I bet you have seen this in the movies a dozen times. The bad guy, usually a hit man, screws a long tube-like attachment on the barrel of his weapon, be it rifle or handgun. Now with this instrument of evil he is free to do all sorts of nefarious deeds because the instrument, a “silencer,” allows him to shoot dozens of times without the slightest noise.
Well, like the old song says. “It ain’t necessarily so.”
Silencers, also known as and maybe better described as a “suppressor,” have always been something of an enigma in the firearms world. On one hand, these relatively simple instruments are seen by some like the above illustration, an implement of evil, while many hunters and shooters know the suppressor to be a valuable tool with many advantages. Suppressors, like many things in the firearms arena, have been fighting a bad rap since day one. It is long past time for a change on this.
To bring you up to speed on this topic, I will try to keep the science lesson short. When a gun is fired, the loud boom that we associate with this is caused by gases from the ignition of the propellant (gunpowder) as they rush out the end of the barrel. The suppressor (soldiers call them “cans”) attached to the end of the barrel briefly captures these gases and through a series of baffles release them at a slower rate. This greatly reduces the noise level of a high-powered rifle, but it does not completely deaden the sound.
So how much does it reduce the sound of a gunshot? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that the level of noises that are safe for human hearing is 140 decibels (dB). Depending on the load and the firearm, the average dB for a .308 caliber is about 160. Most suppressors will reduce a .308’s dB level by at least 30, giving you a dB level well below OSHA’s standards. Most shooters agree that using a suppressor allows you to shoot comfortably without hearing protection, and for me, this is a big plus. Only speaking for myself, earmuff-type hearing protection is awkward while shooting long guns.
Now here is another benefit of using a suppressor on your firearm. Suppressors not only lessen the noise level of your firearm, they will also help with recoil. Recoil and noise are the two biggest hindrances for any new shooter. Old shooters (like me) try to mask how we react to recoil, but the truth is 99 percent of us do not enjoy getting pushed around by the felt recoil (the kick) of many firearms.
I have seen it time and again while instructing new shooters. When handed the weapon the first thing they say is, “Will it kick?” Old and stubborn shooters (like me) act like it doesn’t bother them, and many of them have a life-long flinch (a jerking reaction right before the weapon fires which destroys accuracy) to show for it. Suppressors can really help with all this. Bottom line is the more comfortable the shooter is with the firearm the better they will do. It is also a lot more fun. (Oh, yeah. This is supposed to be fun, remember?)
Now to wrap up your science lesson here (and there will be a quiz later), there is another factor about the noise of the gunshot that the suppressor does not lessen. When a rifle is fired, the bullet in most ammunition goes supersonic and breaks the speed of sound. This whiplike crack does not affect the shooter as much because this occurs down range, away from the shooter, but it is loud. The only way around this noise is to fire subsonic ammunition. Subsonic ammo has a muzzle velocity of 1,100 feet per second or less. Most subsonic ammo is not considered appropriate for any big game since the energy level is not enough, but it can be a lot of fun to shoot on the range. Shooting a .22 rimfire suppressed with subsonic ammo is a whale of a good time and is very quiet (more on this in future columns).
So why would I use a suppressor to hunt? There are a lot of advantages. Whether we like it or not, for many of us our hunting and shooting world is shrinking. There are many places where we are allowed to hunt and shoot firearms, but we may be close to residences or businesses. People may not care if you are shooting in these areas, but they don’t want to hear the noise. Suppressors can help with this. Many towns now have urban deer hunts to reduce overpopulated whitetails. A suppressed weapon makes it a lot more comfortable for everyone.
The suppressor for firearms got a ton of overregulation in my opinion back in the day and most of it had to do with the Al Capone gangster days. The National Firearms Act of 1934 basically lumped suppressors in with fully automatic machine guns and other weapons used at the time by gangsters and in truth priced the required permit a “tax stamp” that put the suppressor out of reach of most citizens.
More than anything else, I think the process for buying a suppressor today has many shooters and hunters discouraged from entering the suppressor world. While daunting, the application process is really not too bad. Go to a Class 3 FFL (Federal Firearms License) dealer and pick out a suppressor. Fill out the ATF form 4 and get fingerprinted. Two copies of the ATF form, your fingerprint card and a check for $200 all go to the ATF. Your wait will probably be around nine months; I do not know why it takes that long, but it does.
Take a look at www.silencerco.com, where you can look at several different models of suppressors and get a lot of good information on the suppressor world. Also, and hold on to your hat, starting this week the new entries on the SilencerCo blog site will feature articles from none other than your humble outdoor scribe! (Crowd cheers.) Go take a look and see what you have been missing in the shooting world.