This article covers the muzzle brakes and suppressors the top 170+ precision rifle shooters in the country are running. It’s based on a recent survey I conducted of the top 125 shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) and top 50 shooters in the National Rifle League (NRL), which are points-race leagues based on the biggest long-range, field-based rifle matches across the country. This data is very unique, because it is a wide sample of the most elite marksmen and experts in the field. (View other “What The Pros Use” articles)
Muzzle Brake or Suppressor?
Every precision rifleman faces the decision: Do I go with a muzzle brake or suppressor? Both have their advantages, so I thought we’d start by looking at what these guys run:
The various colors on the chart represent the league and rank of the shooters. For example, black indicates shooters who finished in the top 10 in the PRS, dark blue is those who finished 11-25 in the PRS, and the lighter the blue, the further out they finished in PRS Open Division season standings. The green colors represents the top shooters in the NRL, where the darkest green is the top 10, medium green is 11-25, and light green are 26th to 50th. The legend on the chart itemizes the league and ranks each color represents, but basically the darker the color, the higher up the shooters placed.
In the data above, you can see 51% of these guys said they might run a muzzle brake or a suppressor depending on the situation. There are a couple matches like the SilencerCo Quiet Riot that are suppressor-only matches, so even if you use a muzzle brake most of the year, you’d obviously screw on a suppressor if you wanted to shoot that one. Also, some guys might run a suppressor if they’re using a rifle of a particular caliber or one with a shorter barrel. The decision to use a suppressor could also come down to the format of how they’ll be shooting. If I’m going to be shooting prone on a line with friends, I might screw on a suppressor to not blast the guy next to me all day. If I’m shooting more of a run-and-gun match with lots of barricades, I may go with a muzzle brake to maximize recoil reduction and the ability to stay on target to see my impacts.
I don’t want this part of the results to be misleading. It’s clear when you walking around most major precision rifle competitions that the majority of rifles have a muzzle brake on them. And that’s not because the guys running them don’t own a suppressor. There are a significant amount suppressors represented, but muzzle brakes are far more common overall. It’s likely at least proportional to the number of people who said they only run muzzle brakes compared to the number that say they only run suppressors, which was 4 to 1.
39% of the shooters said they only run muzzle brakes (i.e. never run a suppressor), including 3 of the guys who finished in the top 10 in the PRS and 6 of the guys who finished in the top 10 in the NRL.
10% said they only run suppressor (i.e. never run a muzzle brake), but that did include 2 of the guys in the top 10 in the PRS, and another 6 in the top 50 in the PRS. However, there were only 2 shooters who exclusively run suppressors among the top 50 in the NRL.
I conducted a muzzle brake field test a couple of years ago, and gathered some hard data that helped me understand why these guys prefer muzzle brakes. For those that might be new to the game, here are some pros of muzzle brakes compared to pros for suppressors.
Advantages of Muzzle Brakes
- Many are ported to offset muzzle rise, helping you stay on target to spot impacts (see field test data)
- Reduces recoil about 30% more than a suppressor, helping you stay on target to spot impacts (see field test data)
- Don’t cause your barrel to heat like a suppressor, so less wait time between strings of fire
- More maneuverable, because it’s lighter and shorter than a suppressor
- Much cheaper (Less than $200 compared to $1000+ for popular suppressors + the $200 tax stamp)
- Skip the hassle of the 4-10 month process of acquiring a silencer tax stamp and keeping that paperwork on-hand
Advantages of Suppressors
- Reduces noise/concussion dramatically over muzzle brake, decreasing odds of hearing damage and may not require hearing protection (see field test data)
- Reduces muzzle blast and ground signature, which can kick up dust and debris (see field test data)
- Slight increase in muzzle velocity (15-30 fps in my experience with these cartridges)
- Some believe the added weight at the muzzle improves 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
All right, let’s take a lot at the particular brands and models of muzzle brakes these top shooters were running:
