One of the best ways to tame recoil on any calibre is to install a muzzle brake. It’s a simple device that actually works well, reducing felt recoil and making it possible to practise with your hunting rifle without developing a flinch.
Big guns, from the .338 Lapua to .50 calibres, always come with muzzle brakes. That’s because they’re known to have a lot of recoil and they would be very difficult and uncomfortable to shoot without a brake.
Muzzle brakes work by channelling the airflow of the muzzle blast (propellant gases) through a series of vents or baffles, redirecting the force to counter recoil and muzzle flip. Brakes were originally introduced for artillery and the main gun on a battle tank.
On all guns, the brake helps to reduce muzzle flip (or jump), which helps keep the sights on the target. This is especially important for hunting.
When we were on safari in Africa last year, we used rifles in 7mm Winchester Short Magnum with muzzle brakes. When Linda shot her zebra at 225 metres, the rifle moved so little that she could see the bullet hit the target, and watched through her sight as the animal ran a short distance and fell. Even if this were the only benefit of a muzzle brake, we’d have one on every hunting rifle we own.
Most hunting rifles are light and handy in the bush. So the shooter feels every little bit of recoil that the .30-06 or .300 Winchester Magnum can deliver. If you shoot more than one shot in a row, you’re likely going to develop a flinch. A flinch is the reaction your body has to being whacked — it’s a smart reaction from a body’s point of view, but it interferes with accurate shooting.
There are several ways to reduce felt recoil, such as using a heavier gun with a heavier barrel, putting mercury recoil reducers in the stock, using a stock design that’s straight in line with the force of the muzzle blast, or even using low-recoil hunting loads. But the single most effective method to reduce felt recoil is to use a muzzle brake.
And the noise?
The gas expelled during firing is the source of the sound made by a shot. So, without getting into the physics of shockwaves, there should be no more and no less noise with a brake, because the amount of gas is determined by the gun, not the brake. However, as the gases are redirected, so is the noise. We have taken informal decibel readings of a shot being fired at the muzzle, at the firer, and midway alongside and we’ve found that all shooting is loud — so loud that wearing hearing protection is essential. We found that there was no significant difference in noise level between a rifle shot with a brake and one without — ear defenders are required in both cases. In fact, we wear our electronic earmuffs while hunting. We can hear the sounds of nature better and we can take a shot with complete comfort. On safari, the electronic earmuffs were also very useful for hearing our professional hunter whisper instructions to us as we stalked game.
No matter the device, the crack of the bullet is separate, and different, from the sound of the muzzle blast. The crack isn’t affected by a muzzle brake, as it’s caused by the bullet breaking the sound barrier while it is supersonic. It’s another good reason to always wear your ear protection while firing a rifle.
One size fits all
The final important benefit of a muzzle brake is that a smaller person can comfortably shoot a bigger calibre than they might otherwise. This is important for youngsters, certainly, and for women, who are joining the hunt in large numbers. It’s also important for anyone who is recoil sensitive — maybe due to vertebrae damage, or propensity for headaches, or a history of concussion.
Controlling recoil through the use of a muzzle brake is also key for anyone who wants to shoot well and shoot often. And those of you who shoot well know you got there by shooting often.
Originally published in the June 2015 edition of Ontario OUT of DOORS