This post summarizes the eye-opening results for the massive muzzle brake field test I’ve worked on the past few months. It included several objective tests to quantify the performance of 20+ muzzle brakes designed for precision rifles in 6mm through 30 caliber. My goal with this project was to equip fellow long-range shooters with as much hard data as I could reasonably gather, so they could make an informed buying decision for their application.
I’ve already published ridiculously exhaustive details of each test, but I’ll try to sum it up in this post.
This test focused on muzzle brakes designed for precision rifles in 6mm through 30 caliber. I used 4 rifles during testing, including a 6XC, 6.5 Creedmoor, 308 Win, and 300 Norma Magnum. I may do another test in the future focused on AR-15’s or large magnums (i.e. 338 Lapua to 50 BMG), because both of those seem to get you in a different type of product.
I started by including the most popular precision rifle muzzle brakes. All brakes used by more than 2 of the top 50 shooters in the PRS are represented (see the data). Beyond that, I simply tried to represent the wide variety of the designs that are available, and others that are widely popular on custom bolt-action rigs. If you’re wondering why I didn’t include your favorite, read the Muzzle Brake Line-Up Post.
Ultimately, I hope this test gives all manufacturers info they can use to improve their designs. It provides fresh insight into the competition, shows what works well, what doesn’t seem to be working, and what precision shooters are looking for. Part of the motivation behind my thoroughness was in hopes that I’ll be able to buy an even better muzzle brake for my rifle 2 years from now! 😉 This field test has already been a catalyst for conversations, and I hope it ignites some innovation over the next year or two. It’ll be fun to see what comes out!
About The Field Tests
DON’T TAKE ANYTHING FOR GRANTED! The bottom line is to deal in absolute fundamentals, measure them, and remove all the assumptions. Don’t ever assume that something is what it says without measuring it. – Bryan Litz, Applied Ballistics for Long-Range Shooting
Bryan was talking about rifle sights/optics in the quote above, but it articulates my fundamental philosophy. I’ve tried to find an objective approach to quantify as many features and performance metrics as I could. Keep in mind this is a field test, not a laboratory test … and I’m not claiming it’s flawless. I did put my best effort into this being as objective, precise, and unbiased as practically possible using the equipment I could afford.
While this field test is absolutely an original, valuable tool for evaluating muzzle brakes, people shouldn’t take this as gospel. It’s just another tool in your toolbox when researching muzzle devices. I recommend a balanced approach by reading other reviews, talking to shooters with hands-on experience with the equipment, looking at what the experts are using, and considering a company’s reputation and longevity.
As a full disclaimer, my goal isn’t to make money off this website. At this point, I’m still in the red (i.e. it costs WAY more than it’s paid). I’ve been approached by countless manufacturers with offers to sponsor this website. I’ve declined everyone to date. I want to stay independent, so you guys can trust my content to be unbiased. While I’m very passionate about long-range shooting, it’s just a hobby for me. Honestly, I have a great job that I love in a completely different industry. I’m content with my pay there, so fortunately I’m in a spot where I can afford to be an idealist! Ultimately, I believe the shooting sports world needs an independent voice without unseen alliances or hidden financial incentives, so I’m trying to be that. I’m absolutely not out to get any manufacturers, but I’m not interested in getting in bed with any either. I don’t want to be tempted to pull punches if I see flaws in their products. This may sound foreign or hard to believe, but it’s the way it is.
Here’s a recap of the tests:
I put a giant heap of effort towards quantifying recoil reduction. I worked with a lot of sharp guys from several different industries to devise a test system, which directly measures recoil force at the butt of the rifle. That was no small feat. The recoil event happens in approximately 1/100th of a second, which is 10 times faster than the blink of an eye! Plus the amount of force can exceed 1,000 pounds! I committed to creating a system using high-resolution sensors capable of recording hundreds of data points in a single shot … and I pulled it off. The system I built is similar to what is used by government agencies, large firearms manufacturers, defense consultants, and academic researchers.
