September 23, 2010
Based on the amount of mail I get whenever I mention suppressors, it's obvious that many Americans don't realize that sound suppressors are legal to own in many states.
Suppressors reduce recoil and muzzle blast, making them great for training young shooters. The author's son, Cole, used a suppressed AR to drop this ancient ram.
Though regulated by the National Firearms Act, suppressors can be possessed and used by individuals in 35 states as long as the proper federal and local requirements have been met. Fifteen states have banned civilian ownership outright.
The National Firearms Act Branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is the regulatory body for Title II items, which includes suppressors, machine guns, and short-barreled rifles and shotguns. To gain approval to own such items, you simply have to fill out the appropriate forms, have them signed by your local chief law enforcement official, and submit them to the NFA branch with a check for the appropriate fee ($200 for most Title II items) along with your fingerprints and a passport photograph. If you pass the extensive background check, your paperwork will be approved in 30 to 90 days, and you can take possession of your new "big-boy toy."
As easy as it all sounds, the ease of actually gaining approval depends on where you live. Though suppressor ownership is legal in, say, Texas, getting a signature from your chief law enforcement official is not guaranteed. For example, I live near Houston. The sheriff in my county will sign Title II paperwork with a smile, but you have a better chance making snowballs in Haiti than you have getting a signature from the Houston police chief or the Harris County sheriff.
There are legal and legitimate ways to get around the chief law enforcement officer signature requirement, but this is not a column about legal matters. Fortunately, Mr. Google and www.titleii.com are your friends; a few minutes of research there will get you on the fast track to making your rifle or pistol more "civilized."
How A Suppressor Works
Simply put, modern suppressors consist of a cylindrical device of machined steel or aluminum that uses a system of cones and baffles to trap the gases generated by a fired cartridge. Trapping the gases reduces pressure, cools the gas temperature, and delays the exit of some of the gases, all of which combine to significantly reduce muzzle blast.
There are two types of suppressors: muzzle-attached and integral. Muzzle-attached suppressors either screw onto the barrel or are affixed via some proprietary quick-release system. They do not have an adverse effect on velocity, though they will change the point of impact to some degree.Integral suppressors are built around the barrel of the firearm. They generally consist of a sleeve-type suppressor that fits over the barrel. The barrel has ports that allow some of the gases to bleed off into the suppressor. They are, by far, the quietest and sleekest-looking suppressors, but they do reduce muzzle velocity to some degree, depending on the number and size of ports.
A suppressor is not a "silencer." Though it does drastically reduce the amount of noise the discharge of a firearm makes, it does not make it silent. The amount of noise reduction depends on factors like suppressor design, ammunition, and action type.
Integral suppressors, like the one on this Model 77/22 from John's Guns, are built around the rifle's barrel. They are by far the quietest and sleekest suppressors.
Semiautomatic guns tend to be louder than bolt-actions or single-shots given the same ammunition and suppressor design. Some of the increased sound is the noise of the action opening and closing, but most of the noise comes from gas escaping the action. As an example, take my two integrally suppressed .22s. One, built on a Ruger 77/22, is so quiet you can only hear the firing pin drop and the bullet striking the target. The other, built on a 10/22, is noticeably louder. Though it is still pretty quiet, I wouldn't even think of using it for suburban pest control.
Ammunition plays an important role because every time a bullet breaks the sound barrier, there is a considerable audible crack. Though a suppressed .308 Win. is tolerable without earplugs and a suppressor will make it difficult to determine where the shot came from, the sound is still recognizable as a gun shot. Special subsonic loads eliminate the crack, but they seriously reduce the effective range of the suppressed firearm.
With my suppressed .308 and standard ammunition, I can skip the earplugs, but it is clear that a firearm is discharged when I shoot the rifle. With subsonic ammunition, you can barely hear it, but it hits so low even the fattest hog is safe if I use my normal, 100-yard zero.
The ammunition I choose depends solely on my intended purpose of the suppressed gun. If I am practicing or plinking, I typically shoot whatever ammunition I have on hand. For nighttime hog eradication, I might sneak in close and use subsonic ammunition in hopes of head-shooting four or five pigs before they figure out why their buddies keep falling. Subsonic ammunition is also the cat's meow for suburban pest eradication.
Why I Use A Suppressor
I am often asked why I need a suppressor. I am tempted to say, "I'm an American, and need doesn't have a darn thing to do with it." But the truth of the matter is, a suppressor is a valuable tool for someone like me who manages the hunting on several ranches. Though suppressors are not legal for hunting game animals such as whitetails in Texas, they are perfectly legal for hunting varmints and for culling hogs and exotics at night. They're also great for keeping the raccoon population in check without busting turkeys off their roosts or disturbing other animals in the area.
The author is fond of suppressors for wildlife management. He used his suppressed .308 to drop this crop-raiding porker.
I have long held that muzzle blast is more apt to cause a flinch than recoil. I don't let my children shoot rifles with muzzle brakes because they increase muzzle blast. However, all their rifles are threaded for suppressors because a suppressor reduces both recoil and muzzle blast. That is also why my tactical rifles--al
l of which are fired almost exclusively from the punishing prone position--are threaded for suppressors. With their "cans" attached, my .308s are a joy to shoot, and my .338 Lapua is more than tolerable.
Suppressors, where legal to use in the field, are also great for varmint and predator hunting. When shooting distant prairie dogs, a suppressor reduces the strain on your ears, shoulder, and nerves. It also reduces recoil enough so that you can call your shots without the aid of a spotter. The ability to shoot all day without earplugs is a great bonus, too, because I can converse with my companions and avoid headaches and ringing ears at the end of the day.
The sound of a suppressed firearm being discharged isn't so loud that it spooks distant animals, which is beneficial when calling predators. If you keep calling, animals that were on the way when you shot their buddy may still come to the call. Try doing that with an unsuppressed rifle.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, suppressors are just plain fun. And for those of us who live in one of the 35 suppressor-friendly states, that's all the reason we need.