Wild hog killed by Michael VanSant using a suppressed AR15 on public hunting land
Lots of Texans regularly hunt hogs with suppressed rifles and recently the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife rescinded their regulation which prohibited their use when hunting game animals. What this means is that starting September 1st of this year, legally owned suppressors can be used when hunting all game, non-game and exotic animals in Texas.
I've owned and hunted with suppressors as long as I've been old enough to legally purchase one, so I'm pretty well versed on their use and how to legally purchase an NFA weapon. I've got a pretty good feeling that this recent rule change is going to get a lot more people interested, so I decided to put together a little primer about suppressors and how you can legally purchase one.
What are suppressors?
Suppressors or more commonly referred to as "silencers" are attachments that normally attach to the muzzle of a firearm. They consist of a metal tube that contains baffles that trap the gas and unburned powder that exit the muzzle behind the bullet when a gun is fired.
The two most significant noises created when you fire a gun are the muzzle blast and the supersonic crack of the bullet. Of the two the muzzle blast is the loudest. What a suppressor accomplishes with the baffles and expansion chambers is to catch the majority of the hot gasses, slow them and allow them to expand inside the confined space and then slowly vents them to significantly decrease the muzzle blast.
The bullet passes through the suppressor untouched so it doesn't affect velocity or accuracy. In some cases attaching a suppressor may affect point of impact due to the weight on the end of the barrel and a change in harmonics.
What a suppressor doesn't do is make a gun as quiet as they make them in the movies. A lot of people are less impressed with suppressors than they thought they would be when they finally hear one. A good suppressor will tone down a .223/5.56 rifle to about the sound of a .22lr. So it's still pretty loud but not near as loud as an unsuppressed one. To greatly reduce the sound you'd need to shoot subsonic ammo. A suppressed rifle shooting subsonic ammo IS almost movie quiet but you loose a lot of velocity on the bullet so in turn you decrease the effective range of your weapon. Remember, speed kills.
Why use a suppressor for hunting?
I think the real question is, why not use a suppressor? Firearms are inherently loud which is both bad for your hearing and can scare animals away from long distances. Most hunters don't wear hearing protection when hunting because losing the sense of hearing can be very detrimental when your out in the woods looking and listening for animals.
Every un-muffled gun shot damages your hearing. Hearing loss has a cumulative effect, which means that you aren't going to go deaf just because of one gun shot but over time and many gun shots you cause more and more damage leading to greater hearing loss. Using a suppressor will bring most gun shot reports down to or close to hearing safe levels. That means less damage to your ears and better hearing in the future. In Europe, suppressors are practically mandatory for hunting and target shooting. You wouldn't drive your car without a muffler so why would you want to shoot your gun without one?
The other point is that using a suppressor makes it less likely that you'll scare away near by animals. In Texas you've got a pretty good chance that you've got deer and hogs living in the same areas. With a suppressor you have the ability to shoot those pesky hogs that have been raiding your feeder without ruining the rest of your hunt so you might still have a chance at that monster buck you've been after. Also, if you're hunting hogs and you shoot one using a suppressor it's very likely that the ones that ran away might come back as we've seen this happen multiple times.
What are the legalities of and how to buy a suppressor?
Suppressors are considered Title II weapons under the National Firearms Act (NFA). You'll hear a lot of people call them "Class 3" but class III is actually refers to the classification of dealers who can buy and sell title II weapons such as suppressors and machine guns. Title II weapons are also commonly referred to as NFA weapons because of the National Firearms Act they are controlled under.
Any US citizen who lives in a state that allows them can buy an NFA item providing they can pass a thorough background check in order to register the item so that you can legally possess it. That said, anyone who can legally purchase a handgun shouldn't have any problems being approved for a suppressor.
There are multiple ways to register an NFA item including individual registration, registration to a business or corporation or registration to a trust. Today I'm going to discuss registration to an individual or a trust since this covers 99% of NFA owners out there.
We'll start off with an individual registration.
Buying a suppressor as an individual
First you need to decide what suppressor you want and who you want to buy it from. Most dealers carry many different manufacturers who make suppressors of different types of construction, with different features and varying pricing structures. While we're on this subject, let me go off on a quick tangent...
The more expensive suppressors aren't necessarily going to be quieter than the cheaper ones. If you lined up several cheaper suppressors against several more expensive suppressors most people would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the noise levels alone as the difference between most suppressors is just a few decibels at best.
Normally what increased prices buy your are increased features, decreased size and decreased weight. For example, a budget suppressor might have all steel construction, be 10" long, weigh 1lb 8oz and attaches by threading onto standard muzzle threads. Whereas the more expensive suppressor might be constructed of steel and other exotic light weight metals like inconel, be 8" long, weigh 1lb 1oz and attaches using a quick disconnect system for quick attachment and removal.
So don't think that a cheaper suppressor won't work as good, because it probably will, it just won't be as nice and as user friendly. Now, back on subject.....
Now that you've decided what suppressor you want and who you're going to buy it from you need to call them up and buy it. It's usually better if you buy from a dealer in your state. NFA items can't transfer across state lines without going through a NFA dealer. So, if you buy from an out of state dealer they will then have to transfer it to a dealer in your state and then the in state dealer will have to transfer it to you and that adds in an extra transfer you'll have to wait for before you can get your suppressor in your hands.
So you've found an in state dealer and bought your suppressor. Now it's time for some paperwork. The dealer will fill out a tax paid form 4, in duplicate, with all of his information and the information about your suppressor such as manufacturer, type, size, serial number, etc. Now that he's filled out his portions you have to fill out yours to include your name, address, etc. In addition, you will also have to attach a passport photo of yourself to the back of both copies and the chief law enforcement officer (CLEO) in your area will have to sign on the back of the forms and fill out the information about his position and where he works. If you live in the city the CLEO will be the chief of police and in the country it will be the county Sheriff. You will also need to get two fingerprint cards done.
Wow! That's a lot of work! Well, it's not really as bad as it sounds. Now that you've got it all done there's only a couple of things left. You need to completely a Certificate of Compliance which is basically just signing your name certifying yourself as a US citizen and then you need to write out a $200 check to the BATF. At last you can stick your pile of paperwork into an envelope and mail it off.
Now comes the worst part, the wait. Currently, as of April 2012, wait times for NFA transfers is running about 5.5-6 months. Under George Bush the wait time was as low as 34 days but the NFA office, in addition to many other things, has gone way down hill since ole George was in office.