Trying to pick between a rifle suppressor and muzzle brake? Or are you trying to research good options for a brake or suppressor? See what suppressors and muzzle brakes the top 100 precision rifle shooters in the country are running on their rifles.
I recently surveyed the top 100 shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS), and this post reviews the rifle suppressors and muzzle brakes those elite shooters were using in 2015. The PRS tracks how top competitors place in major rifle matches across the country. These are the major leagues of sniper-style competitions, with targets typically from 300 to 1200 yards. These world-class shooters represent the best of the best in terms of long-range shooting in field conditions. For more info on the Precision Rifle Series and who these guys are, or to view what other gear they’re running scroll to the bottom of this article.
Muzzle Brake vs. Suppressor
Are you trying to decide whether to invest in a suppressor or just use a muzzle brake? You might find this really interesting. First, let’s look at what those top shooters said when asked what they use most often in rifle matches. The different colors indicate where the shooters finished. A black bar represents shooters that finished in the top 10, the dark blue is shooters who finished 11-20, and so on. Darker colors represent shooters that finished closer to the top, where lighter colors are farther from the top … but all of them finished in the top 100, so they’re all outstanding shooters.
You can see there are twice as many guys running muzzle brakes than suppressors, which is consistent with results from previous years. I was surprised when I first saw this trend, but I conducted a muzzle brake field test recently and through that I gathered some hard data the helped me understand why these guys might prefer muzzle brakes.
Pros of Muzzle Brakes
- Reduces recoil more than suppressor (see field test data)
- More maneuverable, because it’s lighter and shorter than a suppressor
- Many offset muzzle rise and help you stay on target (see field test data)
- Much cheaper (brakes these guys are running cost $80-185, popular suppressors are $1000 plus the $200 tax stamp)
- Brakes aren’t regulated like suppressors and don’t have to go through the 4-10 month process of acquiring a silencer tax stamp or keep related paperwork on hand
Pros of Suppressors
- Reduces noise/concussion dramatically over muzzle brake (see field test data)
- Reduces chance of hearing damage and may not require hearing protection (see field test data)
- Reduces muzzle blast and ground signature, which can kick up dust or give away location (see field test data)
- Slight increase in muzzle velocity (20-40 fps in my experience with these cartridges)
- Some believe more weight at muzzle may improve precision (In “Rifle Accuracy Facts” leading researcher Harold Vaughn explains experiments and simulations he performed that show this to be true.)
- Shooters nearby won’t hate you
Remember these guys are shooting in tactical/practical matches, which are in real-world shooting conditions out in the field. They aren’t firing from a bench or on a square range with wind flags. Many targets may be engaged from a prone position, but competitors may also be required to maneuver through obstacles and shoot from improvised shooting positions. It’s also common to have extreme time constraints (like a few seconds to engage multiple targets). Competitors carry their rifle and gear all day across natural (and sometimes rugged) terrain, and even a couple days in a row. Those conditions and constraints mean how they choose gear is very different than benchrest, F-class, high power, or other styles of competitions.
With all that in mind, you can see how items 1, 2 & 3 under Pros of Muzzle Brakes are attractive for shooters in these types of tactical matches. Many would agree that shooting a suppressor is more comfortable if you’re just flopping down and firing a bunch of rounds from a prone position in one location. But that’s not what these guys are doing, so some of the benefits of a muzzle brake can outweigh the comfort and convenience of a suppressor.
Here is another helpful view of the data, which looks at how many of these elite rifle shooters are committed to either a brake or a suppressors 100% of the time, and how many vary what they use based on the situation.
The overwhelming majority said they may run either a muzzle brake or a suppressor, depending on the situation. There were only 24 people who said they use a brake 100% of the time, and only 11 who said they use a suppressor 100% of the time. What’s interesting is there are guys from each category who finished in the top 10.
Another interesting point is that obviously most of these guys have both, and still choose a muzzle brake most of the time. So it isn’t that they didn’t want to pay the high price for a suppressor or endure the ridiculous process to acquire one. They have one. It likely just comes down to personal preference, with most guys feeling like a muzzle brake gives them an edge for these styles of competitions.
So let’s look at the specific muzzle brakes these guys were using:
American Precision Arms (APA) were the most popular muzzle brakes last year, and they took an even bigger lead in 2015. There were twice as many APA brakes represented as any other brand. Of those using muzzle brakes, 1 in 3 of were sporting an APA. But there were actually 5 shooters in the top 10 using an APA brake! And I know why. The APA designs proved to be VERY effective in my muzzle brake field test. The hard data showed APA designs were one of the best at reducing recoil (see the data). The APA Little B* muzzle brake is the most popular model for 6mm and 6.5mm calibers, which is what all of these guys are running.
