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.
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. This can help with the learning curve for new shooters, and provides rich, real-time feedback for veteran shooters as well. You just don’t always have the luxury of a veteran spotter with good communication skills, and in competitions and hunting situations, you’re typically on your own. So a muzzle brake that keeps you on target and helps you spot your own shots can be a critical piece of gear.
My first precision rifle was a custom 7mm Rem Mag, which I thought I’d primarily use hunting … but I ended up using it in my first few tactical competitions. The recoil on that rifle (and poor muzzle brake) caused it to launch off the ground on each shot. For shots beyond 600 yards, I could typically get the rifle back on target in time to watch my bullet splash. But for closer shots, I’d only know if I hit the steel target or not. I didn’t realize how much of a handicap it was to not be able to watch my bullet on each shot.
Here’s a simple scenario that illustrates the cost of not being able to stay on target. In this example, we have a stage with steel targets at 300, 400, 500, 600, and 700 yards. I might ring steel on the first 3 targets, but since I couldn’t watch my bullet, I don’t know exactly where I hit them. Let’s say my wind call was off slightly, resulting in a hit on the left side of the target on the 1st & 2nd targets, and a left edge hit on the 3rd target. If I wasn’t able to see that, I’d send that 600 yard shot with confidence, only to have it fly past the left side of the target and result in a miss. If I’d been able to gather the feedback from the closer shots, by being able to watch the impact, I could’ve adjusted my wind call before it resulted in a miss. A worse scenario would be if I had a bad wind call and missed the first couple targets. If I wasn’t able to watch my bullet, I wouldn’t have a clue what correction I needed to make to get the next round on target. In that moment, you feel blind and helpless. Ask me how I know! 😉
Here is excerpt from Dr. Carlucci’s textbook on ballistics and design, which explains why muzzle rise occurs:
Let us now consider the phenomenon known as ‘‘gun jump.’’ The axis of the gun bore, which is where the gas forces are applied, is usually not collinear with the mass center of the recoiling parts. This creates a moment couple often referred to as the ‘‘powder couple,’’ which acts upon firing. This couple causes a rotation of the gun that usually results in muzzle rise. This contributes to projectile jump, but is by no means the sole cause of it.
Dr. Carlucci goes on to say some muzzle brakes are specifically designed to help limit muzzle climb, and those “sometimes increased accuracy results from shot to shot because of reduced weapon movement.” Wow, that’s an interesting thought.
Jim See is an accomplished shooter in the Precision Rifle Series, and he is a sharp guy who has designed several muzzle brakes, including the Center Shot Rifles Blast Tamer in this field test. Jim believes some muzzle brake designs vent so much gas out the top that they end up overcompensating for muzzle rise, and it may end up hurting more than helping. If too much gas is vented upward, it will result in downward force on the barrel, and essentially turns the barrel into a spring. The barrel will eventually rebound, and could cause you to lose the target picture as it bounces back up. I noticed Carlucci mentioned something similar: “If the weapon is already horizontal and the venting thrust has a large vertical component, this can be a substantial loading.” That is something that isn’t immediately evident, but should be kept in mind when designing and evaluating muzzle brakes.
The Testing Method
At first, I struggled coming up with a way to objectively quantify the ability to stay on target, and wasn’t sure if I’d be able to evaluate this aspect in the field test. But, as I mentioned, David Tubb believed this was one of the most important aspects of a muzzle brake, so we brainstormed ways to quantify this. David said he tested this by firing from a bench, off a bipod, but with the rear of the rifle unsupported. By leaving the rear of the rifle unsupported, we’re able to record the full range of muzzle movement. David said he was always careful to use the same body position on each shot, and ensure everything was in the same place (rifle, bipod, his feet, his hands, etc.). He’d then fire a shot and record where his crosshairs ended up after the shot. So that is where I started.
In conversations with Bob Bellows, a close friend of mine, we came up with a tweak to this approach that might ensure the measurements weren’t skewed by the shooter (primarily because I’m not as good of a shooter as David). We attached a laser to the rifle, and added a slow-motion camera capable of recording 240 frames/second (10 times faster than a standard video camera). I attached the high-speed camera to a spotting scope a few yards away from the rifle, so the gases from the muzzle brake wouldn’t obscure the image. Then I placed a target at 25 yards that had a grid of 1”x1” squares on it and an aiming point. I’d align the laser with the aiming point, fire a shot, and the high-speed camera would record where the laser moved. I recorded a couple shots for each muzzle brake.
I was surprised how well this worked. I analyzed the video frame by frame on a computer, and you could clearly see a sudden and direct movement when the shot was fired. In fact, I could watch the laser move under recoil for a few frames before the bullet reached the 25 yard target! The laser would sharply move to a particular location, and it would move to that same approximate position on each shot. It was surprisingly repeatable.
Here is a quick video that explains the setup, shows me firing one of the brakes, and has a sample of the slow-motion video of the laser on the target. I froze a few of the frames to help you see what I was able to when analyzing the video on the computer.
