Silent But Deadly – Hog Hunting With Suppressed Rifles?
March 7, 2013
I couldn’t help the title. It just sort of slipped out.
But seriously, more or less, I just read an article about how some hog hunters, especially depredation hunters, are turning to the use of suppressors (sometimes erroneously called “silencers”) as a way to kill hogs without running everything else out of the woods. As some states, like Texas, are beginning to allow the use of these tools for hunting game animals, as well as nuisance species, they are becoming more popular.
“What I tell people is that you won’t be able to sit in a blind and pop off round after round at a group of hogs, and they won’t be able to hear you shooting,” said David Dury of Dury’s Gun Shop off Hot Wells Boulevard.
“There is always some sound. They do make the shots quiet enough that you probably won’t spook nearby hogs in the brush or other game coming into a feeder. Plus, the suppressor makes about the best muzzle break in the world, and you don’t have to wear ear plugs when you are shooting.”
I’ve had the opportunity to do some shooting with suppressed weapons (M4, Walther P-22, and H&K MP5) and it was pretty enlightening. While I knew that suppressors didn’t actually “silence” the gun (although on the .22lr, the slide operating was louder than the report), actual field experience did a lot to reshape my opinion about using them for hunting.
As the folks interviewed in the article point out, the suppressor doesn’t mean you can sit and shoot all day at a group of hogs without spooking them. A suppressed, high-powered rifle is still going to generate a significant report. And as many of us know, even shooting a bow is enough to scatter a sounder from under the stand. I expect many of us also know that one or two rifle shots probably isn’t going to stop the next sounder from coming in to the feeder. I’ve shot hogs, and then watched as 15 minutes later another group came out to feed less than 100 yards away.
But the suppressor does bring the noise level down to a point that’s not going to wake the neighbors a half mile away. I think there’s a lot to be said for that… especially if you’re trying to depredate hogs in an area that’s fairly close to homes. Nothing will get the cops called out like the sound of rifle shots after midnight… and even for sport hunters, complaints from the neighbors could well spell the end of an excellent hunting spot. Good suppressors make for good neighbors.
Another benefit of silencers is their ability to disperse the gases from the shot and effectively reduce felt recoil. However, unlike a regular muzzle brake, they don’t amplify the report. I know, I know, “real men don’t mind recoil.”
Except that’s not really true. There are people who don’t seem affected by recoil, and that group includes many youngsters and women, along with the “real men.” But the majority of us are affected, even if we don’t all recognize it. Discharging a powerful firearm results in a significant shock that is often (but not always) accompanied by a painful “kick”. Our body’s natural response is to avoid that shock, usually by moving away from it. So you see people lifting their head from the stock, or pushing the gun forward, away from their shoulder at the shot. Many of us have trained ourselves through mental conditioning and physical repetition to overcome that reaction. But it’s never far away, and I’ve seen some experienced riflemen slip up from time to time.
So enter the muzzle brake. By reducing felt recoil, the brake takes away a significant part of the shock and pain. It allows the shooter to relax into the gun and focus on making good shots, rather than anticipating and reacting to the recoil. But traditional brakes have that other effect. They’re extremely loud… dangerously loud. A shooter with a brake is not generally a popular person at the range. Some hunting guides have claimed that they won’t hunt with anyone who uses a brake.
A suppressor gives you the best of both worlds. It reduces the felt recoil and reduces the audible report. What’s not to like?
Of course, there are downsides to suppressors that will probably keep them from becoming a standard piece of equipment.
First, they’re not legal in every state. In fact, some states prohibit them outright, and most other states restrict or prohibit their use for hunting. There can also be regional restrictions. So check your local regulations before you go down the road of purchasing a suppressor, because here’s another downside… they’re not cheap or particularly easy to get.
The suppressor itself will generally run from around $500 on up into the thousands, depending on the firearm you are using and the quality of device. For example, a suppressor for a .223 (5.56mm) will generally start at the lower end of the spectrum. However, should I wish to put something on my .325wsm, I’m probably looking to start at close to a grand just for entry-level equipment. And once you’ve purchased the suppressor itself, you will need a gunsmith to thread the muzzle of your firearm. This cost is pretty variable, but generally it runs around $200 per gun. You can thread more than one firearm to accept the suppressor, and within certain limits you can use it on several guns. However, as you might imagine, you can’t use a small-bore suppressor on a big-bore gun (but you can get adaptors to use a big-bore suppressor on smaller caliber firearms).
In order to purchase a suppressor, you must complete a thorough background check, and you’ll also have to purchase a $200 federal “transfer tax” stamp. Contrary to some common misperceptions, you do not need to acquire a Class 3 license (the license required to own a machine gun). However, you must purchase the suppressor through a Class 3 licensed dealer. You will also need to register the suppressor with the BATF. This registration process may take up to six months, according to most sources. So you’re not just going to run out and pick up your suppressor on a whim. If you think this is for you, you’ll need to plan for it.
