Gear, Parts and Accessories

Ported Performance: Recoil Reduction with Ported Barrels and Compensators

Ported 1911 and Shield pistols

Some firearm trends come and go. Ported barrels and compensators are one of them. They’re currently on the rise again, with many new, upgraded, pistol models coming with barrel porting or a compensator from the factory. 

But should you jump on this train? What exactly are ported barrels and compensators, and why should you want one?

What is barrel porting/compensation?

So, what does it mean when a barrel is ported? In this case we are referring to holes in top of the muzzle end of the barrel, which direct gasses upward. Compensators work in a similar fashion, they’re just located in front of the muzzle and affixed to the barrel, typically via threads. What they do: Control recoil by venting gasses upward as they escape the muzzle to counteract muzzle rise. This helps bring you back on target faster and keeps you shooting accurately. 

Ported ATI 1911
The ATI Thunderbolt-E looks sweet with its high-polish ported barrel.

Ported barrels and muzzle compensators are similar, but they have a few unique characteristics of their own. Porting uses less space and keeps the firearm just as compact as it was before. It is also integral to the barrel, so it can never get knocked loose or fall off. However, because the bullet travels through the barrel, these ports can also scrape lead/copper shavings off, which can possibly fly out through the ports. I’ve never had this happen, nor seen it in any serious manner. Another common concern with ported barrels is bullet energy loss (more on this later). 

Compensators do not bleed off energy, as you retain the full length of your barrel. However, most pistol designs with a compensator feature a shortened barrel to account for the overall length with the addition of the comp. Think SIG P365 XMACRO Comp vs. TacOps. The former features a 3-inch barrel similar to the one found on the standard P365, while the latter incorporates a 3.7-inch barrel similar to the one found on the XL model. 

Although, if you go with a threaded barrel and compensator combo (which is more common), you can basically run any pistol you like. You will just need to test your barrel/compensator setup to ensure reliability. It may require you to swap your recoil spring to account for the pressure change and weight on the end of the barrel. 

Benefits

As you may imagine, the main advantage to having a ported barrel or compensator is reduced recoil. This allows for a faster recovery time between shots, and therefore, faster rapid-fire accuracy. By lowering your spit times (time between shots), you can get more shots on target faster and improve your defensive capabilities. 

SIG P365's compensator
SIG’s efficiently-designed compensator/muzzle brake makes for a controllable pistol.

Porting is also good for those who may be more recoil sensitive. It may allow you to shoot a caliber you would otherwise be unable to properly control. It may make the difference between 9mm and .380 perhaps, which is a definite defensive advantage. 

Last but not least, let’s not forget the most important reason for owning a pistol with a ported barrel or compensator: How cool it looks! I’m kidding, but there’s no denying that it does add some style and turns some heads at the range. We all like to have some fun tweaking and upgrading our firearms. Even if you only use it for range plinking, a compensator can be a blast. 

Drawbacks

With all the benefits to ported barrels and comps, there are some drawbacks. As I mentioned earlier, because you bleed off some of your gas pressure through the ports, you will get lower velocities out of the same ammo. This is usually only a slight loss, but exactly how much will depend on the exact caliber and barrel length.

High-pressure rounds, such as .357 Magnum, tend to be more affected than low pressure rounds such as the .45 ACP. This lower velocity translates to fewer ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle and on the target. Further, modern hollow points are designed to expand at certain velocities and their performance may be diminished with the loss in pressure. 

Another common concern, especially with ported pistols, is excessive muzzle flash. I will say that it is a bit brighter than a comparable non-ported firearm, but it’s not obstructive. Some may worry that the bright flash will take away your night vision during a possible self-defense entanglement. This is not something that concerns me and it hasn’t been an issue so far. Besides, you should be using a flashlight or weapon light for proper target identification in low light. This is far brighter than the brief muzzle flash should you need to fire. 

Disassembled ATI 1911 Slide
Barrel porting will cause more carbon fouling. Be sure to clean and maintain your firearm.

You may also find that your ported firearms require a bit more cleaning and maintenance due to the excess carbon fouling coming from the ports. Ported firearms will have more unburnt powder residue, and this fouling can escape through the ports and cause malfunctions. Further, the same holes that allow gas to escape are more points where dirt can enter. This may cause a barrel obstruction or further induce malfunctions. Therefore, ported firearms are not the best choice for a woods or outdoor gun that may get dropped. For an EDC pistol, it will require more frequent maintenance to keep dust and lint out of the action. 

Firearm Selection

Don’t let these deter you. When employed properly, a pistol with a ported barrel or compensator is incredibly effective. One of my top choices is the Smith and Wesson Shield Plus Performance Center. Available with either a 3- or 4-inch ported barrel, the M&P Shield Plus is perfect for concealed carry and can double in a home defense role. I have the 3-inch version and it has been nothing but reliable. It also features noticeably less felt recoil than the standard Shield. 

Another pistol I have had good experience with is the ATI Thunderbolt-E 1911. This older “Enhanced” model incorporates a ported barrel, Picatinny rail, and target sights. My father and I picked this pistol up ‘used’ years ago and originally had some reliability issues. After a quick recoil spring swap, it was ready to rock. 

