by Fred Eichler
Suppressors may well be the most misunderstood and mythologized piece of gear in modern big game hunting. Here’s what they actually do and how they can make you a better hunter.
As a physically small kid, my son Trent was always a little spooked by a rifle’s recoil. Being a slight boy, even at 14, Trent still flinched and struggled with anything larger than a .223. The then newly released 6.5 Creedmoor was the largest caliber rifle he would shoot. I decided to install a suppressor on the 6.5 in the hopes that it would reduce the sound and recoil enough for him to shoot comfortably and confidently. This ended up being a game-changer, and after some quality time on the bench, he killed his first bull elk with that rifle and suppressor.
Hollywood has given the impression that silencers are used for killing people with no more sound than a faint pfft. Unfortunately, the general public and many politicians have bought into this false narrative. This perception is about as accurate as watching the movie Jaws and thinking all sharks are looking to eat people.
The truth is suppressors are far from silent. That is one of the reasons many people in the outdoor industry refuse to call them silencers. As their name suggests, suppressors simply dampen the sound of a gunshot. They do not eliminate it. In many European countries (which have lax suppressor laws compared to the U.S.), it is considered rude to shoot without a suppressor because of the increased noise pollution.
Suppressors are becoming more common as more hunters and shooters seek ways to protect their hearing. The main advantage to suppressors is that they reduce the decibel level of a gunshot enough to lessen the risk of hearing loss. They also keep your shot from being heard a mile away. And almost every shooter appreciates the reduced recoil that a suppressor delivers because of the additional weight to the end of the barrel and the reduced propellant gasses that are released.
Brandon Maddox, CEO of Silencer Central, one of the nation’s leading companies producing and advocating accurate awareness of suppressors, recognizes that hunters are the primary community who can overturn this misinformation.
“The first step in the eradication of preconceived notions is the education of hunters. And, as ownership of silencers increases, the mystery and falsehoods will gradually disappear,” Maddox says.
I’m a huge fan of suppressors because less noise and lighter recoil help reduce flinching in both new and experienced shooters. If I have a group of kids or new shooters on my range, they all want to shoot the rifle with the suppressor.
“A good suppressor will make a high caliber rifle feel like a rimfire,” says Maddox. “The national trend is moving toward lighter rifles, which normally means more recoil. A suppressor eliminates recoil more than a muzzle brake.”
The first suppressor was invented by Hiram Maxim in 1908 to help reduce the noise of his gunshots so he wouldn’t disturb his neighbors when he was shooting. Despite popular belief, suppressors were originally designed to lower gunshot noises while target shooting and hunting, not for military or law enforcement use.
Suppressors are relatively simple devices made up of a series of stacked baffles or monolithic baffles designed to modulate the speed and pressure of the propellant gas from the muzzle. The best analogy I’ve heard is to think of popping a balloon with a pin versus pinching the end then slowly relaxing your grip to let the air out. Same end result, a deflated balloon, but by releasing the air in a more controlled way and through a larger opening, the sound is quieter. The large suppressor chamber is much wider than the diameter of the firearm’s bore and causes less gas to be released at once.
Using a suppressor reduces sound by about 30 decibels. That’s basically the equivalent of putting on good-quality headset-style ear protection. The propellant gasses are still exiting the suppressor behind the bullet similar to popping a cork on a champagne bottle. Reduced sound will vary based on the type of ammunition you use, but in most elk hunting calibers with most factory rounds, suppressors cut noise by roughly 25 percent.
This technology also has the virtue of presenting hunters and shooters in a positive light by reducing the impact on others that are hunting or enjoying the amazing opportunities we have in the United States on public land who don’t want the serenity of their outdoor experience interrupted with a gunshot heard from potentially miles away. Maddox adds that a suppressor will allow you to continue to communicate with hunting partners without having to wait for the ringing in your ears to stop.
One disadvantage to suppressors is that they are expensive. They currently range from a low of about $300 to $2,500 dollars. You’re also required to purchase a federal suppressor tax stamp, which is an additional $200 dollars per suppressor. Plus, you may have to pay a gunsmith to have your barrel threaded to mount a quick-connect adapter or threaded for a direct mount. Fortunately, suppressors are becoming popular enough that many new rifles now come threaded for mounting a suppressor or quick-connect adapter.
The other primary drawbacks are the confusing regulations surrounding suppressors and the wait time to obtain your permit from the federal government, which can range from six months to two years. They are currently legal to hunt with in 42 states. Unfortunately, suppressors are illegal to even own in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. Interestingly enough, these are also some of our more populated states that would benefit from some noise pollution reduction.
Another potential sticking point is that to use a suppressor, it must be licensed in your name or you must be with the person it is licensed to. So much for loaning your family heirloom to your son or daughter if you’re not with them. You also need to keep the permit for your suppressor with the firearm or on your person when using it in the off chance an officer requests the license. Federal laws and state laws can become muddied here, but to play it safe, keep your tax stamp with the weapon.
There are other ways to license your suppressor. These involve either a trust where members of that trust can use the suppressor or licensing it through a business where employees or independent contractors associated with the business may shoot with the equipment. Because the constantly changing laws and regulations surrounding suppressors are often difficult to understand, I recommend seeking legal advice, so you don’t ever find yourself in a jam.
If you are interested in purchasing a suppressor, try working through one of the larger suppressor companies.
Maddox states it plainly: “When buying a silencer, the paperwork is the largest obstacle. Ask anyone why they don’t have a silencer and they will tell you because of all the paperwork.”
But by purchasing your suppressor through well-established companies like Silencer Central, you get the peace of mind of knowing they are ensuring the entire process is accurate and legal.
If you want to buy just one suppressor, I recommend that you grab a .30 caliber size so you can use it on any .30 caliber rifle as well as any smaller caliber rifles you have. In a perfect world, you match the suppressor to the specific caliber of the rifle you plan to use it on, but you can still decrease noise by using a larger caliber suppressor on a smaller caliber rifle. I bought two when I purchased my first suppressors about 10 years ago. I purchased a .22 caliber and a .30 caliber so it would cover most of my firearms.
Despite the fact that suppressors are highly regulated, and the long wait currently associated with purchasing one can cause you to pull your hair out, I feel the positives strongly outweigh the negatives. After all, your hearing is priceless. And who doesn’t like a gun that kicks like a grasshopper instead of a mule?
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