THERE MAY BE a muzzle brake in your future. They've been around since before World War II, but their use on sporting rifles has always been limited to custom guns, and then in scant numbers. But that is starting to change. • Custom gunmakers, who are the trendsetters in rifle building, are now installing brakes in serious numbers. I asked one of them, who shall remain anonymous, why the shift occurred. "Guys are afraid to shoot nowadays," he said. "They're wimps. I put one on a .270 WSM or a .280 Remington and think, Mister, maybe you should be playing golf instead." • Kenny Jarrett installs muzzle brakes on probably 85 percent of his rifles. Ed Brown now puts a muzzle brake on all his guns save his dangerous-game rifles (and we will get to why in a minute), unless you state with great vehemence that you don't want one. Ninety-two percent of Mark Bansner's rifles get muzzle brakes. John Lazzeroni puts them on as a matter of course.
Upward and Backward
YOUR RIFLE KICKS because the gas that propels the bullet in one direction also moves the rifle in the other direction--hard. So if you don't want to get kicked, you have to change the direction of the gas column.
To accomplish this, you can cut holes or ports in the barrel itself to divert the gas upward or sideways. If the gas goes upward, it presses down on the muzzle and counteracts muzzle jump. One example of this is the Mag-na-port system, a pair of trapezoidal slots that are cut out of the barrel running parallel to the bore; another is the new Remington VTR brake, a series of slots that are cut horizontal to the bore.
Most brakes, however, take the form of 2-inch tubes that screw onto the muzzle and divert the gas 90 degrees to the side around the circumference of the barrel. This is accomplished by a series of small parallel holes drilled in the tube. Almost all muzzle brakes can be detached, and the threads at the end of the barrel can be covered by a little screw-on cap. You can see a variety of muzzle brakes at brownells.com.
MOST MUZZLE BRAKES will cut recoil by 50 percent. There are plenty of rifles that would be unshootable were it not for their brakes.
Even varmint shooters, who fire very heavy rifles that kick very little, have now come to favor muzzle brakes because they need to see the bullets splash, and you can't do that if you have any recoil at all.
There is also evidence that, particularly with light barrels, using muzzle brakes results in better accuracy, quite aside from their positive effects on the shooter.
THERE ARE SEVERAL, and they are serious. First is cost. A good muzzle brake, plus installation by a gunsmith, costs about $250.
The second is noise. Since the muzzle blast is coming back at you instead of going away from you, the report goes from unpleasant to unbearable. Whether shooting at the range or hunting, you are going to have to wear some kind of serious hearing protection. Or you can ignore it, and go deaf quickly.
Which brings us to Ed Brown's muzzle-brakeless dangerous-game rifle. If you are going after something large and unpleasant, your trackers will be alongside you, and it's important that they be able to hear what's going on. However, if you cut loose with a muzzle-braked rifle, they will be unable to hear hoofbeats, growling, roars, screams, or other important sounds.
The third problem is length. Most brakes add 2 inches to a rifle barrel, which does not bother some people, but it bothers the hell out of me.
Fourth, muzzle brakes break scopes. This is a fact. A riflescope is built to withstand violent rearward acceleration and gradual deceleration. But when gas hits a muzzle brake, the deceleration is violent; it's like slamming the scope into a wall. Some scopes can't hack it.
And finally there is this consideration: Of all the muzzle-braked rifles I've fired, none shot to the same point of impact with the brake on as they did with the brake off.
But as we get wimpier and wussier, we are going to see more rifles--including factory guns--with brakes. Sensitive New Age guys will no longer feel compelled to demonstrate their manhood by acquiring concussions, bulged spinal discs, and scope cuts.
THE MUZZLE BRAKE DIFFERENCE: HOW MUCH WILL IT KICK NOW?
**A.375 H&H without a muzzle brake will generate **approximately 45 foot-pounds of felt recoil--a substantial amount.
Add a muzzle brake to that .375 and recoil is reduced to about 23 foot-pounds, which is that of a brakeless .30/06.
Putting a muzzle brake on an'06 cuts recoil back to approximately 14 foot-pounds--about what a standard .243 generates.