Many people have learned much of what they "know" about firearms from the movies. This includes the devices commonly known as "silencers." Even the name is misleading. A sound suppressor does not silence a firearm completely in most cases. What it does do is reduce the noise level while greatly reducing the muzzle blast and flash. Sound suppressors have been in use for over 100 years. Until the National Firearms Act of 1934, people in the United States could buy sound suppressors in gun stores or even hardware stores. Sound suppressors are now heavily regulated in the U.S. and in many countries. Curiously, however, some nations place few restrictions on sound suppressors or even require their use, in order to reduce the "noise pollution" associated with target shooting and hunting.
Legal purchase of a sound suppressor in the United States is administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE). Before the purchase can be made, the person must undergo the application process, which includes paying a $200 tax and undergoing a criminal background check. Some purchasers are surprised to find that sound suppressors in the US are often very expensive -- in many cases exceeding the cost of the firearm they are to be used with. In some states -- including California, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and some others -- sound suppressors are completely banned for ordinary citizens. In states that allow suppressors, there may be purchase requirements in addition to those required by the federal government.
Purchasing a sound suppressor will be seen by some preppers as a violation of OPSEC. Suppressors are also likely to draw unwanted attention if used at a public range. Additionally, they are bulky and add weight to a firearm, and their width can block the view through the sights of some firearms. Adding a sound suppressor to my favorite squirrel rifle would make it much less fun to carry in the woods, even if it didn't block the sights.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN
On the other hand, the ability to shoot with less noise has several advantages. In addition to allowing early-morning shooting at urban or suburban ranges without disturbing nearby neighbors, a quiet firearm is a wonderful tool for training. New shooters are often intimidated by the loud noises associated with firearms, and this can contribute to flinching.
If the suppression reduces the sound sufficiently, hearing protection may be deemed unnecessary. This means greater comfort, especially for those who complain of discomfort caused by ear plugs or other hearing protection. A quieter range can also be a safer range, as range master commands are more easily heard by shooters and spectators. Eye protection, however, must always be worn whenever firearms are in use. I have been struck by a ricocheting .22LR bullet that struck a hard object and bounced straight back at me. It caused no injury, but it drove home the need to always wear eye protection.
In the hunting camp, a quiet firearm may give the hunter the ability to take small game near camp without alarming his or her partners or spooking larger game animals that may be grazing in the vicinity. When hunting small game, such as squirrels, being able to shoot with less noise may allow more animals to be taken in one location, without a loud report to scare the animals from the vicinity.
For the survivalist, the prepper, or even the rural homesteader, there are huge advantages to being able to shoot with less noise. On a working farm, more shots are probably fired at pests or predators than are ever fired at game animals. At my sister's ranch near Ukiah, California, I learned as a child just how many animals are fond of free range chickens! Several years later, while working as the range master at a Boy Scout camp outside Boonville, California, I used a quiet rifle for early morning rodent elimination near the range. The low report didn't disturb sleeping campers on the other side of the hill.
Operational security is another very important reason to look for ways to reduce gunshot noise. Anyone who has been outdoors during hunting season knows that rifle fire can be heard for a considerable distance. A low profile is vital, especially in the weeks or months after a calamity, when elements of the Golden Horde may be on the move nearby.
Surprisingly, the ability to shoot quietly may be even more important to preppers who are near suburban or urban areas. As we have seen in the wake of disasters, sometimes people are left to fend for themselves -- without power, phone, or other means of calling for help -- for weeks at a time. Flood waters and lack of proper sanitation may bring rats, mice and other potential disease vectors closer to homes. With no one to call, it would be helpful to have a way to deal with such a threat. At the same time, the days after a disaster are not a good time to be shatter the now-quiet neighborhood with gunshots. Even if it is a genuine emergency, such as a rabid animal threatening your household, caution is warranted. And changing technologies have made discretion even more important than before.
