Coming across a chance to attend a suppressed carbine event at Gunsite last month, I jumped at the opportunity for some quiet time, despite the fact it was in Arizona in August. Here's what I learned. 

The course, a modified and compressed version of the historic Paulden-based academy's famed week-long .223 Carbine Class, had all the things you would expect of a modern AR syllabus – from basics such as moving and reloading (beer can grip from the belt, index from the chest, am I right?), learning the real-time difference between controlled pairs and hammer pairs on target, shooting behind cover/barricades (train to switch those shoulders, folks), failure drills, shooting from contact-close to way out there, clearing buildings, and running the famed Gunsite Scrambler inna woods.

All that and suppressors on everything? Sign me up!

Suppressor Training
Besides flat range stuff, we had a go at the shoot house after some instructor prep and drills. No matter how many times you have been through one, you always have that "gotcha" feeling approaching every corner. While suppressors have an obvious advantage in such use, keep in mind they also add a few inches to the end of the carbine, something that can get kinda awkward in a tight hallway or when opening doors – illustrating why you should train for it long before you (hopefully never) have to do it for real. (All photos: Chris Eger/
Suppressor Training
There was also a six-stage Scrambler through the woods, engaging targets as fast as possible starting at 100 yards. Proud to say that I cleared it in under two minutes which, while not as fast as some of the younger and less fluffy guys, worked for me. 


The Hardware

The class was put on by several industry partners, including ArmaLite, North Star Arms, and Timney Triggers – all of which are Arizona based – with Eotech providing optics and SilencerCo showing up with the party favors that everyone wanted. 

Most of the carbines on hand were ArmaLite M-15 LTC (Light Tactical Carbine) models provided by Strategic Arms Corps with 16-inch barrels. Light, at 6.2 pounds unloaded, they have a sleek profile in a light and modular package. 

Armalite M-15 LTC
Armalite bills the M-15 LTC as the "perfect choice for simplicity, value, and quality."

North Star is a sister company to Profense – the M134 Minigun guys – and RSW Aviation, the latter a military flight training company well-known for its fleet of ex-RAF Short Tucanos. New to the AR market, their NS-15 piqued my interest for sure. 

North Star NS-15
As I've shot lots of ArmaLites before but never seen one of these, my choice was a North Star NS-15. 
North Star NS-15
The NS-15 uses an excellent Ballistics Advantage barrel with a sub-MOA guarantee as well as featuring a full-length handguard. They also come standard with an ALG Defense trigger, 15-inch free-float M-LOK handguard with four QD mounts, as well as a Hogue grip and stock. Spoiler alert: my NS-15 handled extremely well on the range, and we'll have an extended review on these outstanding carbines in the coming weeks.

The suppressors were a mix of Chimeras – SilencerCo's beefy, hard-use can – Sakers, Omega 300s, and modular Omega 36Ms. 

Suppressed Rifle
SiCo says their Omega 300s are about their most popular can, with over 300,000 out there in the wild making things quiet since 2015. 
Suppressed Rifle
I used the same Omega 36M can throughout the course, mounted with a Charlie mount in place of the standard flash hider on the NS-15. A modular suppressor that allows you to shoot just about everything on the shelf, you can remove the front section which provides the user a shorter and lighter suppressor that still offers impressive sound performance, or keep it long for a better tone. With upwards of 500 rounds through the can and carbine under dusty conditions, the Omega held up and wasn't unmounted for a second of it. In the short configuration, it covers about 90 percent of the stuff you need and, when using a flash hider front cap (the one with "lips") is great when using night vision. 
Suppressed Rifle
The carbines were fitted with Eotech XPS series holographic sights, which were easy to zero and proved true to target downrange once dialed in. 

Timney had a variety of triggers installed on the ArmaLites, including a DH3 (the factory trigger for SIG's DH3 competition-ready rifle), their 660CE Calvin Elite, their Impact series, a two-stage 662S, and their 667S competition triggers. Their philosophy is that as long as they can “elevate the platform” they’ll make a trigger for it and apparently they can elevate the crap out of an AR.

Timney AR trigger,
Seriously, if you haven't used a Timney AR trigger, you are missing out. 
Esstac 5.56 double KYWI Shorty pouch
Everyone got an Esstac 5.56 double KYWI Shorty pouch for the course-- which proved surprisingly comfortable-- and new Magpul PMAGs. Not a complaint was heard about either choice. 
American Eagle 55-grain XM198 5.56
Ammo was Federal's reliable and affordable American Eagle 55-grain XM198 5.56, of which we went through a lot of 100-round bulk packs without ammo-related issues.

