The state of Texas made the decision this past winter to allow firearms suppressors to be legally used for hunting “All game birds and animals, and also alligators”. Some people worry this will increase opportunities for poachers, others have more valid concerns. As for poaching, Col. Pete Flores, Head of the Law Enforcement Division of TPWD until his recent retirement, told me he had no qualms about legalized suppressor use, as his department had NEVER filed a case involving the use of suppressors in illegal hunting. Col. Flores thought suppressors would be valuable for hearing protection and noise pollution. Pete also realized what many people do not – even many potential suppressor owners – suppressors in real life do not completely silence a firearm, as they do in movies and on TV. A suppressor works on the same principle as an auto muffler. It can eliminate the majority of noise from muzzle blast of a firearm, which often means the shooter does not have to wear hearing protection – which most hunters probably don’t do in the field, anyway. What a suppressor cannot do is eliminate the sonic “crack” when the bullet passes the speed of sound, which even a .22 LR does. To make a suppressor truly effective, it must shoot ammunition loaded to sub sonic velocities, which varies with elevation, temperature, and humidity from 1000 fps to maybe 1150 fps. The majority of centerfire rifle cartridges in popular use for hunting do NOT perform well at sub sonic velocities. With the high velocity .22 center fires and .243 class cartridges, there will not be enough “power” left after the bullet speed is reduced from well over 3000 fps to 1000, and there are no bullets for .30 caliber rifles that will expand and penetrate well at the slower speeds – and many begin to “wobble” soon after leaving the barrel.
The answer to these problems is two-fold. First, be aware of what a suppressor will and won’t do, then select a cartridge and bullet that will perform well at sub sonic velocities. Besides reducing noise, a suppressor also reduces recoil by as much as 30% – making it a better choice than a muzzle brake for this purpose. Suppressor use often increases accuracy, by making the rifle more pleasant to shoot and optimizing barrel harmonics. While a “can” will not make your rifle completely silent, it does make pin-pointing the source of the sound more difficult. After all, when you pull the trigger on a rifle to shoot an animal, the target critter will never hear the shot (if it is placed well). You want to reduce damage to the shooter’s ears, and try not to spook every other animal for miles around – or neighbors. From as little as 100 yards away, it is very difficult to hear a shot fired through a good suppressor with sub sonic ammo, or probably even with full power loads from much farther.
The best cartridge for sub sonic use is one that does not travel much over the speed of sound at full power, and uses a flat or round nosed and flat based bullet heavy for the caliber. Large pistol calibers, especially the .44 magnum and .45 Long Colt, are excellent choices, and many light rifles and carbines are chambered for both. Most normal .45LC loads are sub sonic to begin with, and the .44 magnum loaded “hot” rarely exceeds 1400 fps, with a 300gr bullet. By comparison, a .308 with even a 220gr bullet intended for use with a .30-06 or .300 magnum will chronograph around 2300 fps. When that .308 is reduced to 1000 fps, the muzzle energy drops to 440 ft lbs. The .44 magnum with the larger 300gr bullet at 1000 fps will have 660 ft lbs of energy – from a pistol barrel – and the blunt nosed bullet will be more accurate, penetrate better, and although it probably won’t expand, it will leave a larger wound channel. The .44 mag is not a long range cartridge to begin with, but sub sonic loads in any caliber are not going to be of much use for long range sniping, where velocity is required. The big, slow bullets penetrate very well, but at the cost of range.
I chose a .44 magnum for my own suppressed “hog gun” after hearing how successful Randy Tausch and his partner, Gerald Hollub, of NIGHTHOGS in Seguin have been doing with suppressed .44 mags equipped with Gen III night vision scopes, and now also Thermal Imaging scopes. They use Ruger 77 bolt action rifles with barrels with a full length, integrated suppressor. Shooting 300 gr Hornady XTP bullets at around 1100 fps, they have killed hundreds of hogs, mostly one shot kills, with complete pass throughs of the bullets – and even s0me expansion. They also have a 6.8 SPC in an AR with a suppressor, but it requires full power cartridges. Reduced velocity loads will generally NOT cycle the action of a semi-auto rifle, so bolt actions, lever actions, slide or pump actions- or single shots are the way to go. My suppressed .44, like many things I do, came from a project that kept pyramiding. I had a Gen I Night Vision scope I wanted to use, and the only thing I had with a Weaver type mount was a .44 mag Thompson Contender, with a 14″ barrel. Because of the weight of the optic and short eye relief, I bought a shoulder stock for the Contender. Then I was reminded a “rifle” barrel has to be 16″ long to be legal! Rather than just be patient and look for a longer barrel in .44 mag, or take the time and money to get a Short Barreled Rifle permit, I decided to have a suppressor built for it – by Jim Rodgers of Longview Class III arms. I elected to have the suppressor welded to the barrel, which, even with some overlap back onto the barrel, gives me an actual length of 19″. Many suppressor experts recommend welding the unit on, as alignment is very critical. Also, this keeps me from needlessly buying new barrels or rifles to use it on! Of course, only 14″ of this 19″ barrel are rifled, and the Contender has a 1-12″ twist rate. This is not as big an issue when using heavy, flat nosed pistol bullets as when shooting pointed bullets at higher velocity.