SIG Sauer offers several upgraded models with a built-in compensator straight from the factory. No installation, no threads to come loose, just shooting. The P365 XMACRO, P320 AXG Legion, and XFive Legion all incorporate a compensation portion machined into the end of the slide. 

Staccato makes a high-end race gun with a compensator in the XC, and also offers some limited versions of the P and C2 line with a comp. Springfield has a version of the Hellcat OSP with a compensator. This makes a good competitor to the P365 and Shield versions. 

For the wheel gun fans, the S&W 586 L-Comp and Model 19 Carry Comp are at the top of the heap. These L and K-Frame revolvers are designed for defensive carry. The Taurus Tracker series offers similar utility, in a slightly larger footprint and lower price range. 

Taurus Tracker Ported
The Taurus Tracker is an accurate and affordable ported revolver.

Don’t forget, you can also buy a threaded barrel and thread-on compensator or aftermarket ported barrel for other pistols. These may need new springs or modification for reliable function depending on the firearm, but can be a great way to use a gun you already own. 

Final Thoughts 

Barrel porting and compensation is not the end all be all by any means, but it can provide some added utility. Self-defense with a firearm is about getting accurate hits on your target. This can help you shoot more powerful rounds, faster, more accurately. What’s better than that? 

Do you like ported barrels and compensators? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the Comment section.

About the Author:

Alex Cole

Alex is a younger firearms enthusiast who’s been shooting since he was a kid. He loves consuming all information related to guns and is constantly trying to enhance his knowledge, understanding, and use of firearms. Not a day goes by where he doesn’t do something firearms-related and he tries to visit the range at least a couple of times a month to maintain and improve his shooting skills.

His primary focus is on handguns, but he loves all types of firearms. He enjoys disassembling and reassembling firearms to see how they work and installs most of the upgrades to his firearms himself, taking it as a chance to learn. He’s not only interested in modern handguns and rifles, he appreciates the classics for both historical value and real-world use.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (18)

  1. I had a Glock 20C (10mm) which is factory ported. I own a Glock 19C (9mm) also factory ported. I don’t feel recoil changes much, but muzzle jump is decreased. To me I feel like about 1/3rd less. In the dark, muzzle flash seems just as blinding as the porting. Proper porting does not usually shave brass off the bullets. Carbon fouling is real but does not affect anything but the looks. It is a bit harder to clean. If I had the funds most of my handguns would be ported. I highly recommend
    Mag-Na-Port to port your barrels.

  2. I have a TC Contender in 7 30 Waters , 12 inch barrel, factory ported. I was sighting-in at a covered bench, a fellow gun club member 6 benches over says to me “what kind of cannon are you shooting over there ?”. It was a bit noisy, really sharp under the roof. It was still on target, so I left pretty quick. Not nearly as loud out in the field, did the job on a doe at 75 yds with a 129 grain softpoint.

  3. I had a SIG P365XL that I outfitted with an integrally-compensated slide from Shalotek (the XXL) that uses stock XL barrel and recoil spring (I purchased a new non-ported barrel – in stainless vs. black due to the bitchin’ slide cutouts – recoil spring and slide internals from SIG to maintain reliability). I did have a noticeable reduction in “flippiness” with the comped slide vs original on the stock grip module. A Wilson Combat tungsten-weighted grip module was added and the stock XL slidev was no longer “flippy” and spit great. However, the comped slide was eerily dead-steady… 50 rounds on target (in the torso or head) at 10 yds in <20s with 3 mag changes (yeah, my range only squashes mag dumps if you can’t hit your target. I usually also let the other folks know that I’m about to get a little noisy… unless it sounds like Dodge City already). I didn’t notice a difference in noise, per se… but a 9mm is not as vociferous as a .45 mag. I also have a P365 sub-compact… I may Shalotek-it to the XL (XL-sized slide, regular 3.1 barrel, and play with grips/mags/triggers until I find the ideal carry-comp.

  4. YORARIDER– Your choice, but 60% hearing loss in my right ear and 20-25% in my left ear was from decades not not using hearing protection, so I kind of believe in stopping the problem before it starts. That’s just an old guy looking back and saying– “If only I had–“

  5. I’ve had ported firearms for over 40 years, specifically “Mag-Na-Port”. Couple just for looks (7” barrel/slide 1911 10mm). I also purchased a complete 5” slide 10 mm assembly fitted it so I could go back and forth and never felt the need to port it. Only rifles I’ve ported were large bore or large caliber ones that had lots of recoil or muzzle rise. Examples are 338 mag for Alaska hunts and a Ruger #1 in 45-70 which could be loaded very hot due to very good design of strength. This particular fire arm un-ported with heave loads the barrel would rise and contact range window. Ported it did not. Couple original RedHawks where scope mounted on barrel would flip up pretty good porting tamed that a bit. Just as reference bought a SuperRedhawk and design changed where the scope now mounted over frame top strap. Saw no need to port that one muzzle jump was not bad at all. Also have a couple shotguns pro-ported by them that I shoot slugs for hunting deer with, one pump one semi-auto and it eliminated my need for sight in with lead sled. I will say this, I favor Mag-Na-Port for porting any firearm. There is only one gun I’ve ever really noticed flash and that was from a S&W snub 629 44 mag. Low light this one looks like a jet upward and fire ball going down range. Even with the rifles never noticed and flash coming from the ports. I haven’t noticed any major reduction in muzzle velocity, have noticed muzzle jump was reduced. I’m sure non of the recoil was reduced, but what is perceived as felt recoil seemed better.