I measured recoil on 4 different cartridges and rifle configurations, from a mid-sized 6mm to a monster 300 magnum, and all types of stock designs and rifle weights.
I literally fired 1,000+ rounds of match-grade ammo in my recoil test system. I continually tweaked my approach until the data was very repeatable shot-to-shot. After I was confident in the consistency of the data, I went back through and fired at least 3 shots from every rifle and muzzle brake combination, plus the rifle with a bare muzzle. I measured overall impulse/momentum and peak force/acceleration of each shot.
For exhaustive details on the test system, why I selected these cartridges and rifles, or other details, see the Recoil Post.
Ability To Stay On Target
One important aspect of a muzzle brake is helping the rifle stay on target. In fact, I was discussing this muzzle brake test with David Tubb, a very accomplished rifleman, and he is convinced the ability to stay on target was the most important aspect of a muzzle brake. He thought a few percentage points difference in recoil reduction may not make a huge difference (or help you get more hits), but a brake that can keep you on target can be a big advantage. And when I polled 1,000+ shooters … that’s what you guys thought too!
Staying on target not only allows quick follow-up shots, but more importantly for precision shooting, it allows you to watch your bullet impact. By spotting your bullet splash, you can fine-tune your elevation or windage adjustments with confidence.
So I came up with the most objective test I could devise to quantify how well each brake helps you stay on target. I attached a laser to the rifle, and placed a target at 25 yards that had a grid of 1”x1” squares on it and an aiming point. I also setup a high-speed camera capable of recording 240 frames/second to record the laser movement through each shot. I recorded a couple shots for each muzzle brake. Those were fired from a bench with a bipod and no rear support, which exaggerated any muzzle movement. I graphed the results and calculated the average displacement of each muzzle brake immediately after the shot.
For more details on this test, see the Staying On Target Post.
We all know muzzle brakes are loud, but this test finally gives us some hard data and makes objective comparisons. Sound is much more complex than it seems! If you don’t have the right equipment for recording loud, impulse sound levels … you’ll still get data, but it could be misleading. So I recruited the help of industry pro, Zak Smith (maker of Thunder Beast Suppressors), to help me record all this data. We used a Bruel & Kjaer 2209 Impulse Precision Sound Level Meter, which is considered the “industry standard” for this kind of sound measurement.
Most sound tests are measured from the side of the muzzle, in accordance with mil-spec standards, so we did that. But we also measured the sound level of each brake from behind the rifle, closer to the shooter’s position. This provides a more accurate indicator of the actual sound levels firearms operators will encounter while shooting.
The difference between brakes was significant, with some more than twice as loud as others!
To see more details on this test, view the Sound Post.
Ground Signature & Muzzle Blast
Some brake designs direct gases down toward the ground, which can cause some serious issues if you’re firing from a 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 had to be creative for capturing this aspect of performance, but I’m resourceful. I tried a couple pragmatic approaches, and a friend helped me come up with an idea that worked well. 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! The resulting photos can help us understand how the muzzle brake redirects gas. Most of the brakes in this test don’t have significant ground signature, but at least one of them does … which is apparent in the high-speed photos.
To see more details on this test, view the Muzzle Blast & Ground Signature Post.
I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all “best” muzzle brake. The importance of each aspect of performance will vary based on the application (cartridge size, intended use, etc.). The brake that is “the best” for a heavy 6mm competition rifle, may not be “the best” for a lightweight, long-range, hunting rifle, and it may not be “the best” for a big tactical rifle chambered for a magnum cartridge. My goal is to simply provide the data, so you can make an informed decision for your specific application.
For each test, I came up with a rating to quantify the performance of each brake. I translated those ratings to the Consumer-Reports-like view below. It allows you to make a quick, at-a-glance comparison of all the brakes. Notice none of the brakes have red dots all the way across. No product is perfect. It’s about striking the right balance for your application.
Here’s another more granular look at the summaries from each of the tests. I didn’t include the Ground Signature Rating on the tests below, because the Shrewd was the only brake that didn’t get full credit for that rating. With that on the chart, it just seemed to add more noise than being helpful.