The most popular brand of muzzle brake was American Precision Arms (APA) again this year, representing 31% of the shooters using brakes. APA has been the industry leader in muzzle brakes since 2014. APA has a few different sizes and models of muzzle brakes, but the APA Gen 2 Little B* Self-Timing Muzzle Brake is the most popular among this group. It was one of the best overall performing muzzle brakes in my field test, so I understand why so many of these guys prefer it (see the results). I measured a recoil reduction of 40% with this little brake, so it’s extremely effective! This “Gen 2” muzzle brake design from APA was the first popular muzzle brake featuring an integral locking nut, which means it doesn’t have to be “timed” to a specific barrel. That makes moving it from one barrel to another very easy, with no gunsmithing or hassle required. If you aren’t sure what I mean by “timing,” don’t worry – more on that later. APA Gen 2 Little B* Street Price = $160
Close behind APA was the very popular Area 419 Hellfire Self-Timing Muzzle Brake, with 26% of those running muzzle brakes choosing it. The Area 419 brake was the most popular brake among those in the top 10 in the PRS and NRL, just ahead of APA in each camp. This brake also features an integral locking collar, which means it doesn’t have to be “timed” to barrel either. But, the Area 419 design includes a unique universal adapter as well, which you can see installed on the barrel in the photo below. That is a really cool feature that makes installation even easier, because it keeps the brake from turning as you torque the collar to lock (watch video showing that). No more guessing where the brake ports will line up once you tighten it down! Area 419 Hellfire Street Price = $165
The Impact Precision Shooting Muzzle Brake was the next most popular among this group of top shooters, with 9% choosing to run this muzzle brake. The Impact Precision design has a few unique features compared to the others at the top of this list. First, its ports are NOT angled back toward the shooter, so it will primarily redirect gas 90° from the rifle. That doesn’t make it dramatically “quieter” or pleasant to be around, but it may make it safer and more bearable for the shooter next to you on the line. Second, the Impact Precision design features a clamp screw that locks the brake into position, meaning it is “self-timing” as well. This isn’t like the integral locking nut or collar on these other brakes, but effectively provides the same function without worrying about the brake turning as you torque it down. Another thing to point out is the two more popular muzzle brakes are priced 40% higher than this design, making it a great choice for those on a tight budget. Impact Precision Brake Street Price = $116
The MPA Premium Bolt Action Muzzle Brake was another popular choice with 6% of shooters running it on their rifles. This design seems virtually identical to the Alamo Four Star Cowl Induction design, which was the most effective muzzle brake I tested when it came to reducing recoil (see the data). It features 4 ports, compared to the APA and Area 419’s 3 ports and Impact Precision’s 2 port design, and those ports do sweep back at an angle. It also features a “self-timing” integral locking nut similar to the APA design, making it simple to switch between barrels. MPA Brake Street Price = $139
Those four designs were the ones used by 10 or more of these top shooters. In fact, 73% of these guys were using one of those brakes I just mentioned. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re “the best.” There were a lot of other muzzle brake designs used by these elite shooters, like the PVA Mad Scientist Brake, Piercision Rifles 5 Port Muscle Brake, and Kahntrol Muzzle Brake, which were each used by 4-5 shooters. There were 17 more designs in addition to those I’ve already named. There has been a lot of innovation and new muzzle brake designs come onto the market over the past couple years, as gunsmiths have added CNC machines to their shop, so I’d encourage you to check them out.
The Rise of Self-Timing Muzzle Brakes
All of the most popular models are directional brakes with some kind of “self-timing” feature. It’s common for muzzle brake designs to simply a one-piece metal tube with ports drilled in it. If the ports are directional, that just means they’re designed to send more gas in certain directions than others, which usually means more gas to the sides and not down towards the ground. That is a great idea, but that means there is a right and wrong way the ports could be pointing. You want the ports level and pointing directly to the sides. “Timing” a muzzle brake to a barrel means a gunsmith removes a very slight amount of material from the rear of the brake until the ports are facing the correct direction when the muzzle brake is tightened on the barrel (watch video of process). The threads and distance to shoulder could vary by barrel, so you typically have to repeat this hassle when you switch barrels to ensure the ports are facing correctly.
