January 04, 2023
As those that have them say, “Hunting without a suppressor is uncivilized.” Suppressors are perhaps the trendiest item on the current “cool gear” roster. Good ones have undeniable advantages. But there are some downsides, too. Whether the pros outweigh the cons depends on your situation and the type of hunting you do.
Let’s go against popular opinion and first examine the disadvantages of suppressors as a hunting tool. We’ll then come full circle and look at the advantages of suppressors as hunting tools. Finally, we’ll discuss various scenarios in which suppressors are either a plus or a minus. Unfortunately, the first thing a potential suppressor owner encounters is cost. A lot of cost. Decent suppressors rated for centerfire hunting cartridges run from about $600 up to $1,700.
That’s not including the $200 tax stamp Uncle Sam charges for processing your application.
Yep, you can buy a quite-nice, new hunting rifle for the same price as a suppressor.
Next, new purchasers are figuratively clobbered with a mountain of red tape. Hoops that must be jumped through include filling out a Form 4 application for the ATF, creating a suppressor trust so your spouse and kids can possess the silencer, having fingerprints taken, and supplying passport-type photos.
Candidly, it’s a proverbial pain in the hindquarters.
Several companies have services that walk you through the process and make it much easier than trying to navigate the process on your own. My favorite of these is Silencer Central, which creates a free suppressor trust for you if you purchase through them. Plus, they will mail you fingerprint cards and walk you through using an app to take and submit your own passport-type photos. They’ll also submit your paperwork for you, and when it’s approved, they ship your suppressor directly to your home.
Sound extraordinary? It is. Silencer Central is the only company in the country that possesses the legal variances necessary to perform this service.
Finally, one hurdle remains. It takes time for the ATF to process your application. Plan on six months to a year before you get your suppressor. Ouch.
It’s worth noting that the ATF recently implemented a new E-Filing option. It eliminates a lot of delay-causing mistakes in paperwork and streamlines the process considerably. Once the current vast load of paper applications is processed, turnaround time should be much faster.
And there you have it. Many of the cons to suppressor ownership are front loaded. With that in mind, there’s no time like the present. If you covet a suppressor, get your E-Form application started.
Reasons To Not Use A Suppressor In The Field
The three main knocks against suppressors are length, weight and awkwardness. Ugh.
Those characteristics are exactly the opposite of what a great hunting rifle should be: manageable, responsive, light in the hand, and beautifully balanced.
Suppressors add length to your rifle barrel. That’s the primary reason they can be a pain to pack afield. If you hunt on foot through brushy country, hanging an extra six to nine inches on the end of your shootin’ iron makes it unwieldy. That length makes it likely to snag on oak brush or alders. It unbalances it on your shoulder, so your slung rifle is prone to tipping backward and sliding around under your armpit.
Weight, too, is a consideration. The best suppressors for hunting are compact (minimizing that length issue just addressed) and weigh less than 12 ounces. Still, that’s three-quarters of a pound hung on the far end of the fulcrum that is your rifle barrel. And if you have one of the big “super-effective” suppressors? It might be nine inches long and weigh more than a pound.
If you’re a mountain hunter who regularly hunts near-technical terrain—or a big-game guide that must occasionally dig a wounded grizzly out of a thicket—the added length and weight of a suppressor may be intolerable.
For everyone else? Read on. I suspect you’ll find that packing a little extra length and weight is a worthwhile cost for the advantages of hunting with a suppressor.
Reasons To Use A Suppressor In The Field
Now we come to the fun part. Hearing protection. Increased accuracy. Less recoil. No muzzle blast. Better communication. Less spooked game. Let’s unpack these characteristics of a suppressor.
First and foremost is the fact that a suppressor reduces the sound of a shot to hearing-safe levels. No, it is not entirely quiet. Nor does a suppressed shot make an electronic sound like the ones you hear in the movies. When the bullet exits the muzzle, it’s traveling faster than the speed of sound, so it makes a sonic crack. It sounds about like a mild .22 cartridge being fired.
It’s hearing safe. That’s the pertinent point. It’s awesome for you, and even better for those around you. Hunting partners’ ears don’t get blasted. Kids can shoot at game without earplugs or muffs. (I do screw in foam plugs when practicing because that sonic crack is still sharp on my scarred eardrums.)
Without plugged ears, it’s much easier to communicate clearly, in whispers. If your child needs a little coaching or encouragement, have at it. If your hunting partner spots your impact, he can tell you without whisper-shouting.
Also cool: Since that sonic crack more or less accompanies the bullet downrange to and past your game, from where they’re standing it seems to come from all around. Often, animals don’t pinpoint the source of the danger and so don’t take off. It often makes follow-up shots much easier and more ethical.
How about accuracy? Does hanging a suppressor on the end of your barrel affect its ability to shoot well? The answer is yes. In about eight out of 10 rifles, I see an increase in accuracy when a suppressor is attached. Experts attribute this to several potential influences.
Simplest explanation: The weight on the end of the barrel reduces vibration and barrel oscillation, so groups tighten. Less intuitive: As a bullet exits the muzzle, the suppressor contains most of the “ejecta,” which are burning particulates jetting out and around the bullet at between 5,000 and 8,000 fps. With fewer particulates pelting the bullet’s base at launch time, it’s more accurate.
Shooter accuracy benefits, too, thanks to reduced recoil. Depending on the specific suppressor and the cartridge your rifle is chambered for, kick is reduced 25 to 50 percent. There are muzzle brakes that reduce recoil even more than that. However, they are accompanied by horrendous amounts of blast. I was once told by a company representative that “adequate hearing protection doesn’t exist” for a product they had just introduced. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
On the flip side, suppressors reduce recoil and blast. That, my friends, is a beautiful thing. I once interviewed a top-ranked PRS competitor that prefers using a suppressor on his competition rifle, even though it’s not quite as effective at reducing recoil as a brake would be. “Why do you prefer it?” I inquired. “In PRS, you often shoot next to barricades: walls or 55-gallon steel drums,” he said. “I don’t like the reflected blast I get when using a brake. With a suppressor? There’s no reflected blast. None.”
On a related note, the single most challenging, distracting rifle I’ve ever tested was a lightweight .300 PRC fit with a very effective muzzle brake. Recoil wasn’t bad. Blast shook me to my toenails every time I fired it. There is a crossover point where extreme blast becomes as bad or worse than stout recoil. Suppressors eliminate blast. Gone.
A hunting rifle fit with a suppressor is safe on your ears. Communication with hunting partners is easy. Game is less spooked by shots. Accuracy increases, recoil decreases. And there’s no muzzle blast. Compelling reasons to hunt with a suppressor, right?
When you finally draw that mountain goat tag, you may want to remove your suppressor from your favorite lightweight hunting rifle. Until then, there’s no good reason that every serious hunter should not have one and use it.
Jump through the hoops. Complete the application, fork over the funds, and wait the processing time. Once your suppressor is in hand, you’ll wonder why the heck you didn’t make the move long ago.
In short, get civilized.