Is Suppressed Hunting Legal?

Yes! Y’all go have fun now. All kidding aside, it’s almost that simple. Suppressors are legal in 42 states. 40 of those states allow hunting with suppressors. Connecticut and Vermont are the exceptions. Hunting suppressed is a growing trend as suppressors become more popular. The benefits are enormous, while the downsides are negligible. So, let’s look at why you should consider suppressing your hunting guns.

Hunter with a suppressed rifle
Suppressed hunting is not only legal but also a real improvement. []

Welcome to the 21st Century, Elmer Fudd

I kid! But ol’ Elmer with his 12-gauge was a product of his time. Being scions of a distinguished American hunting family, his great-grandsons are likely rocking SilencerCo Salvo 12s on their shotguns. That’s because they understand that suppressors improve their experience, as well as that of their fellow hunters, and even non-hunters who may be within earshot. Suppressors also give them an advantage over certain wascally wabbits. Let’s dive into those benefits and advantages, as well as the small downsides of suppressed hunting.

Hearing Protection

If you’ve done any hunting at all, you understand that noise is a trade-off. You trade potential hearing damage for being more aware of your surroundings. I’ve found that the excitement of taking a shot at game seems to block out most of the noise, but that’s merely perception. My deer rifle’s report is way above the hearing safe level of 140 decibels, so the damage occurs, whether I realize it or not.

Suppressed 12-gauge shotgun
Elmer Fudd’s great-grandson. Probably. []
A quality suppressor can reduce that report by 25 decibels or more, depending on the firearm, the load, and the suppressor itself. Since decibels increase at a logarithmic rate, that’s a very big deal. A couple of years ago, I was invited to Utah to test some SilencerCo products. We fired various firearms, including a Marlin 1895 chambered in .45-70 Gov’t and a big bolt gun (I don’t remember the brand) chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum. We were at an outdoor range and used no hearing protection whatsoever. Those rifles were downright pleasant to shoot. They weren’t whisper quiet, of course, but they were in the 137-decibel range, which is very good.

The significant decibel reduction is particularly valuable to hunters who may take multiple shots, like hog or bird hunters. I used to wear ear protection while hog hunting in Texas. A single shot at a deer is one thing. Going at a herd of pigs with a 30-round magazine of 7.62×39 is quite another. Not to mention the quieter report may not spook the other pigs, allowing you to take multiple animals before they R-U-N-N-O-F-T.

Suppressors not only protect your hearing but also that of any hunting partners you may have. Perhaps your son or daughter is accompanying you on their first hunt. A suppressor allows you to communicate effectively while not risking their hearing. Or perhaps you’re bird hunting with some friends. Same thing. Suppressors really increase your enjoyment while preserving your hearing.

Recoil Mitigation

Suppressors work by redirecting the gas generated by firing a round. That process not only reduces sound but also mitigates felt recoil. The two rifles mentioned above were pleasant not only for their reduced noise but also for their soft recoil. Sounds strange for a .45-70 and a .338 Lapua, doesn’t it? Some big-game rifles aren’t exactly soft shooters. Reducing that .30-06 Springfield or .300 Win Mag’s recoil will only increase your enjoyment.

Reduced recoil can also help your accuracy. Improved accuracy makes you a better, more ethical hunter, who is more likely to drop his game with one shot. But understand that a suppressor will slightly change your point of impact. So, make certain you zero your rifle with the suppressor attached.

Suppressors Decrease Environmental Impact

That may sound a bit strange, but it’s true. Gunshots can scare animals from their normal range for days or even weeks. That movement affects other animals and their ranges. Reducing your noise signature also makes you more considerate toward landowners and your fellow hunters. I once lost a decent-sized whitetail buck that was walking straight toward me when a gunshot from across the ridge scared him off. A suppressed shot may not have spooked him.

Firing a suppressed a lever action rifle
I never would have thought a suppressor could tame this big Marlin .45-70 Gov’t, but it did. [Sara Liberte Photography]

Downsides to Hunting Suppressed

The biggest impediment to hunting suppressed is the initial cost and inconvenience. Quality suppressors may cost as much as or more than your rifle. That expense is increased by the $200 tax stamp you have to pay under the National Firearms Act. Then you have to jump through the ATF’s paperwork and fingerprinting hoops. Then you wait. It can take up to a year.

The other issues are minor. A suppressor does increase the length and weight of your rifle. You’ll need to get used to that. Also, certain firearms, especially semi-automatic platforms, will shoot some of that redirected gas back in your face. It’s not a deal breaker, but it can be annoying. Just remember to keep your mouth closed. Bolt action rifles, however, do not do that because of their closed, non-reciprocating action.

Get Suppressed

Not literally, of course, but it might be time to up your hunting game with a suppressor. Whether you hunt with a rifle, handgun, shotgun, or rimfire, there’s a suppressor out there for you. The upside is big, while the downside, apart from the initial expense, is minimal.

suppressed hunting legal state map
Suppressors are legal in 42 states. 40 allow suppressed hunting. []
And while I noted that 40 states allow suppressors for hunting, there may be small differences from state to state. I can’t know them all. So, be certain you understand how your state addresses suppressors.

Hunting suppressed will almost certainly increase your enjoyment and that of everyone around you. Even zeroing your rifle will be more pleasant, with the reduced noise and recoil. I’m currently waiting for the ATF’s permission to take possession of suppressors for a large-bore rifle and a carbine. I’m really looking forward to it. After 46 years of hunting, my ears thank me. Bet yours will too.

William "Bucky" Lawson is a self-described "typical Appalachian-American gun enthusiast". He is a military historian specializing in World War II and has written a few things, as he says, "here and there". A featured contributor for Strategy & Tactics, he likes dogs, range time, and a good cigar - preferably with an Old Fashioned that has an extra orange slice.

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