BIG BROTHER IS LISTENING
"One's a backfire. Three is gunplay." - James Caan in The Way of the Gun
It's a great movie line, but it's no longer the case. A single gunshot used to be a transitory event: a loud noise that could be mistaken for fireworks, a board being dropped, or something else. People would tend to perk up, and if the noise wasn't repeated, they would forget about it. In many urban areas, a single gunshot didn't even warrant a call to the police, and there was little chance of pinpointing its origin if they were called. In my neighborhood in Oakland, California in the 1980s, gunfire at night was a common sound, and we rarely saw a police car coming to investigate unless someone was hit and 9-1-1 was called. Now, however, cities like Oakland are using new technologies, such as microphones on cell phone towers, utility poles, or rooftops to record, identify and quickly triangulate the location of a gunshot ("Shot Spotter" - WIRED Magazine, March 2007). With the relaxation of restrictions, drones may soon join the ranks of urban listeners.
Once a gunshot is identified and located, police are alerted by the system and can be given an exact street address and the time of the gunshot. During a grid-up emergency, one could imagine that authorities would continue to rely on gunshot location networks. It could make for an ugly situation if you dispatch a rabid skunk while cleaning up after a hurricane, only to have the National Guard show up, looking for a possible sniper.
Over the years, I've had a number of people ask me about alternatives to firearms for pest elimination and small game hunting. The tools asked about have included airguns, bows and arrows, crossbows, blowguns, slingshots, slings, and even darts and thrown knives. Some of these -- particularly airguns -- can be quite effective, but all have their own limitations. Some stray into the realm of fantasy (slings and throwing weapons).
Modern airguns can be powerful, insanely accurate, and are sized for adults. Unfortunately, some of them are also loud enough to cause troubles of their own. None of the high-quality airguns are inexpensive, and they are somewhat specialized tools. One of the quieter air rifles, however, could serve for quiet pest elimination and for practice. Once the initial investment is made, further costs are not prohibitive. Pellets can be bought by the thousands, and quality airguns last a long time and are not maintenance-intensive.
Blowguns can be very accurate within their limits, but they are a short-range proposition and lack stopping power. They are also banned in California -- and probably in some other jurisdictions. Bows and crossbows seem rather clumsy for dealing with an animal in the yard or garden, and short-range shots in that environment will be destructive to arrows and bolts. Additionally, most people lack the skill level to make this a viable choice: a limitation which also applies to slingshots. Of course, a skilled shooter with a slingshot can be very impressive. I've seen small game animals dropped with a .38 round ball from a slingshot as though they'd been hit between the eyes with a hammer. Of all the non-gun weapons, a quality slingshot is probably the most practical, provided the shooter takes the time to acquire the necessary skill.
QUIET RIMFIRE AMMUNITION
The ideal solution for many of us would be using a firearm that we are already proficient with, but to somehow make the gun quiet on demand. Special rimfire ammunition renders a long-barreled .22 rifle nearly silent without any muzzle device, special permit or other trouble. The handling qualities of the rifle are unaffected, and there is no suppressor tube to intrude into the sight picture. I have found this special ammo useful for pests and for training without the need for hearing protection.
The ideal rifle for quiet rimfire shooting has a barrel length of 24 inches or longer. I have experimented with other barrel lengths. It came as a surprise to find that a 22-inch barrel with quiet rimfire ammo was significantly louder than the same ammunition out of the longer barrel. Generally, the shorter the barrel, the louder the report will be, but the sound of the shot will still be quieter than standard .22LR high velocity ammunition.
Semiauto rifles may not cycle with quiet ammunition, as it generates less energy than regular ammo. In this case, of course, the action can be manually cycled between shots. Some quiet ammo, due to the overall length of the rounds, may also have issues in feeding from a magazine.
I have experimented with two types of quiet rimfire ammunition in particular. There are other choices available, but the two types looked at here would be a good starting point. Every rimfire rifle is a law unto itself: what shoots accurately in my rifle may not do so in yours, and vice versa. You should be ready to try different types of ammunition until you find one that shoots accurately in your rifle. Fortunately, rimfire ammo is inexpensive and is not particularly hard to find. I've even seen Quiet-22 ammo (described below) in Wal-Mart recently, alongside some .22 Short loads that I plan to try out soon.
CCI .22 CB LONG
The CCI .22 CB Long round was designed to overcome shortcomings of the various .22 BB Cap (Bulleted Breech Cap), .22 CB Cap (Conical Ball Cap) and .22 Short loadings. These rounds offered low noise and reduced velocity, but their short lengths affected feeding, in addition to possible chamber fouling issues (discussed below). CCI combined the .22 Long case (which is the same length as the Long Rifle case) with a light, 29-grain solid-point bullet (which was a normal weight for the Long, back when the round was popular).
