“Obnoxious,” I can’t help but think to myself. I can feel the concussion reverberating through the shooting range, even from several benches down. The shooter is doing nothing wrong, really, he’s just banging away with a muzzle brake on his rifle. I have a similar gut reaction as when someone fires up an old 2-stroke outboard on a quiet fishing hole (once you’ve become accustomed to a 4-stroke). I’m not passing judgement on the muzzle brake shooter (I have used brakes plenty) but I still mutter to myself just about every time I encounter another shooter with a brake at the range.
Muzzle brakes although not new at all, have seemingly become much more popular in recent years. New, hot rod cartridges like the Nosler series 27, 28, and 30, the 300 PRC, and several of the .338 magnums have been a major driver of the trend. Some of these cartridges would be horrendous to shoot without a brake, so having them come standard on these rifles is perfectly logical. I believe that another driver of muzzle brake popularity is tied to their use in PRS competition. They are often used not to prevent painful recoil, but to reduce movement of the rifle upon firing, which allows the shooter to more easily spot his impacts and make adjustments if needed. It doesn’t matter how macho a person is, heavy-recoiling rifles can lead to accuracy issues for a shooter, and a muzzle brake unequivocally aids in accurate, consistent shooting.
It seems that muzzle brakes are popping up more and more frequently as standard kit on production hunting rifles as well. Again, this would be expected on something like a 33 Nosler or .300 PRC, but they’re even showing up on rifles in powder-puff kicking cartridges like 7mm-08, 6.5 Creemoor, and .308. Fortunately, most include an optional thread protector to install once you remove the brake, but many folks don’t do this.
The upside of muzzle brakes is obviously softened recoil and less muzzle jump, which can lead to more comfortable, consistent shooting, as well as making it easier to see your impact. The downside is the tremendous felt concussion and noise that is created by redirecting muzzle gasses to reduce the recoil. The concussion isn’t really noted by the shooter, but if you happen to be anywhere alongside and you’re not ready for it, the blast will ring your bell. Ear protection is critical at all times.
Most of the time, I want nothing to do with muzzle brakes in a hunting scenario. I have been in several situations where my hunting partner had a brake and I was trying to film or spot his shot. Even while wearing hearing protection, the concussion jolted me at best, and at worst it left my ears ringing for more than a day. Muzzle brakes are fantastic at what they do, but the caveat is that unless you want to give yourself or your hunting partner permanent hearing damage, you must wear hearing protection for every single shot. We really should do our best to pop a set of plugs in before we shoot (with or without muzzle brakes), and I almost always carry them. But sometimes shot opportunities happen quickly and there’s not time to throw on ear pro. However, with a brake, you don’t an option.
For hunting purposes, I believe (perhaps stubbornly) that a person should hunt with a rifle they can handle and shoot well without a brake, even if that means swallowing a little pride and opting for a tamer cartridge. But what about the big “brush rifles” you may ask? To me, a brush rifle is the gun I take into the brush to check bear baits and track hit bears. I see plenty of these with brakes, including .375′s, .338′s, and .416′s, and up. These rifles can hit hard on both ends, but I have no desire to incapacitate myself as well as the bear. Also, I need to be able to hear every snap or rustle in the underbrush while following up a bear. All is well and good when you have time to pop your plugs in, but in some situations, you won’t.
In the case of a real dangerous game charge, you’ll just deal with the recoil, because there is going to be a whole lot more pain coming if you don’t.
My opinion on muzzle brakes is just that—an opinion. They are a fantastic tool, allowing rifles to be chambered larger, yet stay reasonably lightweight and shootable. Using one simply makes it that much more important to be aware of who and what is around you, and always, always use good hearing protection.