New and exciting technologies keep entering the hunting market. Whether it’s electronics, optics, or some other new development, it can be hard to keep up with the times. But one of the fastest-growing trends is hardly new, and it’s actually very old technology.
People have been using suppressors for a very long time. Perhaps the only reason we have recently seen a surge in popularity is perception. The laws surrounding suppressors are strict and regulated at the federal level. Many people are still under the impression that they are illegal entirely, which was a popular but inaccurate concept propagated by years of ignorance. According to the American Suppressor Association, it is legal to hunt with a suppressor in 40 out of 50 states.
In today’s discussion, we are going to talk about how suppressors work and why they can be a very useful tool when hunting.
Suppressed, Not Silent
Many people are quite ignorant to the facts surrounding “silencers” – or suppressors as they are more accurately described. The very first thing you will notice when shooting a suppressed gun is that they are far from silent. The fake sounds you hear in the movies are far from representative. Suppressors are mounted to the muzzle of a firearm – threaded barrels are increasingly common for this reason – and they typically use a sequence of baffle structures or other designs to suppress the sound of the firearm.
While there are many ways this is accomplished, the end purpose is always the same: reduce the pressure and speed of gasses as they escape the muzzle. This reduction takes away that shockwave that makes your ears ring. It also helps with that echoing boom that you typically hear as it rolls across the landscape after you shoot.
Most bullets, especially rifle bullets, travel at supersonic speeds, which means they will produce an incredible amount of noise on their own. Both the bullet and the gas exiting the muzzle can create a supersonic shockwave as they break the sound barrier. By design, suppressors remove one of those two shockwaves. This makes shooting much more pleasant, but it's hardly quiet.
The only way to truly shoot silently as seen in the movies is to remove the other source of sonic shockwaves, which is a supersonic bullet. The only way you can remove the sonic boom from a bullet is to reduce the muzzle velocity to below the speed of sound.
Hunting With a suppressor
You may already have imagined how a suppressor could help in a hunting scenario, so let's talk about it. Far too many people think that the only reason you would want to use a suppressor when hunting is so you can illegally take game with impunity. While this line of thinking is easily understood, it is also deeply flawed and erroneous. Poaching game animals is not the practice of people who would spend months or years – and perhaps thousands of dollars – just to own a suppressor.
As a community of gun owners, we know all too well that those who break laws will do so despite regulations and well-meaning intentions. That group of people is where poachers tend to accumulate. The real value of suppressors for hunting comes from the stealth they provide. It is sometimes impossible to discern the origin of a shot fired from a suppressed rifle. While they are not silent, shots are much quieter, and the typical boom heard from the rifle itself is gone. So while you may hear the bullet flying by, you won’t hear the source of its origin.
I have shot deer and elk with a suppressed rifle many times and watched the animal drop dead in its tracks while the rest of the herd continued feeding or looks around for the source of the noise. This could also give you another chance to shoot if you happen to be one of those people who don't always make a perfect shot. I have even had animals run straight at me after shooting one of their companions.
Industry groups such as the ASA also point out that, in addition to hearing safety and increased situational awareness, sportsmen who use suppressors in the field are being courteous, as they cut down on noise complaints from neighbors.
There can be some downsides to hunting with a suppressor, but they are few and of little consequence in my opinion. Obviously, a suppressor adds both weight and length to your hunting rifle, but how much weight and length is up to you. Suppressors are currently made from a great assortment of lightweight materials, and technology has also made them smaller. So while it may add to your loadout, it could be as little as the weight of an extra handful of cartridges.
The benefits of suppressed hunting far outweigh the liabilities. It adds a whole new level of pleasantry to your hunt. What’s more, suppressors can help reduce recoil by adding that weight to your rifle. They can also enhance accuracy in some cases, helping to ensure a uniform and clean release of the bullet from the muzzle. Nearly all my guns shoot better when suppressed.
Another benefit to suppressed hunting when you add a subsonic cartridge is the ability to remove predators and invasive species effectively. Subsonic cartridges like the 300 Blackout are very quiet when suppressed, allowing covert destruction of feral hogs and other problem animals. The very quiet operation of suppressed guns also allows them to be used close to civilization without getting the neighbors worried.
There is much to be said about the change in the shooting environment when suppressors are added. Removing the bulk of muzzle reports with a suppressor is very useful when working with new hunters or anyone that may be intimidated by the noise. These shooters can be very quickly acclimatized to shooting without apprehension, allowing them to focus on the hunt.
Safety is another benefit to suppressed shooting. Lower noise levels mean less hearing damage, and this is a real issue for those of us who shoot very frequently. You can often shoot with no hearing protection needed, which means less yelling and more understanding when communicating with each other.
Suppressors can be another very handy tool for hunters, whether you are trying to double or triple up on coyotes or just trying to take down that monster buck you’ve been watching all year. The commitment to owning them is significant, but for me and my family, we’ll never go back to shooting loud.