Even in the world of firearms, there is a certain amount of confusion between the definitions of flash suppressors, compensators, and muzzle brakes. The confusion is compounded by the emergence of hybrid products combining the features of two, or even all three, of these.
The flash suppressor, also known as a flash hider, or flash guard, does exactly what the name suggests. It eliminates the flash caused by unburned powder exiting the barrel behind the projectile by dispersing the unburned powder exiting the barrel and mixing it with air.
Ammo intended for short barreled weapons like handguns use a fast burning powder. Ammo intended for long guns, like rifles and shotguns, use a slower burning powder to take full advantage of the extra barrel length. When rifle ammo or shotgun shells are fired from a short barreled weapon, such as a carbine, a considerable amount of still burning powder exits the barrel behind the projectile, causing a pronounced flash and, in the right environment, temporary blindness.
There are two basic and almost identical designs for flash suppressors. The first is called the “duckbill” design. It consists of three or four prongs, separated by slits that extend to the open end of the suppressor and mix the emerging unburned powder with the surrounding air eliminating the flash.
The second design, called the “birdcage” has smaller slits that terminate in a solid metal ring at the end of the suppressor. The ring helps to prevent snagging on brush. The A2 birdcage is not only the standard military flash suppressor, it is a hybrid unit, combining a suppressor with a compensator.
Compensators and Muzzle Brakes
Both compensators sometimes called comps, and muzzle brakes, are both stabilizers and are often used in some configuration that combines functions, such as the A2 birdcage flash suppressor, which also serves to a lesser extent as compensator and muzzle brake.
The compensator acts to reduce the tendency of the muzzle to jump with each shot, also called muzzle climb, muzzle flip, and muzzle rise. Some of the hot gas exiting the muzzle is vented through an opening on top, forcing the muzzle down and helping to prevent muzzle jump. This makes it easier to “line up” on the target for subsequent shots. As the A2 suppressor hides the flash and vents hot gases upward, it also aids shooting from a prone position by reducing dust and debris thrown up by each shot. Most compensators are actually a combination of compensator and muzzle brake. Just as the compensator reduces muzzle jump by venting gas upward, the muzzle brake lessens recoil by venting gas outward to the side.
Recoil is the result of the combination of two forces. The first is the bullet exiting the muzzle. The second is the propellant gases exiting the muzzle behind the bullet. As strange as it sounds, the gases are actually traveling faster than the bullet itself. This means that the gases are momentarily blocked by the bullet and forced outward. Normally, the gases would expand outward in all directions at great speed. With the muzzle brake, these gases, expanding faster than the bullet is traveling, are forced out to the side, minimizing recoil.
A large caliber rifle like the .50 BMG generates tremendous recoil and, to use a colloquial expression, “Kicks like a mule.” The recoil involved can easily injure the shooter. By venting the burning gases out to the side, the brutal recoil is made easier to manage.
The negative is that as the muzzle brake lessens recoil by forcing a pressure wave of gas outward to the sides, it increases noise from the muzzle blast. Muzzle brakes are extremely loud and it is highly recommended that proper hearing protection be worn.
Your selection of muzzle apparatus will depend largely on what kind of shooting you intend to do. If you are a competition shooter, a combination compensator and muzzle brake should lead your choices. For night shooting, a flash suppressor should be the most important.
As the gas behind the projectile exits the muzzle, a significant percentage is diverted by the muzzle attachment. It is important to note that all of the muzzle attachments have an interior diameter greater than the caliber used. The means that there is no contact with the projectile and no loss of performance involved in their use.
Common to the gun range is the combination device, combining the best features of two or more muzzle attachments. The most common is the combination compensator and muzzle brake. This combo reduces both recoil and muzzle jump but does nothing to lessen the flash.
The ultimate muzzle attachment, known as a silencer, is a combination flash suppressor, noise suppressor, compensator and muzzle with baffles redirecting the gases and lessening recoil and muzzle jump as it deadens sound.