In addition to the ArmaLites and North Stars that were used in the class, SilencerCo also brought a trailer full of cool kid toys for exhibition use. After all, if you have it, why not shoot it, right? 

Wall of Guns
A view of just one of the walls in SilencerCo's gun locker back in Utah when we visited them last year. 
Suppressed Pistol
A Volquartsen .22LR Ruger with a Switchback is just too much fun.
HK MK23, full-sized Ed Brown 1911 with SilencerCo Ospreys
Only an HK MK23 can make a full-sized Ed Brown 1911 look small. How about those SilencerCo Ospreys? Now with buttons!
Suppressed Rifle
Who doesn't love an MP5? While we ran house clearing with semi-auto 5.56 carbines, one of the SiCo armorers with lots of trigger time with the platform cleared the house in near-record time with this little room broom set to full giggle. In another story, one of Gunsite's instructors-- an octogenarian no less-- picked this one up from the table and drilled a torso plate 15 yards away with 30 out of 30 in about three seconds. "Beware of an old man in a profession..." as they say. 
Suppressed Pistol
His range gun was an MRD-d Gen 5 Glock in Kydex, illustrating Gunsite is not stuck in 1974.
Carbines built on SilencerCo receivers
SilencerCo also use a lot of their in-house AR receivers for builds as noted in the SBR at the top. The handy roller lock at the bottom? Well, that's a Dakota Tactical D300 with an Omega suppressor in .300 BLK. 
Carbines built on SilencerCo receivers
Now that's nice. 

Anyway, we can't just show you a DTAC D300 without letting you hear it! 


How popular are suppressors anyway? 

Some would argue that whisper pickles are rare, unusual, or something you only see in Hollywood (often badly). While at one point that was *almost* true, anyone thinking in that vein today would be mistaken.

In 2005, when I filed my first Form 4 for a tax stamp for a suppressor transfer (I'd just like to point out that the National Firearms Act should be abolished for numerous reasons, btw), statistics show the ATF processed a total of 156,137 NFA forms that year. Less than 10 percent of those, 14,606, were for Form 4s. When I finally got my can out of "jail" several months later and took it to the range, I would get hassled by uninformed fellow shooters who thought such hardware was verboten while the RSOs would line up to see my "papers." Back then, the only reason one would take off a muzzle device on an AR would be to switch out between three-prong or A2 flash hiders, and good luck finding a threaded pistol barrel-- over-muzzle couplers were popular.

Since then, things have certainly changed. 

By 2020, just a decade and a half later than my inaugural tax stamp, the number of NFA forms filed had ballooned to over 2.4 million, including 246,806 Form 4s. As a pointer to just how many of those forms and stamps are for suppressors can be seen in the fact that, in December 2010, the ATF's National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record (NFRTR) counted just 285,087 "silencers" on the books nationwide while by May 2021 that had climbed to 2,664,774 suppressors of all sorts.

In other words, the number of cans in circulation grew an amazing 835 percent in a decade. Currently, 42 states recognize consumer ownership of suppressors, with 41 of those allowing their use in traditional outdoor activities such as hunting, and those numbers are climbing. The specs on just about every new semi-auto rifle (as well as some lever-actions and bolt guns) include the thread pitch, something that finally received SAAMI standardization last month. 

That sounds like "common use" to me, just saying. I don't even get curious looks at my local range when I shoot suppressed these days. 

So how Loud are Suppressors, really? 

While the terms "silencer" and "suppressor" refer to the same thing, namely a muffler for a firearm that traps and moderates the gas escaping from the barrel when a cartridge is fired-- Hiram Maxim, who practically invented firearm suppressors and trademarked them as "Silencers" also coincidentally invented several automobile mufflers-- nothing is going to make the report of a gun truly soundless. 

In terms of "loudness," according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a jackhammer hits at about 110 decibels while an ambulance siren spikes at 120. The average unsuppressed gunshot is in the 165 to 170 range, with braked rifles running north to 185 dB and rimfires such as .22LRs running south to about 145 dB.

The bad part is that anything above 140 dB poses a threat of instant hearing damage. Typically, you can expect about a 20 to 35-decibel drop in the muzzle pop when using any sort of quality suppressor, a figure that can be coupled with using calibers that have subsonic velocities (such as .45ACP) or otherwise loads that have been developed to be subsonic, thus also eliminating the "crack" of breaking the sound barrier, making them hearing safe. 

"Suppressed carbines are still loud, but they’re a heck of a lot quieter than their unsuppressed counterparts," Knox Williams, president of the American Suppressor Association, told "That noise reduction doesn’t just help protect your hearing, it also allows you to communicate far more effectively with those around you, making your shooting experience safer."