I call this rifle my “Anti-AR”. It has a black stock and fore end, black adjustable cheek pad – but a stainless steel barrel and titanium suppressor. Like many other new suppressor owners, I was a bit disappointed at first that it was not as silent as I had hoped, but then I started looking at sub sonic hand loading options. I have tried 300gr bullets in jacketed hollow point and jacketed soft nose from Nosler and Sierra, and the big, all copper Barnes “Buster” – and I have experimented with several powders and a couple of primer types. The Nosler and Sierra bullets generally work fine with a charge of Universal powder in front of a Standard Large Pistol Primer. The big Barnes, whether due to construction or shape I do not know, requires more “power” to push it – even at sub sonic velocities. The load I use for this bullet is with H110 powder, which requires a magnum primer to light it off properly. Unfortunately, H110 is not the most silent of powders, even at sub sonic velocities. Of these three bullets, the Barnes is by far the most accurate, and does very well at up to 75 yards – which is about the effective range of a sub-sonic .44 mag. I have shot a few hogs with the Barnes, but so far have not recovered one, so I can’t report on it’s effectiveness on an animal. It could be that this bullet needs more velocity to really penetrate, or it could be I haven’t been hitting them right? The hogs apparently did die, but on my place the coyotes and buzzards clean them up overnight, so I didn’t get any data on bullet performance. Of course, when working up loads for the .44 magnum, most published data will be for a 6 1/1″ revolver barrel. Although it might be possible to find data on longer rifle barrels, for the 14″ Contender I pretty much had to check all my loads with a chronograph and adust them by trial and error.
Lately I have been using a 335 gr hard cast lead bullet from Montana Bullet Works, with a copper gas check. I use Universal powder and standard primers with this one, and at 50 yards it actually shoots to a higher point of impact (POI) than the 300 gr Barnes. A few weeks ago I found a group of several young hogs in the 50 – 60 pound class at one of my feeders. I lined up one at 50 yards, realizing as I shot that there seemed to be another in line behind it. At the shot, both fell dead in their tracks! The big bullet took the first one high in front of the facing shoulder, taking out the spine and exiting without much, if any, sign of expansion. It hit the second hog in the neck, and exited violently out the throat, causing the little sow to literally bleed out from the wound. The owner of Montana Bullet Works tells me these bullets will probably not expand at under 1600 fps – although he says at that velocity they have been known to penetrate 6 feet of elk or moose. He suspects the bullet “tumbled” inside the second hog. The bullet penetrated fully, and I didn not find it until nearly two months later – when my wife spied it near our stand. the bullet had “traveled” some from the spot where the hogs were killed, whether by dropping out of the wound when i moved the pig for butchering, or possibly an animal wanted to lick it clean of blood. It showed rifling marks, but very little distortion, and the original weight or 335 gr had only dropped to 332gr. It is in good enough shape to load up and shoot again, which I think I’ll do. This bullet has already killed two hogs, maybe it can add to the total? I still need to shoot a bigger hog to fully test this bullet, but I think it is going to do the job well on hogs and deer at closer ranges. I shot my whitetail buck last season with a .270, but at 75 yards, so the .44 mag would probably have done the job. My wife was in camp about 100 yards from me when I fired the shot that yielded the “two-fer”, and never heard the shot.
I have found that a charge of Trail Boss powder behind a 240 gr lead semi-wadcutter target-type bullet will only go about 800 fps, but is BB gun quiet! I would hesitate to shoot something of any size with this bullet, but it should make an excellent small game or pest control round for “around the house”, and probably work as a self-defense load as well.
