Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Prepper's Armory: Muzzle Devices

Last year I wrote about the history, use, and acquisition of suppressors, which are a small subset of the larger umbrella of muzzle devices. There are several categories within this general classification that serve a variety of different purposes, with some overlap, but along with the previously mentioned suppressors, the main categories are flash hiders, compensators (also known as muzzle brakes), thread protectors, and muzzle adapters.

Flash Hiders/Suppressors
I'll begin with the flash hider or flash suppressor. Contrary to popular myth, this barrel attachment does not generally reduce muzzle flash signature from the target side of the gun. Instead, its primary purpose is to disrupt the globe of burning gasses that would otherwise form at the muzzle and interfere with the shooter's ability to use the sights. This is especially important on shorter barreled rifles; I'm sure most of our readers have heard jokes about AR pistols or Mosin Nagant carbines stating "If you miss your target, you'll still set it on fire," or have seen the Rico Special from Forgotten Weapons.

The classic A1 or A2 M16 flash hider has regularly-spaced slots around the circumference, and the end is completely open. As the superheated gases exit the barrel, and attempt to form a sphere, they are instead diverted into those cutouts.

Brownells A2 Flash Hider

It's important to clock this type of muzzle device correctly when attaching it. This means making sure none of the slots point straight up, as this would send some of the muzzle flash directly into the shooters line of sight.

The big difference between the A1 and A2 flash hiders is that the latter version has a solid section without slots that's meant to point straight down, which helps prevent a dust cloud when shooting prone.

There are all sorts of flash hider designs on the market. Some, like the A1 and A2, are quite simple, while others are considerably more complex.

Compensators/Muzzle Brakes
Compensators, also called muzzle brakes, are similar in concept to a flash hider in that they also redirect some of the escaping combustion gasses. However, instead of primarily working to break up the flash, these devices act as a sort of maneuvering jet, pushing the firearm to help counteract recoil.

Compensators are generally identifiable by their closed front, with a small opening just larger than bullet diameter, and frequently with large side apertures. Some designs have additional small openings on top as well. But for the most part, they resemble miniature cannon muzzle attachments.

As with flash hiders, the orientation of a compensator is important to proper function, perhaps even more so due to the pushing force imparted on the barrel.

Compensators need to be selected based on a variety of factors, including barrel length and cartridge size, as these will affect the amount of gas pushed out the muzzle and through the device. While ideal compensator performance is neutral vertical movement, overpowered muzzle breaks have been known to cause the muzzle to dip when firing.

Thread Protectors and Adapters
Thread protectors are simply threaded collars (similar to a standard nut) that attaches to the muzzle and are usually knurled on the outside to make tightening or loosening by hand easier. They cover the threads, but don't provide any additional benefit to the function of the firearm.

Adapters also cover the threads, but in addition offer the ability to attach different muzzle devices. Some adapters are thread converters, where one end has an internal thread for attaching to the barrel and the other end has an external thread in a more readily available pattern. There are even muzzle adapters with bayonet lugs for use on firearms that don't come with them. Adapters can often be found with some sort of flash hider or compensator, but there are still plenty that don't.

I hope that this post, while not exhaustive, has helped to clear up the often confusing and sometimes overlapping world of muzzle devices.

Have fun, and safe shooting.

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