This video from the course gives you an idea of what it sounds like. Still loud, mostly from the supersonic crack of the rounds, but you can distinctly hear the instructor giving range commands: 

Communication is key, both on the range as well as in a real-world environment. Imagine how important it would be to tell your family about a threat say, in a home defense situation. Now imagine having to do that after an unsuppressed 5.56 has been fired in a hallway and everyone's ears are ringing and zeroed out. 

When talking about high-velocity rounds such as .223/5.56, especially in shorter barrels that leave a lot of propellant to burn once it uncorks from the muzzle, they can get a little rowdy. Ever been in an indoor range next to a guy rocking a 7.5-inch AR pistol filled with Wolf steel case? That's where a can will really help. 

"By and large, the shorter the barrel, the louder the shot," said Williams. "That’s because bullets like 5.56 were designed to burn their powder in longer barrels. When you reduce barrel length and add a muzzle brake into the equation, often the gunshot is so loud that earplugs and earmuffs used together don’t offer sufficient protection. In these instances, the only way to adequately protect your hearing is by using a suppressor in conjunction with traditional hearing protection devices."

Why Suppressors from a defense standpoint? 

Say what you want about the "but it's a dry heat," Arizona is dusty, man. We were there in "monsoon season" when the fine moon dust turns to the rough viscosity of chewed bubble gum once it rains then quickly dries out to become, somehow, even dustier than before the deluge. It truly defies logic. 

However, of note, if you are shooting in a prone position or in dusty areas, your carbine is going to generate a cloud of dust--especially true if you’re using a muzzle brake-- around the muzzle that only suppressors can greatly reduce as the can controls the amount of gas that escapes. That’s a solid win. This helps maintain sight picture for follow-up shots while also reducing environmental disturbance which can compromise your cover and/or concealment, the latter of which can be ballistically hazardous to one's health. 

Berm dust
Check out the dustup from the berm.
On the range in Arizona
-- but not from the shooters. Note there is brass in the air. 

Besides the obvious noise reduction-- which is just safer for everyone in the area-- faster follow-up shots due to a reduction in felt recoil, and signature moderation, you also get a true flash hider, especially if using cans with a correctly designed end cap whose geometry can drop observed muzzle flash by as much as 75 percent. The latter was one of the big reasons why LE teams dropping in on meth labs with lots of flammable fumes started using suppressors on everything years ago.

One of SilencerCo's Armorers on hand for the event, Caleb Gosnell, explained that the benefits of running a can on a carbine would have the same main points as viewing suppressors from an operational standpoint. 

"In a lot of situations when running a carbine, it can be vitally important to hide your signature as much as possible," he said. "This would focus on the flash and sound signature of the firearm in question. This is a huge benefit to the shooter in many ways, especially when shooting in low-light situations and indoors."

On the menu at Gunsite? 

When speaking to Sheriff Ken Campbell, Gunsite's CEO, I asked if the suppressed carbine course would be a regular offering at the academy. while he explained they have tried a few times to have a “gentleperson’s carbine class” with suppressors-- even going as far as to make suppressors available in conjunction with some of the manufacturers such as in this class-- unfortunately, they could not get the requisite number of students enrolled. 

"However, we do see suppressors in our regular 223 Carbine and 556 Advanced Carbine classes regularly," he said.

Going further, the 3,200-acre facility is open for training year-round with dozens of ranges (some out to 2,200 yards), simulators, and pits in addition to classroom spaces. Founded back in the 1970s as the  American Pistol Institute by Marine Col. Jeff Cooper-- who famously said "Just because you own a piano does not make one a pianist" when speaking of the need to get firearms training-- for the past two decades Gunsite has been under the ownership of Buzz and Sonja Mills and the interest in getting quality training is so great that they are amid a $1.3 million expansion project that will continue that tradition. 

"We have recently added new pistol and rifle ranges and enhanced backstops on existing ranges," Campbell told me. "We have experienced record student numbers for the last seven years and 2022 is projected to be another record year. Fortunately, many of the millions of new gun owners are taking Jeff Cooper to heart and getting good training at Gunsite with their new firearms. Gunsite has been in business keeping good people alive for 47 years and we look forward to meeting new 'Gunsite Family' every week."

When hanging out with Gunsite staff at a reception during the course, I found myself talking to an instructor that had been running another class all week. After small talk over Old Fashions about everything from diving and cars to politics and, of course, guns, he asked what brought me to the range and I told him. 

"Really? I didn't even know you guys were doing that this week," he said.

"Yeah, we were pretty quiet."