Center Shot Rifles’ Blast Tamer was the next most popular design, with 13 shooters in the top 100 shooters using one of their muzzle brakes. 8 of those finished in the top 50. And the guy who invented the design, Jim See, finished #6 overall! Jim has finished in the top 20 in each of the past 4 years, since the inception of the PRS. There are very few that share that honor. Jim is an outstanding shooter and extremely knowledgeable guy. He specifically designed the Blast Tamer for PRS-style of shooting.
Badger Ordnance was the next most popular brand of muzzle brakes represented. 11 shooters said they were using a Badger Ordnance muzzle brake, with 4 of those landing in the top 50. These are a popular option for brakes on rifles made by GA Precision and Surgeon Rifles.
Impact Precision had 10 shooters represented, including 7 in the top 50. Tate Streater (finished 7th overall this year) and Wade Stuteville (finished 34th in 2015, 1st in 2012) are 2 of the partners in Impact Precision. Those guys obviously know what it takes to perform at this level, and they designed the Impact Precision Muzzle Brake to be ideal for these types of matches.
JEC Customs muzzle brake was the next most popular model, with 4 guys using that muzzle brake. This was another top performer in my muzzle brake field test. It was one of the best overall, only being edged out by the massive JP Tank brake (see the data). It provides good recoil reduction, and was also one of the best at helping you stay on target.
Behind those, there was a long list of other brakes being used by 1-2 shooters in the top 100. It seems like there are a ton of muzzle brake designs on the market, so this group was spread over a wider range of models than other components. While I’m not familiar with many of these designs, that doesn’t mean they aren’t excellent. And there are hundreds (if not thousands) of additional designs out there, and it’s likely at least a few of those provide the same level of performance as the brakes listed here. But this list will help you see what the top precision rifle shooters in the country are using.
- Kelbly’s Muzzle Brake
- Hawk Hill Customs Muzzle Brake
- Roberts Precision Rifles Muzzle Brake
- Silencer Tech Muzzle Brake
- Ross Schuler Muzzle Brake
- Straight Shot Muzzle Brake
- Surefire Muzzle Brake
- AAC Blackout Muzzle Brake
- Alamo Four Star Muzzle Brake (also a top performer in the muzzle brake field test)
- Hawkins Precision Muzzle Brake
- Ployhar Precision Muzzle Brake
- SilencerCo Muzzle Brake
- Sure Shot Precision Rifles Muzzle Brake
Now let’s look at the rifle suppressors these top shooters were using.
While Thunder Beast led the pack for the past couple years, SilencerCo took the lead in 2015! SilencerCo had 4 shooters represented in the top 10, where the other 3 that said they use a suppressor were spread over 3 different brands. The new SilencerCo Omega Suppressor seems to be the most popular model among these PRS competitors. The Omega is a 7” titanium suppressor that weighs just 14 ounces! It’s a 30 caliber can that is rated for full auto and up to a 300 Win Mag. It retails for $1100.
Thunder Beast Arms Corp (TBAC) was close on their heels, with 22 shooters represented among the top 100 shooters. TBAC released their new Ultra series of suppressors earlier this year (full write-up on the Ultra series), which boasted huge improvements over previous models … and then mid-year TBAC announced 6.5mm versions of the 7” and 9” Ultra suppressors. The 6.5 Ultra models offer improved sound suppression when firing 6.5mm or smaller calibers. In fact, they claim when “shooting .260 Rem mag loads, the 6.5 mm ULTRA 7 has the same or more sound reduction as the normal .30 cal ULTRA 9. With the 6.5 mm ULTRA 9 on a .260, the level of suppression is approx 2-3 dB better than the .30 cal ULTRA 9.” Since all of these guys are running 6mm and 6.5mm cartridges, that is especially pertinent. There was excitement about the new 30 caliber Ultra’s earlier this year, but now you’re able to get better sound suppression out of a 7” 6.5 suppressor! Because these are so new, I doubt any of these guys could have been running a 6.5 Ultra this year, but they likely were running the 30 caliber Ultra suppressors. I bet we’ll see some 6.5 Ultras in 2016! These retail for $1,045-1,095.
