A hunter kneels in a field admiring a harvested whitetail deer with suppressed rifle nearby
The author used a suppressed rifle to take this nice whitetail buck. Blane Everett

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Last year I was on safari in Africa with my friends Bill and Ray Mazelin from Wyoming. We frequently safari together, and I’d brought my first suppressor for hunting in Africa. Those boys never hunt unsuppressed, and for two weeks they bombarded me with all the reasons you should always hunt with a suppressed rifle. I’ll admit that after that safari and a full year of hunting suppressed, I’m beginning to better hear what they’ve been preaching. In many situations, hunting with a suppressor is pretty much a no-brainer, and the practice should be far, far more common than it is. That said, I’m not convinced that every hunter should use a suppressor all the time. So, should you hunt suppressed? Let’s look at the all key considerations.

The What and Why of Hunting With a Suppressor

An African tracker advises a hunter who is using a suppressor on his rifle.
The author confers with his tracker while hunting in Africa recently with suppressed rifle. Sabastian “Bat” Mann

For any newcomers who don’t already know, a suppressor, also commonly referred to as a silencer, is a cylindrical device that screws onto the muzzle of a gun barrel, designed to dampen the sound of a shot. You can see one on the rifle in the photo above and read all about how they work here.

Obviously, suppressors protect your hearing and should be considered a firearms safety device. But they also reduce recoil, and this helps hunters shoot better. I strongly believe a suppressed rifle also spooks game less, including the animal you’ve just shot. And of course, reduced muzzle blast spooks hunters less as too. For all these reasons, professional hunters in Africa and hunting guides everywhere appreciate suppressors. To that point, African P.H. Geoffrey Wayland says: “With the modern advancements in rifles and silencers, in most cases it’s ungentlemanly and somewhat rude to shoot an unsuppressed rifle in the company of others.”

Over the last year, I’ve learned a whole lot about hunting with suppressors. If you are thinking about screwing one on to the end of your rifle, I would say that there are five key things you should consider first that you might not have thought about. Here they are.

1. Consider a shorter rifle for hunting with a suppressor.

Last year my daughter’s first safari was a perfect example of how a suppressor can make hunting better. She’s 20 years old, stands 5 feet tall, and weighs 100 pounds. I set her up with a Kimber Hunter in 308 Winchester with a 22 inch barrel. Out of the box that rifle was nearly 42 inches long. The suppressor tamed the recoil of the Supercharged Buffalo Bore ammo, and she shot extremely well, taking a gemsbok, wildebeest, and a zebra, each with one shot.

Young woman hunting with a suppressor standing over an African gemsbok.
The author’s daughter took this gemsbok with a suppressed 308 Winchester. Sabastian “Bat” Mann

But the Banish 30 suppressor added seven inches to the rifle, pushing it to 49 inches; it was only 11 inches shorter than her and even a bit long for the average grown man. After the safari, I sent the gun to OutKast Arms and had them restock the rifle with a shorter length of pull, cut the barrel to 18 inches, and rethread it. I had to go the custom route because she wanted to keep hunting with her African rifle. It’s pretty much perfect now. Fortunately, the current trend with modern hunting rifles is shorter barrels that are more suppressor compatible in terms of length.

A Kimber rifle with suppressor attached to a tree stand rail.
The restocked rifle with shortened barrel. Richard Mann

2. Consider a lighter rifle.

But there’s still the problem of additional weight on the end of a rifle barrel, because adding a suppressor dramatically changes the rifle’s balance point. Rifle balance is critical to offhand shooting, especially at a moving target. A butt-heavy rifle handles responsively, and a muzzle-heavy rifle seems to hang on target better. But for most hunting, the ideal balance point is right between your hands. It’s a balance that’s near impossible to obtain once you install a suppressor.

Just this year in Africa, I hunted with a Wilson Combat NULA in 358 Winchester with a 16-inch barrel. Scoped, that rifle weighs less than 6 pounds, but the Banish 46 suppressor I used increased the weight to about 7 pounds. That’s manageable, but the addition of a pound to the end of the barrel complicated things.

