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Breaking the Silence of Suppressors

June 9, 2015
By Travis R. Hunt - OVO Pro Staff , Ohio Valley Outdoors

Hiram Percy Maxim invented and sold the first firearm suppressor in 1902. This simple metal cylinder has filled theaters with nostalgic scenes of gangsters eliminating their victims and American special-forces defending freedom with deafening silence. Suppressors have always been legal to own. However, the process is regulated, in part, by the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA). The NFA imposes an excise tax of $200 on the purchase and transfer of any firearm suppressor and delegated authority to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms to regulate these devices. However, as an Ohio hunter, I had not given suppressors much thought. This all changed on March 23, 2015, because this was the day that hunting with suppressors became legal in the Buckeye State. Yes, section 1533.04 of the Ohio Revised Code1 is now effective and hunters, me included, began to ask questions. The purpose of this article is three-fold: 1. detail the benefits of utilizing a suppressor; 2. detail popular suppressor options; and 3. provide a navigable process flow to obtain a suppressor.

Writing this article inevitably resulted in me consulting a subject matter expert (SME). I spent nearly five hours, over two days, absorbing a wealth of stories and information from Mr. J. D. Jones, founder of SSK Industries in Wintersville, OH (www.sskindustries.com). How did I know he was a SME? For starters, nearly five years ago, my wife wanted to surprise me for my 40th birthday, by having the severed wooden stock on my grandfather's bolt action, Anshutz rifle repaired. The wooden stock was splintered in the late 1980's during high school antics and had sat in a gun case for 25 years. The Anshutz corporate office in Germany recommended SSK Enterprises.

Imagine my wife's surprise when she learned this company was located in our back yard. Secondly, and more impressive, J.D. is the inventor of the 300 Whisper cartridge, which over the years has morphed into the popular 300 AAC Blackout cartridge. J.D. shared with me that he has operated from the current location since 1988 and provides a wide variety of custom gunsmith services in addition to manufacturing suppressors, custom AR platforms and Contender and Encore barrels. My second day with J.D. concluded with a hands-on demonstration of suppressors in action.

Article Photos

he author (right) is shown with SSK Industries owner J.D. Jones. Hunt is holding a suppressed Ruger 10/22 and Jones a suppressed Contender chambered in 41 caliber.

Benefits

Before moving forward, Hollywood, hysterics and the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room must be addressed. Law abiding citizens, in their pursuit of happiness, may choose to use a firearm suppressor. This does not mean that these people are nefarious evil-doers in waiting. With that said, why would one want to utilize a suppressed firearm? The primary reason is because suppressors save hearing. In my younger years, I did not don hearing protection as diligently as I should. Since then I have put away such foolishness; however, if I can prevent hearing damage to myself, my children and my shooting companions, this is truly the right thing to do. Secondly, suppressors do not disturb your prey or your neighbors. Case in point, I distinctly remember one February morning, a few months ago, when one of the daughters spotted a lone coyote about 400 yards downrange in our pasture. A minute later, my Bushmaster Predator, chambered in .223 and dressed with a Nikon BDC scope broke the morning serenity. Admittedly, I missed the shot and the carnivore scurried into the woods. However, if my Bushmaster was outfitted with a suppressor, I would have had the opportunity for a follow-up shot or two while not startling the coyote and not waking sleeping neighbors. The third reason one would want a suppressor is for the improvement in accuracy that a quality-designed, accurately manufactured, and properly installed, suppressor provides.

I have observed that the word suppressor is often interchangeable used with the word silencer. If you take nothing away from this article please internalize that suppressors do not make all firearms truly silent. The reality is that the noise issuing after a weapon fires will vary depending on the cartridge, firearm and location. For example, a common .22LR cartridge, utilized in conjunction with a high-quality suppressor is quiet enough to shoot without hearing protection. J.D. explained to me that sometimes the only audible sound heard from such a set-up would be the contact between the firing pin and the rim fire primer. On the other hand, the every-popular, modern sporting rifle or AR-15 platform, chambered in .223, will not be nearly as quiet as the above mentioned .22LR and hearing protection may still need to be needed.

Fact Box

"The purpose of this article is three-fold: 1. detail the benefits of utilizing a suppressor; 2. detail popular suppressor options; and 3. provide a navigable process flow to obtain a suppressor."