Silencer Tech was the next most popular suppressor among this group with 10 shooters represented. Silencer Tech is a family-owned, word-of-mouth advertising business that has been building suppressors for 16+ years. There isn’t a lot of product details on thier website, but you can call them for more info. Barry from Silencer Tech said they offer 3 models of 30 caliber suppressors, and each of them were designed by PRS shooters:
- Rhino: 6″ long, 14 oz., Rated up to 308 Win
- CFP: 6.5″ long, 15 oz., Rated up to 30-06
- 3G: 6.5″ long, 18 oz., rated up to 300 Win Mag
Those 3 brands represent 88% of the suppressors used by this group of guys, but there were several other brands represented by 1-2 shooters. Remember, that doesn’t mean these aren’t as good … it just means less shooters were using them. Here is a list of those other suppressors:
- Delta P Designs Suppressors
- Suppressed Armament Systems (SAS) Suppressors
- Mack Brothers (Mac Bros) Suppressors
- Crux Suppressors
- Surefire Suppressors
- Templar Tactical Suppressors
Other “What The Pros Use” Articles
This post was one of a series of posts that look at the equipment the top PRS shooters use. Check out these other posts:
- Calibers & Cartridges
- Scopes & Reticles
- Rifle Actions
- Rifle Chassis & Stocks
- Rifle Suppressors & Muzzle Brakes
- Shooting Bags
- Bullets, Brass, Primers & Powders
- Special Bonus Post!
Meet The Pros
You know NASCAR? Yes, I’m talking about the racing-cars-in-a-circle NASCAR. Before NASCAR, there were just a bunch of unaffiliated, regional car races. NASCAR brought structure by unifying those races, and created the idea of a season … and an overall champion. NASCAR identified the top races across the country (that were similar in nature), then combined results and ranked competitors. The Precision Rifle Series (PRS) is like NASCAR, but for rifle matches.
The PRS is a championship style point series race based on the best precision rifle matches nationwide. PRS matches are recognized as the major league of sniper-style rifle matches. These matches aren’t shot from a bench or even on a square range. They feature practical, real-world field conditions, and even some improvised barricades and obstacles to increase the difficulty from hard to you-have-to-be-kidding-me. You won’t be able to take all shots from a prone position, and time stressors keep you from getting to comfortable. Typical target ranges are from 300 to 1200 yards, but each PRS match has a unique personality with creative stages that challenge different aspects of precision shooting. You might start off the day with a single cold bore shot on a small target at 400 yards, then at the next stage make a 1400 yard shot through 3 distinct winds across a canyon, then try to hit a golf ball on a string at 164 yards with no backstop to help you spot misses (can’t make that up), then see how many times you can ring an small 6” target at 1000 yards in 30 seconds, next shoot off a roof top at 10”, 8”, and 6” targets at 600 yards, followed by a speed drill on 1” targets at 200 yards and repeated at 7 yards … plus 10 other stages, and then come back tomorrow and do some more! Many stages involve some type of gaming strategy, and physical fitness can also come into play. For a shooter to place well in multiple matches, they must be an extremely well-rounded shooter who is capable of getting rounds on target in virtually any circumstance.
There are about 15 national-level PRS matches each year. At the end of the year the match scores are evaluated and the top ranked shooters are invited to compete head-to-head in the PRS Championship Match. We surveyed the shooters who qualified for the championship, asking all kinds of questions about the equipment they ran that season. This is a great set of data, because 100 shooters is a significant sample size, and this particular group are experts among experts. It includes guys like George Gardner (President/Senior Rifle Builder of GA Precision), Wade Stuteville of Stuteville Precision, Jim See of Center Shot Rifles, Matt Parry of Parry Custom Gun, Aaron Roberts of Roberts Precision Rifles, shooters from the US Army Marksmanship Unit, and many other world-class shooters.
Think of the best shooter you know … it’s actually very unlikely that person is good enough to break into the top 100. I know I’m not! I competed against a few of these guys for the first time earlier this year, and I was humbled. It’s incredible what these guys can do with a rifle. For example, the match in Oklahoma I was in had a station that required you to engage 4 steel targets scattered at random distances from 300 to 800 yards, and you only had 15 seconds! I think I hit 2, and rushed my 3rd shot. I didn’t even get the 4th shot off! But, one of these guys cleaned that stage with 4 seconds to spare! Yep, he got 4 rounds on target at distance in 11 seconds. That’s the caliber of shooter we’re talking about. It’s very different from benchrest or F-class competitions, but make no mistake … these guys are serious marksmen.