Many DIY shooters bypass this custom “timing” process, by using shims, crush washers, peel washers, etc. If you’ve ever used those, you know they aren’t the most precise or repeatable solution. That’s why these self-timing muzzle brakes have become so popular! They allow you to skip the hassle of timing a brake AND shims, and it still gives the rifle a “finished” look because there isn’t a visible gap between the shoulder of the barrel and the muzzle brake (like you might see if using shims or washers). Now, a timed muzzle brake that blends into the contour of the barrel creates a very clean look that can even appear to be integral to the barrel, which is pretty slick. But if you’re more concerned with function and hassle-free than you are aesthetics, these self-timing brakes are a compelling choice.
Does The Caliber Of The Hole Really Matter?
A couple of years ago, I created a recoil test system with high-speed sensors and tested a bunch of muzzle brakes. One of the things I was interested in learning was whether a caliber-specific muzzle brake was more effective at reducing recoil on a 6mm or 6.5mm rifle than using a generic 30 caliber muzzle brake. The results were surprising!
I tested 4 very different muzzle brake designs that I had in 6mm, 6.5mm, and 30 caliber, which included the APA Little B*, Holland 1.25” Radial QD Brake, Impact Precision Brake, and West Texas Ordnance Brake. I measured the exact recoil reduction using all 3 calibers on a 6mm precision rifle. The results showed a 6mm brake only resulted in a 1-3% difference in recoil reduction over a 30 caliber brake, in terms of both overall momentum and peak force, among all 4 muzzle brake designs! That surprised me. I expected the diameter of the bullet hole in the brake to make more of a difference. But, that’s why I actually run the tests, instead of just talking about this stuff!
Now let’s look at the suppressors that were most popular among the top shooters in the nation:
Thunder Beast Arms Corporation (TBAC) leads the pack this year, representing 43% of the shooters who ran suppressors. TBAC has been one of the most popular suppressor manufacturers since I started collecting this data in 2012. TBAC was founded by competitive, precision rifle shooters, and that is still their primary focus. They’re actually the same guys behind Competition Dynamics, which puts on some of the toughest long range rifle competitions, like the Steel Safari and Sniper Adventure Challenge. They fully understand the level of precision and repeatability these guys expect from their rifles, because they compete and expect no less. Ray Sanchez from TBAC once told me that he wanted to prove how repeatable the point of impact shift was on TBAC suppressors, so during the Steel Safari competition he removed and reattached his suppressor between EVERY stage … and still got 1st place that year! It’s hard to argue with those results. TBAC offers a variety of suppressors from 5”, 7”, and 9” in 30 caliber or 6.5mm, as well as larger suppressors in 338 caliber and suppressors for 223/5.56 and 22 rimfire. They’re available in direct thread or brake-attached. I’d expect the 6.5mm Ultra-7 suppressor would be very popular among this crowd that is primarily using mid-sized 6mm cartridges. That model is 7” long and the direct thread model weighs just 11.5 ounces! That is what I’ve personally used for a couple of years, and I’d highly recommend it. The TBAC Ultra-7 Suppressor is priced at $1045 for direct thread and $1095 for the brake-attached model.
25% of the shooters using suppressors said they use a SilencerCo suppressor. SilencerCo is one of the most well-known suppressor manufacturers, and they make a huge range of suppressors for rifles, pistols, and even shotguns. The most popular among precision rifle shooters seems to be the SilencerCo Omega Suppressor. SilencerCo claims the Omega is the lightest, shortest, quietest, full-auto rated, titanium .30 caliber centerfire rifle silencer on the market. They also say it’s the best-selling rifle suppressor in history. It features a unique, removable “Anchor Brake” on the end of it, which basically acts as a muzzle brake to further reduce recoil. The Omega is 7” long and weighs 14 ounces. The Omega Suppressor typically sales for $1130, but I noticed EuroOptic.com currently has it on sale for $899!
Those two suppressor manufacturers represented 68% of the 103 shooters who said they used a suppressor, and were the only brands used by more than 10 shooters. But there was a long list of quality manufacturers also mentioned on the survey, including Silencer Tech who represented 9% of the shooters, Leviathan Suppressors who represented 6% of the shooters, among others. The suppressor space is getting more competitive, with new companies and products popping up all the time, so I’d encourage you to check out the whole list before making a buying decision.
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