While American hunters have managed to preserve our second amendment rights, it’s high time we reevaluated our national stand on suppressors in the field.
The National Firearms Act of 1934 effectively restricted the sale of suppressors (also known as silencers) to individuals. Currently, owning a suppressor requires filing a Form 4 application with the ATF, paying a $200 transfer tax per suppressor and undergoing an extensive background check.
Afterward, applicants must wait months to receive the paperwork that allows them to purchase a suppressor.
This is due largely to the fact that we, as Americans, have an incredibly skewed view of what suppressors actually do—and that’s thanks, in large part, to the Hollywood notion that suppressors are a tool used by secret agents and assassins; magical instruments that effectively block all sound generated by a firearm (except, of course, that familiar pew! sound movie directors have used for years to portray silencers in action films).
Ask the average non-gun owner whose only experience with suppressed guns comes from the silver screen, and they’ll likely balk at the idea of making these instruments (“instruments of death,” they’ll likely add) more accessible to the general firearms enthusiast. They most likely imagine that crime rates would skyrocket.
Evidence points to the contrary. Crime statistics show that very, very few crimes committed since the NFA was enacted involved the use of silencers. In plain terms: They confuse the dramatic elements of film with real, factual information.
But many people would be surprised to find that European nations, where gun ownership is less common and more difficult, have no such laws hamstringing the purchase of suppressors for hunting. In fact, suppressors are viewed as a necessary tool, and hunting without them is actually rather rude (akin to removing your car’s muffler and driving down Main Street in your hometown).
What these European hunters know—and what the American public desperately needs to figure out—is that the suppressors of Hollywood myth are just that—mythology. Do they reduce noise? Of course, they do. But typically, suppressors reduce noise levels by about 30 decibels. That’s enough to allow you to safely shoot the firearm without hearing protection, but it’s certainly not silent.
MINIMIZING HEARING LOSS
There are lots of good reasons to add a suppressor to your hunting rifle, handgun or shotgun, but the primary one is to reduce hearing loss. You don’t have to spend much time around gun enthusiasts to run into a few who have done permanent damage to their hearing by firing guns without hearing protection.
Hearing loss and associated conditions such as tinnitus (a ringing in the ears) are the direct results of repeated exposure to loud noises. Even a single shot from a high-powered rifle that is unsuppressed can cause permanent hearing loss; and the advent of muzzle brakes—which are great for reducing recoil and improving accuracy—has exacerbated the problem. There’s nothing inherently wrong with brakes, which vent gasses from the sides of the barrel to reduce the recoil impulse, but they’re very loud. Thankfully, many hunting firearms with brakes now offer removable brake options.
Suppressors allow you to shoot a firearm without hearing protection while minimizing the risk of permanent hearing loss. So, you can use the brake to sight-in your rifle on the bench and then swap to a suppressor when you’re in the field.
Likewise, using a suppressor during hunting is less likely to alarm game populations for extended periods of time.
A suppressor is also a logical addition to a firearm when shooting in areas of high human density. My favorite running path in my hometown of Cincinnati passes near a shooting range. On any given day, there might be a half-dozen people firing centerfire rifles. It’s not particularly irritating to me, but I’m pro-gun and not particularly offended when my “cone of silence” is disrupted by the sound of a gunshot.
But for those who live near the area, the constant gunfire could be annoying, and that could very easily lead to the closure of ranges near urban and suburban areas.
COMMONLY SEEN AND USED
I got my first taste of suppressor hunting in Namibia, Africa’s most-popular hunting destination and a country that supports wildlife conservation through hunting. Suppressors aren’t just available, they’re commonly seen and used frequently. Guides there prefer you to use a suppressed gun to protect their hearing and that of their staff.
I’ve encountered the same feeling from guides and outfitters in Spain, Germany and other European countries. I’ve also seen suppressors on high-volume hog hunts, and they’re universally used when controlling wild pig populations via helicopters. No chopper pilot wants to hear the steady roar of a carbine-length AR just outside the window—especially when they’re trying to navigate.
SUPPRESSOR HUNTING 101
Simply put, suppressors operate by allowing the gases generated by the shot to expand into a large chamber with baffles. That increased volume reduces pressure, which, in turn, reduces noise. With so many suppressor-ready rifles that now come standard with threaded muzzles, it’s largely a matter of screwing suppressors in place and re-sighting the rifle.
Suppressors can shift point of impact, however, so don’t skip that last step. ARs sometimes require modifications to run suppressed properly, but piston guns are easy to balance for proper function. (Gemtech now offers a bolt carrier group that allows the shooter to switch from suppressed to unsuppressed with the twist of a valve.)
Modern suppressors use lightweight materials, and improvements in metallurgy have helped knock down their weight. So, despite the assumption that a suppressed gun should weigh far more than an unsuppressed firearm, that’s simply not true. Desert Tech’s DTSS .30 weighs just a pound— the same as Gemtech’s Trek. SilencerCo’s Harvester weighs a scant 11 ounces.
With those minimalist masses, you can still get out and hunt the high country without rattling your eardrums with every shot. Integral suppressors, now offered by Ruger and CZ for their rimfire guns, are hardly noticeable—until you shoot the gun.
There’s good news going forward for hunting with suppressors. The Hearing Protection Act offers hunters hope that truth and facts will prevail, and that someday, hunting with suppressors will be as common as it is overseas.
DESERT TECH DesertTech.com
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.