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Preview – Flash Suppressors, Muzzle Brakes & Compensators – Just the Tip of the Barrel

Understanding Flash Suppressors, Muzzle Brakes, and Compensators

We often hear the terms flash suppressor, muzzle brake, and compensator used interchangeably, as some people are actually unaware of their separate functions. We have even heard the question, “What is that funny thing on the end of my barrel?” Well, put your fears aside, it’s not an STD, it’s there to do an important job. Let’s take a look at each component and what it does, and then see some units that combine some of the uses of each one.

Flash Suppressors

The purpose of a flash suppressor, or flash hider, as referred to by some manufacturers, is to guard the shooter from a significant portion of the visible flash. In fact, another term for the device is flash guard, although you don’t hear that used very often. The military adopted flash suppressors in order to preserve soldiers’ night vision. A major misconception is that a flash suppressor will hide the flash from the target you are shooting. Yes, a flash suppressor will reduce the overall flash signature compared to a barrel without one, but light travels in a straight line, and anything completely blocking the flash from what you are aiming at will also block the path of the bullet. Today, there are two primary types of flash suppressors, the duckbill type, with a number of prongs, and the birdcage type that is similar, but has a ring around its end for stability and to prevent the flash suppressor from being “caught up” on surrounding objects.

Muzzle Brakes

A muzzle brake directs gasses to drive the firearm forward, helping counteract the recoil force back into the shooter. This is much like those reversers you see on jet aircraft when they are landing. Muzzle brakes are extremely important on larger-caliber guns; firing a .50 BMG without one could dislocate your shoulder. An unfortunate side effect of a traditional muzzle brake is that because energy is being directed back at the shooter, the sound levels and concussion forces generated during firing increase dramatically.

Compensators

A compensator vents some of the escaping gasses upward, reducing the rise in the barrel as the weapon is fired. This allows the shooter to more easily and quickly reacquire his target for faster follow-up shots. The majority of compensators available today also feature muzzle brake-style side ports for a combination of reduced recoil and muzzle rise.

Hybrids

There are muzzle devices that offer a combined reduction in flash signature, recoil, and muzzle rise; we call them hybrids. For this category of muzzle devices, we are identifying those that are truly designed to achieve a synthesis between the essential elements of the three separate components. A standard A2 flash suppressor, while having vents excluded from the bottom, does offer some of the qualities of a compensator, its primary job is to act as a suppressor, so we don’t include it as a hybrid device. The same goes for the BattleComp 1.0 compensator, which will reduce flash, but is primarily designed to be a compensator.

If you are trading out a factory-installed muzzle device for an aftermarket one, be sure that the modification does not make your new configuration shorter than the legal, overall length (OAL) requirements of your firearm. Some rifles rely on a rather long muzzle device to reach OAL requirements. Generally, if your muzzle device is pinned onto the barrel, it may have been to allow the manufacturer to legally sell the firearm in your jurisdiction.

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