Michigan Out-of-Doors Firearms columnist Scott Crawford draws on first-hand experience to lay out the factors you'll want to consider for hunting with a suppressor, now that it's legal in Michigan.
DISAPPOINTED: That would be the one word I use to describe my first experience with a suppressor.
It was 2012, and I was conducting a range with our Battalion’s Surveillance and Target Acquisition platoon, more commonly known as Scout Snipers. The platoon brought out their issued M4s with Surefire suppressors and conducted a familiarization range. Now, we’ve all seen movies where the actor screws on a silencer and fires a gun without a sound. In reality, that is simply not the case. There was still a “Bang” when you pulled the trigger.
The next disappointment came when I did not hit the target with my first few shots. In the Marine Corps we use Trijicon Rifle Combat Optics (RCO/ACOG) with a bullet drop compensator. With 62 grain “Green Tips,” you hold the reticle on target for the corresponding distance and fire a shot. Simple and effective. When we introduce a suppressor to the equation it alters the balance of your firearm which may change your point of impact. The change in the zero was the main purpose our Snipers conducted their range that day, to find new hold overs where they would know their point of aim and point of impact. Despite inaccurate representations by Hollywood, a suppressor does not directly turn an average shooter into a more lethal and silent movie assassin. Reality may prove the opposite.
Fast forward to February 2016: That “D” word I used earlier instantly vanished and turned to excitement. The Natural Resources Commission voted 4-1 in favor of allowing suppressors for hunting in the state of Michigan. The American Suppressor Association and the National Rifle Association led the initiative with support from the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the Michigan Trapper and Predator Callers Association.
With the aid and assistance from organizations such as the American Suppressor Association, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Safari Club International, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, and the National Rifle Association, the firearm and conservation communities are improving our hunting quality one order and piece of legislation at a time. If you are interested in supporting those who have done much for us, look into becoming a member of these great organizations. The progress they are having on a local, state, and national level is very exciting.
I consider myself a realist and with any topic of debate, I must acknowledge suppressor use has advantages and drawbacks. I immediately thought about the advantage it would give me on wild game, more specifically a coyote, for a follow up shot should I miss. Adding a suppressor helps tame the report of the firearm and would make them less intimidating to youth, women, and elderly hunters. To me this is huge. Recruiting more hunters that enjoy our passion is a great benefit to our community. A third advantage would be protecting our hearing. Our hearing will not improve over time, protecting one of our five senses is crucial for enjoying life later on. Even non hunters may enjoy the benefits of suppressor use by hunters. With an expanding population, noise complaints grow. A waterfowl or upland hunter may keep the neighbors happier with less noise.
Poachers give a horrible name to the members of the hunting community. I dreaded the thought of having an entire hunting season ruined by a poacher who cannot be caught because they use a suppressor. As I have personally spoken with several DNR employees about poaching, I was informed that although it is harder to catch a poacher using a suppressor, it is typically the boastful poacher that gets caught. As sportsmen, we need to police ourselves respectfully and deter poachers who use suppressors illegally. We also need to set the ethical example for future generations. Lastly, purchasing a suppressor requires an FBI background check. That said, anyone who wishes to purchase a suppressor would be a law abiding citizen that typically wouldn’t commit a crime like poaching. The more I thought about poaching the less I believed it would be an issue. If you suspect any poaching report it to the DNR’s Report All Poaching hotline at (800-292-7800).
If you have read this far, the thought of owning a suppressor is growing on you. There are a few steps you will need to take and a little waiting (typical wait time is about 4-9 months currently) and you too can own one. There are several different ways to purchase a suppressor, i.e. as an individual or a trust. I will give a general outline of the process for an individual. Step one is to conduct your research; Find a reputable local dealer, use Google to find and read reviews, and learn all you can before you take the next step. After you find a local dealer, you will need to fill out an ATF Form 4. Then you will need to take passport photos and fingerprints. Next, would be to get the local chief law enforcement officer to sign approval. After receiving written approval, return to the local shop and pay a one-time $200 fee. The waiting game comes next. Once you receive approval back from the ATF you may take your new (and awesome) suppressor home.
Now remember my story about the Snipers who had to refamiliarize themselves with their rifles? This stage is when the real fun happens. There are two types of ammo to consider when using a suppressor; sonic and subsonic. The difference between the two is velocity. Sonic ammunition travels faster than the speed of sound or above 1126 feet per second. If you wish to get the most sound suppression you will need subsonic ammunition that travels below 1126 fps. Keep in mind that the weight of the projectile is another important factor to an ethical kill. Shooting different velocities and projectile weights will change your point of impact. Many ammunition and optic companies and local gun shops will gladly assist you with finding the correct ammo and zero for your intended purpose.
Take the time to get to know your rifle and suppressor. It would be unethical and unsafe if you did not practice. A great day afield can quickly be ruined by a poor shot on wild game.
Stay safe, have fun, fight the good fight.