Firearms generate sound in the form of muzzle-blast and by the mechanical noise of the moving parts of the firearm. Furthermore, supersonic ammunition, generates a sonic boom or "ballistic clap" when the bullet exceeds the speed of sound. Some of the sounds can be managed and others cannot be; frankly, it is beyond the ability of the operator and the manufacturers to eliminate all sound. A suppressor is one tool, like subsonic ammunition that will help shooters reduce noise.

Options

According to J.D., the world of suppressors is full of variables. The obvious variable is the reduction in decibels achieved between a specific gun, dressed with a specific suppressor and firing specific ammunition. Change any of these and the sound will change. After that "accuracy and repeatability are most important." This means that a suppressed weapon does you no good if it is not accurate. To appreciate what a suppressor does we must understand how our firearm produces sound. The act of firing the cartridge results in sound produced initially from the mechanical components of the firearm. After the propellant ignites the inevitable muzzle blast yields high temperature pressure and gasses or what is jointly known as turbulence. We often refer to this as muzzle-blast. Muzzle-blast is associated with all bullets exiting a muzzle and varies tremendously from weapon to weapon and cartridge to cartridge.

I dismissed the commonly held misconception that suppressors decrease accuracy once I understood the fundamental operation of the device. The suppressor functions by diverting gas pressure away from the bullet and into and ultimately through the suppressor. The device enables the bullet to exit the muzzle "normally" with minimal influence of muzzle-blast. The bullet not only propels from the muzzle quieter but also smoother. The reduction of the variables of muzzle-blast enables the operator to experience a more consistent exit which improves accuracy. Additionally, the added weight of the suppressor to the barrel creates a heavier and thus more stable weapon. Again this can result in an increase in accuracy.

The four common variables the suppressor shopper will encounter include: 1. construction metal; 2. installation; 3. internal configuration; and 4. price. Suppressors are available in aluminum, stainless steel and titanium construction. Of course, price is reflected in that titanium suppressors are the most expensive and aluminum is the least. Aluminum suppressors appear to be trending out of popularity so I will not further address them.

The concept is, you get what you pay for, meaning that titanium construction is lighter and sometimes quieter than stainless steel. A center fire titanium suppressor is about two pounds lighter than a stainless steel suppressor. Once you have your suppressor you engage your suppressor by either screwing the suppressor into a threaded barrel or utilizing an adaptor to position the suppressor over the barrel. The third variable is the internal construction of the "baffles" within the suppressor. Suppressors are either forged as a single baffle referred to as a monolithic suppressor or forged and then opened enabling the stacking of internal baffles. The suppressor world has trended towards stacked baffles simply because the cost of the equipment required to machine a monolithic suppressor is significant. A stacked baffle device is preferable because they often have more baffles. This is important because multiple baffles present more internal surface thus "puling more" turbulence away from the bullet before it exits the barrel.

The only remaining variable to address was price. J.D. stated that the existing $200 transfer fee, mandated by the NFA, is unavoidable and therefore, must be always factored into your shopping budget. A custom SSK stainless steel .22LR suppressor is $400. A custom SSK stainless steel center fire caliber suppressor is $650 while the titanium version is $950. He explained that 22LR and .223/5.56 suppressors are his most popular suppressors. Threading a barrel may include an additional charge.

Process Flow

So, you read everything, completed your own research and are ready to take the plunge into making a suppressor a reality in your safe. I would suggest the following process flow to acquire your own suppressor:

Step 1 Consult with your suppressor dealer. In this instance, I would call ahead and schedule a meeting with SSK. We would navigate the variables and select the suppressor that best meets my needs.

Step 2 Since a suppressor bears a unique identification number most dealers will require the buyers to pay for the suppressor as steps three and four are navigated.

Step 3 This step is the critical step and centers around the ATF Form 4 Application for Tax Paid Transfer and Registration of Firearm (Form 4). The Form 4 is required to be completed and submitted to the ATF with the required $200 transfer fee. There are two options you have when completing document. The first is to complete the form as an individual while the second is to complete the form as a trustee of a gun trust. The most common and least expensive option is to complete Form 4 as an individual. The process is similar to that of obtaining a concealed handgun permit and requires submission of a 2"x2" photograph, fingerprints and signature of your home of residence responding law enforcement agency. The passage of section 1533.04 of the Ohio Revised includes a "shall certify" provision requiring law enforcement to sign off on an application to transfer an item regulated by the NFA, once the application procedure and requirements are met. This is comparable to the approval of a concealed handgun permit.

