Suppressors/silencers earn a lot of public attention due to their use in Hollywood and video games. And while most people know what they are, very few people have ever shot a suppressed firearm or fully understand what they can and cannot do. I have been running suppressors on some of my rifles for the past couple years, and have learned a lot about them in the process. Today I will discuss what suppressors do, pros and cons of using them, and what to look for in a heavy-use combat suppressor.
What Suppressors Do
Sound reduction depends on the type of gun, suppressor, and bullet. Despite what Hollywood shows, most of the time it is not hearing safe. Suppressors, by themselves, reduce the sound of the “pop” of gases escaping from the muzzle by redirecting the gas inside of the can. The bullet itself, however, is still moving faster than the speed of sound, thus creating a mini “sonic boom” as it flies. The only way to get rid of that noise is to use special subsonic loads with muzzle velocities under 1,122ft/sec. Some bullets are naturally subsonic, like .45 ACP, making them ideal for suppressed firing.
There is a myth floating around that “silencers make your gun less accurate.” This is not at all true, and stems from video games which make your gun less accurate or powerful when you attach a silencer (a balancing mechanic so that not everybody uses silencers in the game). Some suppressors actually make your gun more accurate because they can increase the muzzle velocity of the round, the suppressor functioning as an extension of the barrel. You do, however, lose a lot of range when using subsonic ammunition.
- Suppressors make the shooter harder to locate, and in more ways than one. As I mentioned in a previous article, “Rates of Fire for the Rifleman“, if you can’t see the guy shooting at you then you look for muzzle flash and muzzle blast (the shockwave at the muzzle kicking up dust or moving foliage while shooting). Suppressors reduce (and in many cases eliminate) both of these in addition to the sound of the shot. So if you’re on the receiving end of suppressed rifle fire, you will hear the supersonic crack of rounds flying past you, but you will have a damn hard time locating the guy shooting at you.
- Suppressors make communication under fire much easier. Guns are noisy, gunfights are very noisy. When you’re trying to call out targets to your buddy, you must yell over the sound of your guns, often several times before he hears you. Anyone who has ever done live fire-and-movement drills knows what I’m talking about. Suppressors on your weapons make it much easier to hear your team leader yelling out commands and spotting enemies. This is especially true in an urban environment where you will often be shooting inside of structures or vehicles, which is deafening without suppressors.
- Weight. Suppressors add weight to the front of your rifle, making it slightly more unwieldy. This means you’ll have a harder time holding your gun up for extended periods at a time. On the bright side, recoil is more controllable and you have less muzzle movement in rapid fire.
- Length. Suppressors make your gun 4-8 inches longer depending on the model. This can get in the way if you’re already rocking a 16-20″ barrel. It’s not a fun time banging your weapon on doorframes and catching on brush in the woods. This is why I prefer my fighting carbines to have 10-14.5″ long barrels.
- On semi-auto rifles, suppressors will blow gas back into your gun and face. This is annoying/uncomfortable to the shooter, and makes the gun very dirty. This is due to more gas blowing back into the system instead of making noise at the muzzle. Expect about twice the carbon in the action of your AR-15 when running a suppressor. This can be fixed with an adjustable gas block/piston. Another option is “flow through” suppressor models, which are designed to mitigate overgassing at the cost of less noise reduction.
When suppressors are appropriate
As with every other piece of kit, your mission will dictate whether or not a silencer is a good idea. That said, in my opinion and experience, the pros far outweigh the cons in most circumstances. Being harder to locate in a gunfight is a huge advantage, and I’m willing to carry a little extra weight if it means less bullets heading my way. The following examples are the only times I would choose not to use a suppressor.
- Vehicle-borne operations. In vehicles, I need to be able to maneuver my weapon in some very confined spaces. I’m not as worried about hiding, I just need rounds on target fast.
- If I am the automatic rifleman for my team. If I’m employing an automatic rifle, I want the enemy to know it and keep his head down. In his book “Recce” (excellent reading), Koos Stadler talks about his time in the South African “Recce” small teams. In the book, he says that every 2-man team had one silenced and one non-silenced weapon because when they were trying to break contact they wanted the enemy to know they were being shot at. By the way, I have a class this November where I teach how to use this kind of weapon.
- When I am on guard duty. If something happens while I am standing my post and I have to engage an intruder, I want the entire camp/homestead/patrol base to wake up and be alerted by my shots. Radios may fail, but gunshots are unmistakable signals of danger.
That’s pretty much it. In every other scenario I can imagine, the pros of suppressors far outweigh the cons.
Which suppressor to buy
This ultimately depends on the purpose of the can. Ultimately, the trade-off is between weight and durability. If you plan to use it on a dedicated sniper/DMR weapon, you may want to choose a lighter suppressor. If you just want to slap it on your workhorse carbine, you should prioritize durability over weight savings. The safest way to do this is to get a suppressor that is full-auto rated.
Another consideration is the caliber of the suppressor. When it comes to rifles, you will naturally want to choose the can that is made for your caliber of rifle. If you want to use one suppressor on multiple guns, you may choose to go with a larger caliber suppressor. It is possible to shoot smaller calibers through larger diameter suppressors, you just lose a little bit of noise reduction.
Finally, consider the attachment method. There are two general categories: direct thread and quick-detach. Direct thread suppressors thread directly to the muzzle of your gun and represent the lightest option that doesn’t require extra hardware. However, repeatedly attaching and removing the suppressor will wear down your threads faster. Quick-detach suppressors require a compatible muzzle device (flash hider, brake, or compensator) to screw/lock onto. While heavier, this allows you to attach and remove the can at will, in the field, without requiring tools. If you plan to use your suppressor on multiple guns, you need some kind of QD mount.
The best performance for your rifle will be a suppressor that is specifically designed for that caliber and style of shooting. However, if you want the most flexibility out of a single suppressor that you can use on multiple rifles, I recommend getting a .30 cal suppressor that is full-auto rated and uses a quick-detach mounting system.
I personally own a Griffin Armament Recce-7. With compatible muzzle devices on all my rifles that shoot bullets beginning with 7.62 or .30, I can move the can from rifle to rifle at will without tools. It is full-auto rated, so I can safely use it with any of my workhorse AKs as well as my long-range precision rifles. And since it is a .30 cal suppressor, I could use it with 5.56 rifles if I so desired (because .223 is smaller than .30). The amount of flexibility that this one suppressor gives me is incredible.
Hopefully this was enough to give you an idea for just how useful suppressors can be. If you take away nothing else from this article, let it be that suppressors are force-multipliers that are well worth the investment. The fact that they make you harder to see/target while enabling you to communicate with your teammates is plenty of reason to want one on every fighting rifle you have. If you heed my recommendation, you should be able to purchase one silencer and have it work on all of your rifles, saving you money for more ammo and training.
3 thoughts on “On Suppressors”
Another pro for using a can is shooting at night with NODs on. With out a can, the NoDs will wash out for a moment or two after each shot. Seem like an eternity in a gun-fight.
That’s true. Flash hiders can also help with this, but suppressors are best.