All of these tests were performed using my custom 6XC. Since I didn’t have brakes in every caliber, I went with the smallest caliber test rifle (that also happens to be my personal favorite 😉 ) so I could test the most brakes possible with a single rifle. Remember, we saw in the recoil results that caliber-specific brakes only showed a 1-3% improvement over a generic 30 caliber brake.
Muzzle rise depends on the center of gravity of the rifle, cartridge size, and many other factors. The rifle used on this test is representative of a tactical precision rifle typical for the mid-size calibers we’re focusing on in this field test (6mm through 30 caliber). However, if you changed the cartridge size or rifle configuration, your results could vary from what is shown here. I do this all out-of-pocket in my spare time, so I can’t test infinite rifle configurations. But, these results should provide a lot of objective insight into the performance of various brake designs, especially for the niche of tactical, bolt-action, long-range, precision rifles I write about.
The diagram below shows how closely each brake remained to the original point of aim. The red dot indicates where the laser was when the shot was fired, and the blue dots are the average locations where it was after the shot. I also included indicators to show how much movement I recorded with a bare muzzle and a suppressor.
You can see most brakes ended up above the original point of aim, a few ended up below it, and one was off to the side. If they were above, that meant there was still some amount of muzzle rise, although all of the brakes kept you on target better than the bare muzzle or suppressor. If the dot is below the point of aim that means muzzle rise was completely defeated, and the barrel was actually pushed down by the large amount of gas that was vented upward.
The first thing that stands out is the JP Recoil Eliminator (aka JP Tank). It barely moved. That happened to be the brake I had on the rifle for the video of this test (shown earlier in this post), which was complete coincidence. But if you watch the video, you can see there is virtually no muzzle movement when I fire each shot. Its nuts. Well done, JP.
You probably also noticed the Surefire SOCOM Muzzle Brake is way off to the left side. I measured 5 inches of horizontal movement on a target set at 25 yards, so that would be 20 inches at 100 yards, and the equivalent of over 16 feet at 1000 yards. If you’re shooting long range … that might be a problem. I can only attribute this to the two offset holes on top of the brake (see photo below). One hole seems like an odd shape, and they clearly aren’t symmetric. You can see the larger hole is on the right, which pushes the muzzle to the left. I plan to show additional photos in the muzzle blast post that illustrates the uneven amount of work being done by those two holes. Those holes may be necessary for the Surefire suppressor designed to mount over this muzzle brake, but they seem to hurt the ability for the muzzle brake to stay on target. Update 7/27: One of my readers mentioned Surefire has a new revision of this brake with a symmetric design (holes are the same on both sides). This brake was purchased 1-2 years ago. The new design appears similar other than that change, so it may move closer to the center line, but some of that motion would likely translate to the vertical plane causing it to be higher on the target.
The Tubb Precision Muzzle Brake forced the muzzle toward the bottom of the target, but it had an interesting feature. When the brake was installed with the top pointed directly at the 12 o’clock position, you could see some horizontal movement on the video toward the left side of the target. But the Tubb brake is specifically designed to be tuned to eliminate horizontal movement. I turned the brake to 11 o’clock, and that caused horizontal movement to the right. But, if I split the difference (top of brake pointing at approximately 11:30), it completely removed the horizontal movement. It’s a neat feature. The brake includes a large locking nut to make this kind of fine-tuning easy.
Dino made an interesting comment on this post regarding the Tubb brake, which I wanted to highlight. This brake was originally designed for the Tubb 2000 (T2K) Rifle, which is a tube gun that is significantly different from the tactical precision rifle I tested this on. There could be a 2 pound difference just in sights alone on those two rifles! I bet the Tubb brake has ideal performance when used on the T2K when it comes to staying on target, but my Surgeon rifle had a very different center of gravity, and therefore had a different amount of muzzle rise. If anyone has a spare T2K they’d like to donate, I’ve always wanted one, and I promise I’ll retest the brake on it! 😉
I did test all 3 models of the Center Shot Rifles Blast Tamer muzzle brakes (round 3-port, clamp-on 3-port, and 4-port). The results of all 3 were right on top of each other. So I combined them into one group in the results.
As I mentioned before, the Badger Ordnance FTE Muzzle Brake wouldn’t fit on any of my precision rifles without having to mod the barrel (and nobody is touching my barrel). The Badger FTE doesn’t just screw on like most brakes, it screws on and then clamps around the barrel. That means the barrel has to be contoured to very specific dimensions. So unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test the Badger FTE’s ability to stay on target because of that design.
Here is another view of the same data, but translated to the equivalent angle the muzzle moved from the point of aim in MOA (minute of angle).
One thing you’ll notice is our high-end 9” suppressor didn’t give us much help staying on target. It moved 24 MOA, where a bare muzzle moved 27 MOA, meaning the suppressor was only 8% better than nothing at all. So if you’re hoping to watch your bullet impact, it appears you’d be better off attaching a brake over a suppressor.
