It’s an undisputed fact that one of the reasons the AR-15 is so supremely popular is because of how easy it is to customize it. As such, there are those who add every geegaw, widget, grip, cover, accessory, or attachment they can think of to the handguard and receiver of their rifle. But one thing that seems to only appear on the most high-end and custom rifles are muzzle brakes.
You might recognize them from their spot at the end of large cannons and heavy caliber rifles. But do they belong at the end of your AR-15? To answer that question, we have to explore what they are and what they’re used for.
Every firearm has a certain kick to it. This is the recoil of the round exiting the barrel of the gun. The gas that builds up from the bullet exploding out of the cartridge pushes the bullet forward and also pushes your rifle backwards. To limit the recoil of a round, you can channel that gas in a different direction.
For instance, if the gas is pushing up, it will push your barrel down. By putting small holes in the barrel, called ports, you can channel this gas, essentially minimizing the amount the barrel moves after a round passes through it.
But drilling holes in your barrel isn’t always wise or practical. That’s where muzzle brakes come into play. Typically, you’ll find muzzle brakes that are about 2 inches in length with channels that force the gas to the sides of the barrel, rather than straight out the front. Muzzle brakes are typically screwed onto the end of the barrel and can be removed as you see fit. So the theory sounds simple, but are they at all useful in practice?
The most obvious advantage of using a muzzle brake on your rifle is that the recoil is significantly reduced. In some cases, muzzle brakes can cut recoil in half. This can make larger calibers more manageable in your AR, like platforms chambered in .308 or even the beastly .458 SOCOM.
With more manageable recoil, you’ll be able to make follow up shots more quickly, and more precisely. That means your target gets shredded faster. You’ll also feel less strain on your shoulder, as the recoil from the round is being transferred away from you, and not back into you.
Lower recoil, faster follow up shots and saving on your post-range trip ibuprofen all sound like great reasons to buy a muzzle brake and screw it on to your AR right away. But you rush out to your local gun store, pause and consider the disadvantages.
First, is the price. A high-quality muzzle brake installed by a trained gunsmith can quickly add up to around $250. Those in pursuit of laser accurate rifles might not flinch at this cost, but for those who are just looking to increase their accuracy during their semi-annual range trip, that price can make them blanch.
But beyond price, muzzle brakes can offend your other senses. Since the gas from the round is now no longer leaving the front of the rifle and instead of being forced out at an angle, your rifle will sound much louder. You’ll need to wear more hearing protection, and you could really bother fellow shooters at the range.
Muzzle breaks take up a lot of real estate at the end of your rifle. You’ll find that a decent muzzle brake is at least two inches in length. This might not sound like a lot, but if you’ve got a standard 16-inch barrel, adding another two inches means you know longer have a compact weapon.
The fact is, many AR owners likely don’t need a muzzle brake for their standard .223/5.56 or even .300 blackout caliber rifles. If you can find one on the cheap and want to play with one, go for it, but you likely won’t experience any noticeable differences.