since you are showing one photo for each brake, how do you time the shot? The reason I ask is when one looks at the photos, one is tempted to compare the size and length of the “spray”. I understand that this was not your intent and that you are really only trying to get an idea of direction, but the temptation is of course always there.

    So on that point, the size and length of the “spray” of course is at least partially affected by when the photo is taken. My assumption is later photos may show a larger spray since the baking soda will have more time to disperse. For example, you can see the significant difference between the SOCOM vs. the Thunder Beast.

    • Yeah, I can see what you’re saying. That definitely isn’t intended to be compared in that way. I just went through the slow-mo video and pulled the frame that seemed to give you the best visualization of the gas flow. I’m sure it was at a different time for each brake. Ultimately, this was a simple/pragmatic approach, so you shouldn’t read too much into it. Baking soda isn’t completely uniform, so while it is a helpful visualization, it isn’t perfect.

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • Thanks Cal. I completely agree. Just wanted to point that out so that people do not over read the images for their intended purpose.

  9. That’s quite interesting!
    I find the blast from mt TBAC brake intolerable, it appears I’d despise the APA Fat boy, what a back blast pattern!

    • You’re absolutely right! If you don’t care for the TBAC, you’d HATE the APA! That’s exactly the type of comparison I was hoping people could make with this little experiment. You can also see similar results in the sound test. But, remember that I found a strong correlation between recoil reduction and noise/concussion at the shooter’s position. You can’t get the best of recoil reduction without getting the worse noise/concussion. So it just comes down to striking the right balance for your circumstances and personal preference.

      Glad you found this helpful!

      Thanks,
      Cal