When it comes to registration, I’ve found that there are some considerations involved there as well. Most people who go this route find that it’s a good idea to pay a lawyer to set up a trust, and then to register the suppressor to that trust. This allows anyone named in the trust to use the equipment, and provides for a clean transfer of the suppressor in the event that the primary owner dies or becomes incapacitated. Other options include registering to yourself (which means that no one else can use it, and in order to transfer to someone else, they’ll have to go through the full qualification and registration process), or you can register to a corporation. These are relatively complicated decisions, and I’d recommend discussing them with a lawyer if you’re seriously considering buying one of these things. The bright side is, though, that once you’ve done it (if you did it right), you’re done.
Suppressors do have their very vocal detractors. The most common thread is that the “silencers” will become a common tool for poachers and scofflaws. The folks making this allegation generally share a couple of key attributes. First, they know nothing about suppressors and think of them as silencers, like they see in the movies. Second, they know nothing about poachers.
As mentioned above, suppressors do not “silence” the firearm. They only suppress the sound. When I shot the M4 (5.56x45mm),the report was something in the neighborhood of my .17hmr. I haven’t fired a suppressed big-bore, so I can’t say from experience how much louder something like a suppressed 30-06 might be. But the point is, unlike the spy movies, a suppressed rifle doesn’t discharge with a whisper of air like a pellet gun. But it’s true, the reduced noise could potentially be an enticement to poachers.
But then we need to take a closer look at poachers.
In the place where I grew up, I was pretty much surrounded by folks who never met a fish and game law they couldn’t break. I am not too ashamed to say that I probably ate more than my share of poached venison during those years. While I was never swayed to join the ranks, I did learn a lot of interesting stuff which may not apply to every poacher everywhere, but; it certainly does seem to hold a level of commonality when compared to other cases from one coast to another.
So where to start? First, let’s consider a couple of categories of poachers. This is not an all-inclusive list.
One is the subsistence poacher. This is the truly impoverished person who will take the occasional deer, squirrel, or rabbit out of season in order to feed himself and his family. The weapon of choice is generally the heirloom shotgun or maybe a battered .22magnum or 30-30. As likely as not, the majority of this person’s activities will take place right out his own back door. This guy can barely afford ammunition, much less the expense of a suppressor.
Then there’s the occasional opportunist. Driving down the road. Gun in the car. Deer by the road. Bang. As often as not, these guys are caught because the next car down the road is law enforcement. Otherwise, they generally get away with it. Suppressor or no suppressor, it really isn’t going to make a difference to this fellow.
Then there are the habitual and “sport” poachers who simply consider any day and any time to be open season. These guys could probably benefit from suppressed firearms, but in my experience they don’t much care. The truth is that, in rural areas, the sound of gunfire isn’t an unusual occurrence at almost any time of year. Shots fired after dark tend to get some attention, but not much. Have you ever driven through a rural area late at night? Where are the residents? In their homes, either in front of a television or in bed. They’re not outside listening for gunshots (unless they’ve been having poaching problems… and then you’ve got a different story).
Regardless, though, my personal and somewhat limited experience showed that most of these guys aren’t coming from the upper echelon of the socio-economic structure. They’re highly unlikely to take on the expense and legal engtanglements of purchasing suppressors… especially when pretty much every one I ever knew had his own variation on the homemade suppressor if they wanted to use it. This ranged from the apple stuck on the muzzle of a .22mag, to plastic soda bottles filled with cotton, and on to all sorts of fairly inventive (and often unlikely) contraptions. My recommendation, by the way? Don’t try any of this at home.
And then there’s the small collection of folks who are professional poachers. These are the guys who are out shooting big, trophy specimens in order to sell the horns or antlers. Or they’re hunting other animals, like bears, in order to sell parts to the black market. Now these folks might go in for suppressors, and I expect some of them can afford it. But honestly, I don’t think gunfire is the reason most of them get caught anyway. You can suppress the sound of your rifle, but you’re not going to suppress the shine of a spotlight or headlights. You’re not going to suppress the tire tracks and footprints on private property, or the carcasses that other folks tend to stumble over in your wake. And you’re not going to suppress the rumors that inevitably spread about the illegal activities. Someone always talks, and that’s what usually gets law enforcement involved.
And for all of these guys, there’s another consideration. Folks who have little regard for fish and wildlife laws generally don’t have much regard for the other laws of the land. A fair number of the poachers I have known, and many others I’ve read about in other places have criminal histories that would often preclude their ability to pass the background check required to buy a legal suppressor.
So are poachers going to utilize suppressors if they become more widely available? Some might. But there’s not going to be a wave of new poaching activity coinciding with the legalization of suppressors. It just doesn’t make sense.
But for the sport or depredation hunter who can afford it, they are a good option and I’m happy to see them gaining more acceptance. Even if it doesn’t make you a more successful hunter, your ears will thank you and your neighbors will too.
By the way, a couple of good resources for those interested in purchasing suppressors are:
- The Silencer Shop (Click on the Support link for some real good info on buying a suppressor)
- Silencer Research (He provides a pretty thorough write-up on the process for selecting, buying, and registering your suppressor)