The relaxation of suppressor restrictions might be the most underrated hunting rights victory of the last decade.
In 2010, only 22 states allowed hunters to use suppressors. Thirty-nine states allowed suppressor ownership, but for a variety of reasons, many of those states didn’t permit hunters to use them in the field. Earlier this year, Vermont became the 41st state to permit hunting with a suppressor, joining Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, and 15 other states that have rescinded their bans in the last 12 years.
Suppressed hunting is safer, easier, and more considerate than non-suppressed hunting, but if you’d like to take advantage of this relatively new opportunity, there are a few things to keep in mind.
A suppressor’s most obvious advantage is its ability to deaden (though not totally silence) the report of a rifle. As the crew covered with auditory specialist Grace Sturdivant on the MeatEater Podcast, hunters who expose their ears to unsuppressed rifle shots experience hearing loss, tinnitus, and sometimes even worse health outcomes. While most suppressors can’t dampen the sound of high-powered rifle cartridges to technically hearing-safe levels, they can significantly limit the damage to your ears.
Suppressors also reduce recoil. It is far more comfortable and enjoyable to shoot a high-powered cartridge like a 7mm Rem. Mag. with a suppressor than without one. The rifle doesn’t jump as much, which allows the hunter to keep the sights on target, and it doesn’t fly back with as much force, which keeps shooters from flinching in anticipation of shoulder pain.
Finally, depending on your hunting situation, using a suppressor can be more considerate. In many places in Europe, it is considered impolite to hunt without a suppressor. Hunting often occurs within earshot of homes or towns, and residents don’t want to be disturbed by the report of a rifle. If you hunt in close proximity to residential areas, it might be a good idea to adopt this European custom.
When I’m contacting landowners asking for hunting permissions, I often mention that I use a suppressor. I can’t say for sure, but I hope it puts their mind at ease if they’re worried about waking up one morning to gunshots in their back 40.
Once you’ve decided to hunt with a suppressor, the next task is to make sure it’s legal in your state. The good news is that it probably is. Only nine states don’t allow suppressors in the field, eight of which don’t allow residents to own suppressors at all: California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. (Connecticut allows ownership but not hunting.)
All other states allow you to use a suppressor on any rifle you can legally use while hunting. This is thanks in large part to the legislative efforts of the American Suppressor Association and companies like Silencer Shop and Silencer Central that increased the rate of suppressor ownership in the U.S.
Unfortunately, if you’re reading this article at the time of its publication, you’re unlikely to get the government’s approval to possess your suppressor in time for the 2022-2023 deer season.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) recently rolled out a new online system for filing the appropriate paperwork (eForms), which they claim can be processed in 100 days. That’s a huge improvement from the 12 to 18 months it took to approve paper forms, and there is some evidence to suggest the much-maligned federal agency is living up to its promise.
Applicants are reporting on NFA Tracker an average wait time of only 116 days for individual eForms, and Silencer Shop says their customers are waiting anywhere from six days to six months.
I won’t get into the nitty gritty of suppressor applications here, mostly because Silencer Shop and Silencer Central already make the process simple and (relatively) painless. Get in touch with those folks to get the process started, but don’t count on bringing your new can to the deer stand this year. It might happen, but it’s never wise to count on the speed and efficiency of the ATF.
Once you’ve submitted your paperwork, it’s time to make sure your rifle can accommodate a suppressor. There are lots of suppressor mounting options out there, some of which allow a suppressor to be quickly detached or installed with a single twist or push of a button. But for hunting applications, a direct-thread mount will work just fine.
Virtually all suppressors ship with the ability to install directly onto a threaded barrel. Your only task is to match the thread pattern on your rifle with the thread pattern of the suppressor you order. As a rule of thumb, barrels for rifles chambered in calibers .243 and smaller use 1/2x28 threads while those chambered in calibers between .243 and .300 Win. Mag. will use 5/8x24 threads.
Suppressors designed within those caliber ranges will usually ship from the factory with adapters that fit those thread pitches. A .30-caliber suppressor will usually ship with 5/8x24 threads while a .22-caliber suppressor will usually ship with 1/2x28 threads.
There are exceptions to these general rules. Rifles with slim profile barrels will usually be threaded in the 1/2x28 pattern even if they are chambered in larger calibers. Weatherby’s Mark V Backcountry, for example, uses a 1/2x28 pitch even in its .30-caliber chamberings. If your .30-caliber suppressor uses 1/2x28, you can either purchase a thread adapter you fit to the end of the barrel or a different suppressor adapter you fit to the end of your suppressor. The latter option is a little cleaner, but the former is likely less expensive and will work just fine for hunting applications.
If your rifle’s barrel isn’t threaded and you don’t want to use this excuse to purchase a new rifle, you can have your barrel threaded by a gunsmith. Most gunsmiths offer this service for between $100 and $150, which is a hell of a lot cheaper than purchasing a new rifle.
While you’re getting your barrel threaded, you might consider getting it shortened as well. Most suppressors are in the 6- to 10-inch range. If your rifle barrel is already 26 inches, adding another 10 inches to the end can make it a pain in the tree stand. Shortening the barrel can approximate the rifle’s original overall length and weight while adding sound suppression.
If you’re going down this route, remember not to shorten the barrel to less than 16 inches. That will require it to be registered as a “short-barreled rifle,” which means more forms and another $200 tax stamp.
Also, remember that shortening a barrel will reduce projectile velocity. This does not necessarily impair accuracy, but a slower bullet will drop more and be more susceptible to the wind at longer ranges.
How much velocity you lose depends on your cartridge and how much length you remove from the barrel. For a point of context, a .308 Win. that leaves a 28-inch barrel at 2,700 feet-per-second (fps) will drop down to about 2,475 fps from a 16-inch barrel. That’s plenty of juice for most hunts, but western mountain hunters should look up a drop chart before deciding how many inches to slice off.
One final piece of advice: be sure to re-zero your scope with the suppressor attached. Most suppressors won’t impact a rifle’s accuracy, but they can change point-of-impact. Once you’re finally allowed to bring your suppressor home, get your scope zeroed before opening day.
Suppressors aren’t cheap, but they’re worth it. With a little time and research, you can build a new hunting rig that’s quiet, comfortable, and a menace in the deer woods. For more information about suppressors and how to purchase one, check out this article.