Now, back to possible problems with the use of suppressors in hunting. Because they work best with sub sonic ammo, which reduces the power of the cartridge as well as it’s range, there is a danger that we could be seeing less experienced suppressor users wounding a lot deer this season. I would ask those who go to the time, trouble, and expense of getting the BATF permit and getting a suppressor to understand it’s limitations. One hunter in South Dakota told me he had a suppressor coming, and hoped he got it before antelope season! He had gotten 6 rifles threaded to accept his “can”, a .300 Winchester Short Magnum, a .308, two .260 AI’s, and a pair of .223’s. Since none of these are well suited for sub sonic ammo, I hope he intends to use full loads – and I hope his main interest in a suppressor is for hearing protection. Otherwise, he might find himself disappointed.
When using sub sonic loads, there is always the danger that a round will not fire “completely”, and leave a bullet lodged in the barrel. If another round is fired without clearing the barrel, things could turn very ugly. I have had this happen a few times with my rifle, and carry an old rotisserie rod from a BBQ pit to use to push the bullet out, from the muzzle back through the chamber. This is where a single shot has a definite advantage in safety over other actions. On the subject of actions best suited for suppressor use, semi-auto rifles, such as AR types, might look “cool” with a can on the end of the barrel, but enough gases escape while the action cycles to keep them from being very silent, and the sound of the action cycling is also pretty loud. Most semi-autos will not cycle with sub sonic ammo, so they cannot reach the ultimate lower sound levels a suppressor is capable of. In pistols, revolvers cannot be “silenced” well, because of the gases escaping from the front edge of the cylinder – the same reason you don’t want to shoot a large caliber revolver like some do a semi-auto, with a finger extending along the barrel. I watched a friend shoot a suppressed semi-auto pistol in .22 LR recently, and even with sub sonic ammo the action made a lot of noise.
From a major manufacturer of suppressors website and links from their website, I found other items of interest about suppressors. This company does not recommend sub sonic ammo for their suppressors, and will not warranty their products if they are used with hand-loaded ammo. One of their linked companies, however, makes and sells sub sonic ammo for virtually every caliber known to man. They have a sub sonic .300 Winchester Magnum load with a 220 gr bullet, for instance, and a .44 magnum load with a 265 gr bullet. Neither one has listed ballistics, and they will not furnish load information. A table and formulae are provided to calculate the speed of sound, using only air temperature. The range given is from 1000 fps at 50F to 1150 fps at 90F. My research had shown that humidity and elevation (above sea level) are also factors, but as a tool for rough estimates, I suppose the temperature chart is a good start.
There is a phenomenon I did not know about known as FRP – or “First Round Pop” – which is explained as the louder sound the first round fired from a cold barrel makes, as compared to succeeding shots from the barrel as it heats up. This is said to be caused by oxygen in the cooler barrel adding to combustion. One solution offered is to carry a can of compressed nitrogen, such as is sold to blow dust off computer keyboards and other electrical devices. The barrel and suppressor are filled with N2, and the muzzle sealed with a piece of tape – which will blow off at the shot. I planned to try this soon, but discovered nearly all the “canned air” is no longer nitrogen, and instead contains flammable gases. Not sure if I want to fill my barrel with stuff like this – or spray it on my computer – but I will keep looking. Another suppressor salesman told me his product did not exhibit FRP, although he could not explain why.
Another “trick” to make a suppressor even quieter is to shoot it “wet”. This involves putting a small amount of water, oil, or grease inside the suppressor – and can work for several shots. There are risks involved with this technique, the least of which is increased chance of corrosion if water is used.
From this site I also learned that sub sonic ammo does not like long barrels, because the longer stretch of cool metal the bullet passes through absorbs some of its energy.
To get a suppressor, even though Texas has made them legal to hunt with, you must have a Transfer Stamp from BATFE, which requires you be at least 21, be fingerprinted and photographed, get the local sheriff to sign off on your application, undergo a FBI background check, pay a $200 one-time fee, and wait 6 months or longer for the paperwork to clear. The stamp will be attached to your approved application form, along with a passport-type photo, and a copy must be carried with you when using the suppressor. The original should be kept “in a safe place”. Possession of a suppressor without the required documentation is a Federal Felony. A suppressor can only be purchased through a properly licensed dealer – the local Wal-Mart will probably not qualify. There is a process to have the suppressor owned by a trust or corporation which eliminates the fingerprints and background check, but a qualified attorney should handle that.
According to a link sent me by the American Silencer Association – www.americansilencerassociation.com – there are currently 26 states that allow suppressors to be used in hunting. Texas and Oklahoma are the two newest additions to that list. Surprising to me was to see such prominent big game hunting states as Alaska, Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico on that list. For the full listing of which states allow residents to own suppressors, and in which you can hunt game animals versus only non-protected species, go to
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