Reader’s Overall Rating
While I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all “best” muzzle brake, I know many readers prefer some type of overall rating. I was trying to decide how much weight to put on each test, and finally decided to just ask you guys. Thank you for your feedback! Here is what 1,011 rifle shooters said was most important:
I created a formula that calculates an overall rating completely based on that reader feedback. So I didn’t even know the overall rankings until a couple days ago! I just took the ratings from the individual tests, and transformed them so the ability to stay on target would count towards 40% of the overall rating, recoil reduction counts towards 40%, the ground signature rating counts towards 15%, and the noise level counts towards 5%. So here is the overall performance ratings, based on what you guys said was most important.
I do want to point out that I had to infer the results for the JEC and Tubb muzzle brakes on the sound test, and the same for the Badger Ordnance FTE Muzzle Brake on the staying on target test. See those posts for more details on why that was.
Here are the prices of all the brakes as of August 2015, and it is ordered by the reader’s overall rating. All pricing is for informational purposes only. I don’t sell any of this stuff, and pricing is subject to change without notice. See the manufacturers website for the latest pricing info.
The lighter green bars in the chart below indicate that model’s pricing may vary. The dark bar shows the starting price, the light green bar shows the highest price. For example, on the APA models, there are Gen I and Gen II models. The Gen II have a slick integral locking nut feature, but other than that … they’re identical. The tolerances on the integral locking nut have to be really tight, so it’s more complex to make … and therefore costs more. So that is an example of why you’d see the lighter green bar on some of the brakes.
Other Big Take-Aways
- Caliber-Specific Brakes – Some of these brakes are only available in 30 caliber, and others are available in any caliber. I tested the recoil reduction on 4 very different muzzle brake designs that I had in all calibers: the APA Little B*, Holland 1.25” Radial QD Brake, Impact Precision Brake, and West Texas Ordnance Brake. I tried the 6mm, 6.5mm, and 30 caliber brakes all on the 6XC, and in all 4 muzzle brake designs, there was only a difference of 1-3% in recoil reduction in terms of both overall momentum and peak force. That really surprised me! I expected the caliber size of the bullet hole in the brake to make more of a difference. But, that’s why I actually run the tests and don’t just talk about this stuff! Adith, one of my sharp readers, had one theory on why this happens, and you can read that comment on the original post.
- Suppressor Comparisons – I included a high-end 9” suppressor for comparison on the 6mm recoil tests and 30 cal recoil tests for comparison. Compared to the brakes, the suppressor always ended up near the bottom of the list. The top brake was 62-64% more effective at reducing recoil on the rifles tested. I also included a suppressor in the test for staying on target, and while it did slightly better than a bare muzzle … virtually all of the muzzle brakes were better at keeping you on target, and some of them significantly better. It was only fair to include the suppressor in the sound tests too … it was 16 times more quiet than the loudest brake! If you’re going for sound suppression, the decision is clear. If you’re going for recoil reduction and staying on target … you might understand why most of the pros use a brake.
- Correlation between loudness and recoil reduction – This might not be shocking, but there seems to be a correlation between how loud a brake is, and how well it reduces recoil. Most “quieter” brakes aren’t good at reducing recoil, and most of the brakes that are great at reducing recoil are very loud.
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:
- Field Test Overview & Line-Up: Overview of how the tests, what brakes were included, and which were caliber-specific.
- Recoil Reduction Results: Let’s get right to the meat!
- Recoil Primer, Test Equipment & Rifles: Explains how I tested, and what equipment and rifles were used.
- Results for 6XC and 6.5 Creedmoor: Recoil results for the mid-sized 6mm and 6.5mm rifles.
- Results for 308 Win and 300 Norma Mag: Recoil results for the mid-sized 30 caliber and large magnum 300 rifles.
- Summary: Overview of recoil results from all rifles, and overall ratings of each muzzle brake.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.