  6. HW Stone: One of the primary reasons I hunt with a pistol is because of the uncluttered simplicity and untethered freedom from gadgetry. The last thing I want is something stuck in my ears. Again you are searching for a solution to a problem that I don’t have.

  7. I bought a couple Sig 365’s a few years back, one standard and the SAS with a ported barrel. The difference in barrel flip between the two was astonishing. Controllability of the SAS over the standard pistol, like night and day. The ported SAS is loud and I can feel gasses hitting my face when practicing, but it’s a fun little shooter. Especially since I replaced the original bullseye sight on the SAS with a Sig Romeo elite red dot!

  8. YORARIDER, check some other brands– I have had some that were okay, but some allowed me to hear much, much better and at longer ranges.

    That would actually be a good topic for a report here. In the same way not all .380 rifles are the same, the earmuffs vary, too.

    .

  9. Have the TRACKER 44 and an EAA WITNESS 45, both having ported barrels. Agree that the muzzle flash/bang is greater. As an aside, I would suggest you normally don’t use cast bullets in either gun, as there is some residue that has to be cleaned up unless a “Hard” alloy is used. Finally, I find that the TRACKER 44 is almost ideal with a 44 Mag “LITE” loading. I like the 8 grains of UNIQUE and a 250 grain hard cast KEITH style SWC load myself. Bonus is minimal residue in the Ports.

  10. HW Stone:I have electronic muffs, which I use for general shooting. If you ever tried hunting with them you’d understand why I don’t use them when hunting. A better solution is just not to use a compensator. I don’t need it, it adds weight changing the balance of the firearm, they come loose and can effect point of impact, make the gun longer and more clumsy to handle in blind, they cost dollars I could spend on something more useful… the list goes on and on. Why look for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist?

  11. HW Stone:I have electronic muffs, which I use for general shooting. If you ever tried hunting with them you’d understand why I don’t use them when hunting. A better solution is just not to use a compensator. I don’t need it, it adds weight changing the balance of the firearm, they come loose and can effect point of impact, make the gun longer and more clumsy to handle in blind, they cost dollars I could spend on something more useful… the list goes on and on. Why look for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist?

  12. Yes they are a lot louder… Try shooting one of these in an indoor range…… I have a Muzzle compensator on my .45 Wilson 1911… Can’t shoot it indoors… Also took the muzzle brake OFF my AR for the same reason….
    I think they are more cosmetic than useful…..

  13. YORARIDER– Look into electronic earmuffs or ear plugs that cut off noise above a certain level but also can be set to make your hearing more acute by increase in the sound levels UNTIL you get to dangerous levels, at which point the sound cuts off.

  14. Sars makes a nice firearm and has a Ported barrel 9 model that is decently priced. If someone has that pistol I would be interested in hearing how they like it. I have the non-ported Sars 9 and love it !

  15. You forgot to mention the biggest draw back of all… ported/compensated barrels are much louder for the shooter since energy is directed back/up rather than straight out of the barrel. I use a hand gun for hunting and don’t use hearing protection for obvious reasons (I need to be able to hear the game animals). Compensators are unacceptable to me in these situations.

  16. I’ve been using ported and compensated firearms for 50 years. My very first shotgun was and is a Winchester Model 12 with a huge Cutt’s Compensator. Do they work? That depends on the design employed, the length of the barrel/slide (longer is better), the energy level of the cartridge (greater is more effective), and your definition of felt recoil. I say “felt recoil” because the laws of physics cannot be denied. If the gas is directed to the side, little effect is observed. If it is directed upward the gas will reduce muzzle climb, but it will not reduce recoil. The recoil simply becomes more linear. Psychologically, the shooter’s impression may be that recoil has dropped when it has not, therefore he believes the felt recoil has been reduced when the measurable recoil energy has not. More than a few muzzle brake designers are aware of this fact and have developed brakes/compensators/ports that vent some escaping gas to a more rearward angle. The resulting effect propels the firearm slightly forward and does soften both perceived and actual recoil. But there is no free lunch. The price one pays is a much louder report directed at the shooter or anyone standing oblique to him. The most effective devices I have tried will propel gas rearward, upward, and at an angle that is opposite the direction the firearm naturally tends to turn. As an example, this is how the AK74 brake works.

  17. I have a Taurus Tracker 44 magnum. I wish it did not have a ported barrel. It is comfortable to shoot with 44 special but not with 44 magnum. With 44 magnum it pushes down hard on my middle finger. If you shoot it very many times you get a blood blister on it. I have changed the grips 3 times hoping it would help. Put pachmayr grips last and helped a little. Personally I would rather it rise when I shoot and not push down that is supposed to help recoil. Just my opinion for what its worth.

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