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Muzzle Brake vs Compensator - Which Is Right For My Rifle?

Since it is such a political hot potato, I was curious if firearms terms were actually published in dictionaries. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Muzzle Brake definition in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Not only was there a short but precise definition, the dictionary also directed me to next go to the next related term of Compensators. Although I am not crazy about the "gun tube" reference, I suppose it is accurate. Of course, I followed up by going to the suggested term of Compensators, and found that there was only a definition for "compensate" not "compensator". 

After reviewing the definition for "compensate" though, it is actually an applicable term to the muzzle brakes counterpart. So hats off to Mirriam Webster Dictionary for not caving to political pressure and removing those "dangerous" definitions. By the way, it's an election year, so be sure to vote!

Definition of a Muzzle Brake: a device attached to the muzzle of a gun tube that utilizes escaping gases to reduce the force of recoil.

Definition of a Compensator : (noun) 1: to be equivalent to counterbalance 2: to make an appropriate and usually counterbalancing payment 3: to provide with means of counteracting 4: to neutralize the effect of

(verb) 1: to supply an equivalent —used with for… compensate for 

2: to offset an error, defect, or undesired effect 3: to undergo or engage in psychological or physiological compensation.

AR15 .223 Custom TPI Competition Muzzle Brake


I am sure among all of your shooting friends, someone has used the word "muzzle brake" when actually referring to a compensator, and when corrected, they may have replied "same thing". And that may be true if you add the word "recoil" in front of the word "compensator" and are referring to the recoil compensator. Recoil compensators are found on large-caliber firearms and tanks or cannons. Whereas an ordinary compensator is purchased on the retail market and available to anyone, barring any local restrictions.

Muzzle brakes and compensators look similar and operate at least partially alike by directing gases when firing. They do have operational similarities, but each has its own specific purpose.

Both muzzle brakes and compensators redirect gasses that are propelled down the barrel. Upon exiting the muzzle and coming into contact with air, the gasses can affect muzzle movement and recoil.

HiPoint 9mm Carbine Compensator


Muzzle brakes direct the expelled gasses in a way to drive the firearm forward. This action, in return, helps to counteract the recoil force. The energy of the recoil is redirected back to the shooter. The ports of a muzzle brake are slightly to the sides and rear. This design is what enables the firearm to be pushed forward as it fires. Remember for every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. To give the shooter some relief, and provide some reduction in recoil, the muzzle brake by design can counter some of the momentum of the bullet leaving the barrel. In saying that, muzzle brakes are critical when firing large caliber weapons, an example may be shoulder firing a .50BMG. 

Like the muzzle brake, a compensator can offer a reduction in recoil, however, the compensators' primary purpose is to keep the muzzle stable. Like the muzzle brake, a compensator redirects the exiting gasses to serve a purpose. To keep the muzzle stable, and reduce muzzle rise while firing, a compensator is vented to allow gasses to exit upward. As the gasses exit upward, force is reverberated to keep the muzzle down and in a steady position enabling the shooter to reacquire the target quickly, shot after shot. Again, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Some variations allow a shooter to have the best of both worlds. A variation of a compensator, with vents on the sides, allows the shooter to get back on target quicker by stabilizing the muzzle and helps reduce recoil. In addition to that, some hybrids offer reduced recoil, reduced muzzle rise, and a reduced flash signature. 

Tacfire .308 Compact Compensator


If you are thinking about purchasing an aftermarket muzzle device and aren't sure which one is right for you, I will offer a suggestion. When it comes down to choosing your muzzle device, think about how you are going to use your rifle and the benefits that you desire. Balance is the goal when considering which muzzle device is right for you.

Anyone from casual shooters to tactical shooters can benefit from a muzzle device. Muzzle Brakes and Compensators are essential in competitive shooting sports.

Aero VP6 Gamma 9mm Muzzle Brake/Compensator Hybrid


For full disclosure, I do want to tell you about the sacrifices that you must be willing to make. An unfortunate quality of constricting and redirecting the gasses as they hit the air, is increased concussion and sound. It is a noticeable difference. A braked rifle reports much louder than a rifle without a muzzle device. This is true with both muzzle brakes and compensators. While some outdoor ranges will allow them, the shooter in the space beside you will definitely give you an eye roll.

Anderson A2 Style 5.56 Flash Hider


Muzzle Brakes and Compensators are designed for suppressed fire. Venting of exiting gasses as the shooter fires helps to reduce recoil and movement of the muzzle giving the shooter a balanced shot that allows for the quick reacquisition of a target. Muzzle devices come factory installed on some rifles, and for those that are not factory equipped with a muzzle device, make sure your rifle has a threaded barrel so that you can add your aftermarket muzzle device. Smaller caliber firearms that do not produce a lot of recoil may not need a muzzle brake, but in the event you want to add one anyway, muzzle brakes and compensators come in a wide range of caliber compatibles.

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