I calculated a rating for each brake’s ability to stay on target. The bare muzzle displacement (27 MOA) equates to a rating of 0. Then, for a muzzle brake to get a full 10 point rating, it needs to remain within 5 MOA of the original point of aim. Only the JP Recoil Eliminator was able to provide that level of performance, but a few others got close.
Brake Designs That Work
There are two common brake design techniques used to limit muzzle rise. Both result in slightly more gas being sent upward.
It seems like muzzle brake designers try to strike the right balance between sending enough gas upward to offset muzzle rise, and not sending so much that it loads the barrel by forcing it downward.
I ran these tests a few weeks ago, but just processed the results this past week. After seeing the results, I measured a bunch of physical dimensions on the brakes, to see how those correlate. It seems like there are thousands of people trying to design their own brake, so I thought this might help them see what struck the best balance for the 6XC I was using.
I noticed in the results was that if the brake did poorly on recoil reduction (results in previous post), it probably didn’t do great here either. Recoil reduction could be roughly thought of as a measure of how well the design redirects or harnesses gas to do work in our favor. If a brake isn’t great at redirecting gas, then it’s not surprising that it doesn’t effectively redirect a portion of gas upward to offset muzzle rise.
The table below shows a few things:
- Avg Vertical Displacement – This is the amount of movement I recorded in MOA (minute of angle), but it only reflects the displacement in the vertical direction (y axis). If the box is blue, that means it moved down. If it is red, it moved up. If it is white, it is just right.
- % Smaller On Top Than Bottom – This is a percentage indicating how much more narrow the top width is than the bottom width (like what is shown on the left in the graphic above). For example, if the bottom width measured 1” and the top width measured 0.70”, this value would be 30%.
- Area of Top Ports – I made the necessary measurements to calculate the total size (in terms of area) of all the upward facing holes on the brake (like what is shown on the right in the graphic above).
- Recoil Rating – This is the overall rating for recoil reduction for each brake (from previous post). It helps you roughly see how effective the brake is at redirecting gas.
The thick black box is around all the brakes that stayed within 10 MOA of the original point of aim, which is great performance. There is some extremely complex physics going on inside a brake, so I don’t want to over-simplify this, but I wanted to point out some interesting trends from the data. Based on these tests, it looks like wrapping the side ports up around the side of the brake so that the top is around 30-45% narrower than the bottom may be the sweet spot to offset muzzle rise. If you’re drilling holes on top to offset muzzle rise, then it looks like you might aim for a total area of 0.14-0.25 square inches. Of course, this all depends on the size of the brake, the internals of how it baffles redirect gas, and a million other variables … but these may be a good place to start.
If you’ll find the Alamo Four Star brake towards the bottom of the table, you can see from that brake to the bottom of the table the order closely follows the recoil rating. There are a couple brakes at the bottom that did have a more narrow top than bottom (TBAC Compact Brake and OPS), but they still ended up far away from the point of aim after the shot. The TBAC brake is very short, and it may need a much narrower top to redirect enough gas to offset the muzzle rise. The OPS muzzle brake only has a small section where the top is narrower than the bottom, and it is just poor at redirecting gas in general (as we discovered in the recoil results).
Although I wasn’t able to test the Badger FTE Muzzle Brake, based on these measurements I’d expect it to perform similar to the Tubb Precision Muzzle Brake. I can’t say that for sure, but all the numbers in the table seem very similar for those two brakes. There at least seems to be some evidence hinting to that being too much gas escaping out the top, which will push the barrel down at first, and then cause it to bounce back up above the original point of aim.
The results for the APA Little B* Muzzle Brake also caught my attention. That design only has side ports. There isn’t a top or bottom. But somehow, it ended up doing better than the other brakes that didn’t have any feature built-in to offset muzzle rise … and even did better than a few that did. I thought that was odd, so I retested it … and retested it again. But, it came up the same each time. It isn’t completely crazy, because the TriDelta and Surefire brakes it beat simply aren’t good at redirecting gas. The JP Compensator has tiny holes on top, which look a lot bigger than they really are. And the APA Little B* muzzle brake is really, really good at redirecting gas. So it isn’t a huge shocker, but I thought it was interesting to note.
Best Muzzle Brakes for Staying On Target
Just to recap, here is the list of the top few brakes when it comes to staying on target. All of these brakes stayed within 10 MOA of the original point of aim:
- JP Recoil Eliminator
- Holland Radial Quick Discharge Muzzle Brake
- JEC Customs Recoil Reduction Muzzle Brake
- Impact Precision Muzzle Brake
- West Texas Ordnance Muzzle Brake
In the next post, I’ll cover the data we recorded with a high-end sound meter to measure how loud each brake was to the side of the rifle and at the shooter’s position behind the rifle.
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.