With the right caliber, in the right places, the short answer is “Yes, you can hunt deer with suppressors” But …
By John Geiger and Paul Rackley
Deer hunters should see suppressors as a blessing. You can save your hearing and kill deer ethically. Yet you are changing your hunting tool when you attach or screw on a suppressor. And regulations are changing as well, so double-check your state regs before marching out into the field suppressed.
POINT OF AIM Vs. POINT OF IMPACT
While suppressors can increase firearm accuracy in general, partially because of the reduction of recoil and sound flinch, most firearms have some degree of point-of-impact shift when adding a suppressor. In most cases, this is a minor inconvenience of 1 or 2 M.O.A. (about 1 or 2 inches at 100 yards), which can easily be fixed by re-zeroing the rifle. Any firearm/suppressor combination with more than a small shift at 100 yards needs to be examined by a gunsmith to ensure the threads are concentric with the bore.
A gunsmith is also needed if point of impact shifts from shot to shot, as this may indicate a major issue that could result in a baffle hit. Typically, though, shot-to-shot changes are a symptom of quick-detach mounting systems. The technology of quick-detach systems has improved greatly, but those looking for true accuracy should stick to direct-thread suppressors.
Regardless, when adding a suppressor to a hunting rifle, shooters should always spend significant time firing at the range before heading to the woods.
When you shoot unsuppressed, there are two loud noises you hear: gas expansion out of the muzzle and sonic boom during the flight of the bullet. Suppressors muffle the first noise, but what about the crack you hear as the bullet passes the sound barrier? You can mitigate that by shooting subsonic loads.
The combination of a suppressor and subsonic bullets seems like a match made in heaven. It’s so quiet that often the loudest sound is the bolt carriage slamming shut for the next round or the bullet hitting the berm. But hunters need to be careful here.
According to the American Suppressor Association, 40 states currently allow hunting with suppressors, and others are considering legalizing them.
To stay under that 1,125-fps speed-of-sound threshold, hunting bullet manufacturers must reduce the amount of propellant. But speed kills and is key for terminal devastation and bullet expansion. Energy equals weight times speed squared. Without speed, manufacturers increase bullet weight to get downrange energy when the bullet hits the target.
A 220-grain bullet helps, but it cannot replicate that violent, damaging initial wound channel that happens when your supersonic bullet hits the deer’s body.
If you are determined to go the suppressed-subsonic route, go with known hunting bullets in your cartridges, like Hornady’s A-Max or Winchester’s Subsonic Power Point. And get closer to your game. That Hornady sub round is a good one, yet it only gets a mediocre 467 foot-pounds of energy at 100 yards. As a comparison, your 178-grain .30-06 A-Max — a typical supersonic round — gets a walloping 2,646 fpe at 200 yards.
The number thrown around as a minimum associated with deer and energy is 1,000 fpe. But with a good bullet made to expand at low energy, 467 fpe at 100 yards is an ethical shot in our book.
THREAD OR NEW GUN
As suppressors gain in popularity, more firearm companies are introducing models with threaded barrels. However, there are still countless firearms that hunters have been using for years.
This means that folks interested in obtaining a suppressor for hunting have to decide whether to purchase a new gun or thread a favorite. This can be a difficult decision because of the cost of a new rifle. Threading a barrel is less expensive, but it has to be done correctly — threads concentric to the bore with a square shoulder — to prevent a baffle strike. Also, take care when you are deciding which gun. Some rifles can lose significant value, particularly guns that are popular with collectors in original condition.
Threading doesn’t typically hurt value on newer hunting rifles — purchased new in the last decade — but be sure to do some research before sending grandpa’s old deer rifle to a machinist. However, there are companies that make aftermarket barrels that come threaded, or can be threaded, for those who really want to put a suppressor on an old favorite.
Photos provided by SilencerCo.
Editor’s note: The gallery below was first posted on Game & Fish in 2014
- <h2>1. Hearing Protection</h2>The most self-explanatory reason. <p></p> Imagine a champagne bottle. Shake it up and thumb the cork and you'll get a loud pop. Pull the cork out slowly with even pressure and there’s little more than a cough and a fizz. <p></p> Suppressors depend on roughly the same concept. For most designs, as the round passes through a series of internal baffles and expansion chambers, the effect of high-pressure gases and the vacuum release of the round leaving the barrel is diffused and slowed, condensing muzzle blast. The result is reduced sound waves impacting the ear. <p></p> All it takes is one discharge to permanently damage an unprotected ear. Simply put, suppressors are an effective, precautionary safety measure.