A hunter harvested warthog on a rock with a suppressed rifle laid over it.
The author hunted Africa this year with a suppressed Wilson Combat NULA in 358 Winchester. Richard Mann

After a long stalk, we jumped a kudu bull, and I shot him as he was running away at about 60 yards. He turned broadside and continued to run, and I simply could not track him well enough to get another hit. It felt like I was trying to control a rifle with a bowling ball hanging on the end of the barrel. For most other shots, it wasn’t a problem, but you need to think about how you’ll use a suppressed rifle.

It terms of overall weight, however, rifle manufacturers are responding to the suppressor trend by offering not just shorter but also lighter rifles. The 16-inch barreled version of the Springfield-Armory Redline weighs in at only 6 pounds and is less than a meter long. The Wilson Combat NULA Model 20 with the same barrel length is a full pound lighter and less than a yard long. Both are perfect examples of this new suppressor-friendly rifle trend, but both are also a bit pricey. A new soon-to-be released Mossberg Patriot Predator is much more affordable, will have a 16-inch threaded barrel, and will weigh about 6.5 pounds. Six hunters and I recently tested a prototype of this rifle in Africa.

A shooter works the bolt of a suppressed Mossberg rifle.
This prototype Mossberg Patriot Predator has been configured with a short barrel just for suppressed hunting. Sabastian “Bat” Mann

3. Consider shortening and threading your rifle’s barrel.

A lot of hunters have a rifle they really like and do not want to purchase a new rifle just so it will better interface with them when shooting suppressed. That means some custom work is required. This can be tricky, because it’s not uncommon for inexperienced gunsmiths to muck this up and fail to thread the barrel on the centerline with the bore. The good news for hunters is that Silencer Central offers this service for less than $200, including shipping.

4. Don’t discount rifle balance with a suppressor.

So, we’ve established that suppressors that unbalance your rifle are a problem, but suppressors are getting lighter. The Banish Backcountry silencer only weighs about 7 ounces. Combined with a short-barrel rifle—particularly one with a thin taper or that is carbon-fiber wrapped—the added muzzle weight does not render the rifles useless for anything other than stationary shots.

Banish Backcountry suppressor on a white background.
At just 7 ounces, Silencer Central’s Banish Backcountry suppressor is less apt to ruin the balance of your rifle. Richard Mann

But rifles chambered for cartridges larger than .30-caliber—like that 358 I used in Africa—require larger and heavier suppressors. For those who are hunting in straight-wall cartridge states—using 0.35 to 0.45-caliber rifles—this is a problem. Silencer Central is currently working on a smaller and lighter silencer to help with this, but right now large caliber rifles mandate heavy suppressors. When that big buck busts from cover at 40 yards, you’re going to have to manage that weight as you try to swing through him and make the shot. Or just pass it up and wait for a better chance.

5. Take a hunting test drive with a suppressor.

A woman prepared to test fire a rifle with a suppressor as her guide looks on.
Try shooting with a suppressor first before fully committing. Sabastian “Bat” Mann

Because of how suppressors can dramatically impact the feel and handling of a hunting rifle, I’d strongly suggest trying any can you’re considering on your rifle before writing the check. (You can read about what is required to buy a suppressor here.) This will help you decide if it’s something you think you can live with, and it can prevent buyer’s remorse. Because of the tax stamp required when transferring a suppressor, it’s easier to trade in a car than a silencer. Make sure you get what you want the first time.

Bottom Line: Hunting Suppressed Is Great Most of the Time, But Not All

A hunter screws a suppressor to the end of a rifle barrel.
The author screws a suppressor to the end of his rifle barrel. Sabastian “Bat” Mann

After spending so much time recently hunting with a suppressor, including while testing those new Mossberg rifles in Africa, I’m now more convinced that hunting suppressed is pretty much a no-brainer in situations where rifle balance isn’t a major consideration. It’s hard to overstate the advantages of reduced noise and recoil when it comes to accurate field shooting.

I now mostly agree with my friends, the Mazelin brothers from Wyoming, who have pushed me so hard to turn down the volume of my hunting rifles. But, as someone who grew up chasing whitetails in woods, I do not agree that a suppressed hunting rifle is always the best approach. Sometimes a fast-handling rifle that’s agile and responsive in hand outweighs the benefits of a noise- and recoil-taming muzzle device. In the end, you need to think about the job or jobs you need your rifle to do and then decide if a suppressor makes sense. Of course, the real no-brainer is to just get more rifles, some suppressed, some not.

The post Hunting with a Suppressor: 5 Key Considerations appeared first on Field & Stream.

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