The gun trust option is different in that you must first create a legal trust. Unless you have access to free legal services, creating a trust may cost you a few hundred dollars. However, the benefit is that the trust owns the suppressor and multiple trustees can been linked to the trust while only paying the $200 transfer fee once per suppressor. A hard copy of the written trust must be submitted with your Form 4. However, this option eliminates the signature of the local law enforcement officer. Once the trust is in existence you may add another suppressor to the trust and modify additional trustees as desired.

Step 4 Wait. J.D. lamented that the average time to process the Form 4 is from four to seven months. This would be the most difficult part of the process for me. Like many men I struggle with patience.

Step 5 Jubilantly receive the call from SSK that your Form 4 has been approved. Thus commences the modification of your barrel or the adaptation of your suppressor. With my before mentioned Bushmaster, I would simply have the bird cage flash suppressor removed and the suppressor directly threaded into the barrel. However, other weapons are not as readily threadable and an adaptor or barrel modification may be required.

Take Away's

I would like to thank J.D. and the crew at SSK for their time, attention to detail and commitment to the shooting sports. Over the course of two days and five hours we discussed guns, cartridges, bullets, and the United States Armed Forces. I was truly humbled to sit at J.D.'s table and adsorb information. He is not only a patriot but one of those SMEs that will forget more about his trade than most will ever know. This article is not legal advice, it is simply an overview of hunting with suppressors in Ohio and one suggested pathway to obtain a suppressor.

A suppressor is not an inexpensive endeavor and outfitting a suppressor for each caliber weapon can become cumbersome. I discussed this with J.D. and he recommend that I consider "up sizing" my suppressor. For example, a SSK titanium suppressor intended for a 308 caliber firearm can, in some cases, work well on a modern sporting rifle chambered in .223. Conversely, you would not want to attempt to utilize a suppressor intended for a .22LR cartridge on a centerfire firearm.

During my second interview session with J.D. he presented me with a variety of caliber weapons dressed with a variety of SSK manufactured suppressors. For this demonstration, we were positioned in a deplorable acoustic setting adjacent to a block building and overlooking a valley. J.D. acknowledged that any sound we heard in these conditions would likely be reduced by 50% or greater in an open filed. After indulging in the feast suppressed weapons, including a Ruger 10/22, Colt M16A1 chambered in 5.56, a Contender chambered in 41 caliber and a Marlin lever action chambered in 45/70, I offer the following take-away points:

.22LR chambered weapons were definitely quiet but not completely silent.

.223 chambered weapons were reminiscent of a half loud .22LR

The location in which a suppressed weapon is shot will change the resulting sound. For example, the sound that you hear when you shoot in a tight valley or hollow is not the same as when you shoot the same weapon with the same suppressor and same ammunition in the middle of an open pasture. I know this because I walked 30 yards into an open area and the sound was significantly less.

Titanium is definitely a pleasure to operate in that it is lighter and results in a quieter shot. When I carry a suppressed firearm through the woods the weight difference becomes glaringly obvious as the hours drag on.

Subsonic ammunition definitely does not produce the "ballistic clap" associated with supersonic ammunition. Thus utilizing subsonic ammunition will result in a quieter shooting experience.

Obtaining a suppressor and having the legal opportunity to utilize this tool, while afield in Ohio, is now a reality. Options abound; after all, there as many situations in which you will want to use your suppressor as there are options available to you when selecting your suppressor. On the surface, a suppressor seems expensive, but in reality I have no qualms opening my wallet for crystal clear optics to top my AR-15 or a combination of modified triggers, tactical lights and custom fixed sights to dress my AR-15. Therefore, I have moved beyond this point of consternation and am now looking forward to reaping the benefits of using a suppressor. Maybe I will get a follow-up shot at a coyote as he meanders through the Ohio snow next winter, maybe I will share a late summer squirrel hunt, with one of the daughters, while not disturbing the scampering tree rats and not spooking the bedded deer or maybe my neighbors will be thankful to not be disturbed every time I purse happiness with my Bushmaster, my Savage my Beretta, my Remington or any other finely crafted tool in my safe. I am done writing and just printed my Form 4, I better hurry up and get this process moving forward, I would like to have my suppressor for the fall.

References

1. codes.ohio.gov/orc/1533.04 - reads in part: "*** (A) A person who holds a valid hunting license issued under this chapter and who hunts game birds or wild quadrupeds may use a suppressor attached to a gun that is authorized to be used for hunting by section 1533.16 of the Revised Code while hunting, provided that the person is authorized to possess the suppressor under state and federal laws and has registered the suppressor in accordance with the "National Firearm Act," 68A Stat. 725 (1934), 26 U.S.C. 5841, et seq., as amended ***."

 
 

 

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