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:
- How much gas is being directed down at the ground (i.e. ground signature)
- How much gas is being directed back toward the shooter
- 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.
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.