Muzzle That Puppy

When it comes to attachments for the muzzle of your gun, there are as many variations as there are colors in the color spectrum.

But in a nutshell, there are four basic groups of attachments, all which have a specific purpose. In order to attach any of these groups to your gun, the muzzle of the gun must be threaded. No threads equals no attachments, plain and simple. Either your specific gun model came from the factory with a threaded muzzle or a gunsmith must do that for you.


First there is the suppressor group. Many folks call these silencers. But since their function only muffles and does not actually silence the bang of a gun, they are not silencers. You will never have a gun which is 100% silenced.

Standard suppressor. No moving parts.

Suppressors are often called “cans”, because…well, they look like a cylindrical can. These are often found on both rifles and pistols.

Why would someone not in the military or law enforcement need a suppressor? It is not because the shooter is a bad guy and wants to muffle his gun blast while committing a crime. It is because the shooter regularly shoots and wants to protect his/her hearing, beyond what normal hearing protection offers.

When a gun is fired, the bang it makes is because the hot exhaust gasses are exiting the muzzle very rapidly, often breaking the sound barrier. In order to have complete silence, the hot exhaust gasses would have to exit the muzzle at the same speed as the surrounding atmosphere, which is zero MPH.

Cutaway view of a suppressor, showing baffles

So, to slow down the exiting hot exhaust gasses, a suppressor is used. Inside the suppressor are baffles. After the gun is fired, as the hot exhaust gasses exit the muzzle, those gasses move into and all around those baffles. Moving around the baffles causes the exiting gasses to become turbulent, slowing down the gasses enough so when the gasses finally leave the muzzle of the suppressor, the speed of the exiting gasses is dramatically reduced, to where the sound is tolerable.

Just keep in mind, if you want a suppressor, you cannot just run into your corner gun store and get one out of display case. This is an NFA (National Firearms Act) controlled item. You must patronize a retailer who holds a Type 3 Federal Firearms License, who are the only ones who can process the paperwork. You must shell out $200 for a tax stamp, and wait a looooooooong time, sometimes up to a year, for the ATF to issue your stamp. Once you have the stamp you are free to purchase the suppressor. If you need to know which licensees are Type three, click here, for a type 3 reseller in your area.

Flash Hiders / Suppressors

Standard run-of-the-mill 4-prong flash suppressor

The next group of attachments are known as flash hiders or flash suppressors. Yes, you guessed it. The purpose of the flash hider is to hide the flash of exiting exhaust gasses. These attachments are found mostly on short barreled rifles or SBRs, where the short length of the barrel puts the muzzle flash precariously close to the shooter. They are also used by law enforcement and the military who do not want their position compromised by the presence of a muzzle flash.

Muzzle Brakes

The third group of attachments are known as muzzle brakes. The job of muzzle brakes is to reduce recoil. Muzzle brakes have holes drilled into them at the horizontal positions. These holes may be at a 90 degree angle to the muzzle or they may be angled slightly backward, toward the shooter. Without a muzzle brake, 100% of the hot exhaust gases will exit the muzzle straight in front of the muzzle. However, when a muzzle brake is installed onto the front of the muzzle, only a small percentage of exiting gasses goes straight out the muzzle. And if you remember Newton’s third law of motion “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”, it is the gasses exiting straight out the muzzle which provides the most recoil. So, if the amount of gasses exiting straight out the front can be reduced, recoil can be reduced. So, the way muzzle brakes work is to take some of the exiting gasses and directs some of it to the left of the muzzle and some to the right of the muzzle, thus reducing recoil.

Muzzle brake with 3 holes on each side to vent exiting gasses.

The one caveat with muzzle brakes is that using one causes the bang to be very loud. The exiting gasses are not being suppressed, just redirected. So rather than 100% of the exiting gasses going straight out the barrel, some of it goes straight out, but most will now go out to the left or the right. If other shooters or bystanders are standing on the firing line to the left or to the right of the gun being fired, they will get an earful of gun blast.


The final group of attachments are known as compensators. So, what exactly is a compensator compensating? It is compensating for muzzle rise when a gun is fired. Similar to a muzzle brake, compensators have holes drilled into them. But whereas muzzle brakes have holes drilled to the left and right, compensators have holes drilled in the top or in the 12 o’clock position. When hot gasses are exiting the gun after being fired, some of the hot gasses will be directed upward through the compensator’s holes. Again, Newton’s third law comes into play here. The upward gasses will push down on the muzzle of the gun, thus reducing muzzle rise.

Compensator mounted on a pistol. From the position of the three holes relative to the pistol’s front sight, you can tell this attachment will vent exiting gasses upward, reducing muzzle rise.

Most compensators have no holes drilled on the bottom, or in the 6 o’clock position. By not having holes in the bottom, hot exhaust gasses will be exited elsewhere, and not downward. This is ideal for those shooters who are lying down in the prone position to shoot. Since the gasses are not directed downward, the exiting gasses cannot kick up dirt and debris directly in front of the shooter.


Some of the attachments are combinations of the above groups. Some manufacturers combine a muzzle brake and a compensator into one unit. This provides reduced recoil AND reduced muzzle rise. These are popular with competitive shooters, who need to get their gun muzzle back on point as quickly as possible without a lot of recoil.

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