The CCI .22 CB Long round contains a small powder charge, to produce a lower muzzle velocity than standard .22 ammunition. With the light bullet, its loaded length is a little shorter than regular .22LR rounds. It feeds reliably in some actions, but may have issues with others. You need to try it in your own firearm to see if it feeds consistently. Its light powder charge is not strong enough to work the action in most semiauto firearms.
The advantage of the CB Long becomes evident when you fire it. From a barrel of 24 inches or longer, the report is quieter than the sound of the bullet hitting the target. Even indoors or at a range with a roof and dividers between firing stations, the noise is so low that hearing protection is not needed (although eye protection is always necessary). It is quieter than many high-powered air rifles, and the report does not sound like a gunshot.
From shorter barrels, the noise level increases. It is still much quieter than .22LR high-velocity ammunition, but it is loud enough to carry over short distances. As barrel length decreases, the noise level increases. My suspicion is that all of the powder is burned, even when the round is fired in shorter barrels. The longer barrel likely provides room for the gases to expand, so that the residual pressure is reduced, with a corresponding reduction in report when the gas is released by the exit of the bullet. In shorter barrels, the higher gas pressures increase the noise level. Even in short-barreled youth carbines, however, the .22 CB Longs offer a gentler report than one finds with regular .22 ammunition. A pair of foam ear plugs is adequate ear protection, and people a short distance from the shooter will not experience discomfort.
I have experienced very good accuracy out to 25 yards with the CCI .22 CB Longs, and the bullets hit harder than you might think. I have killed a number of very large rats with this ammo -- with head shots -- and have no complaints about its killing power on rodents. The 29-grain bullet is much heavier than the airgun pellets that many shooters use on rodents and similar-sized small game, although the muzzle velocity will likely be lower than that of an airgun meant for hunting.
A newer round from CCI is the Quiet-22, which uses a 40-grain bullet and looks like a regular .22LR cartridge. The Quiet-22 round seems to feed very well in repeating actions, although it will probably not have enough pressure to operate a semiauto. Like the CB Long round, CCI decided to use a round-nose, solid-point bullet. This looks like a good choice, in that the velocity advertised on the box is 710 feet per second -- probably not enough for expansion with a hollow-point bullet.
The Quiet-22 quickly became one of my favorite ammunition choices for use in my Stevens 86C. This bolt action has a long barrel and is very quiet with the CCI Quiet-22 ammo. Quiet-22 feeds reliably from the tubular magazine and is only slightly louder -- to my ears -- than the CB Long cartridge. The bullet strike is still the loudest sound. I can shoot in the early morning at a suburban range without complaints from anyone in nearby houses. Even someone in the parking lot of the range would not likely hear the shots!
Buy some of this ammunition, and I believe you will like it as much as I do. I liked it so much, that after trying it, I bought two cases (2,000 rounds) of the stuff! The CCI Quiet-22 load does most of the things that I use a .22 rifle for. It just does them with less noise.
There are other types of ammunition intended for quiet shooting, such as the Aguila Colibri and SSS (Super Subsonic Sniper) rounds. I would encourage anyone looking for a way to shoot quietly and accurately to buy a few boxes and give them a try. As most of us know, every .22 is unique, and it's impossible to predict with any certainty which type of ammo will be best in a particular gun. Variables such as barrel length, twist rate, bore diameter, chamber dimensions and other variables can greatly affect how ammunition performs in that firearm. The Aguila SSS, for example, has a very heavy (60 grain), long bullet that may perform best with a fast rifling twist for greater stability. I have heard a wide variety of reactions to it, in terms of accuracy. Some love it, and some hate it, but you should decide for yourself with your rifle.
Don't forget the traditional "low-noise" rounds: the .22 BB Cap, .22 CB Cap, and the .22 Short. The first two may be hard to find nowadays, and the truly tiny case length of the BB and CB Cap cartridges probably won't permit them to feed in repeating actions. They can be single-loaded directly into the chamber of the rifle, however, and they generally have little or no powder charge, making them very quiet for practice, training and plinking. The .22 Short can still be found on gun store shelves and even in Wal-Mart. It will probably be quieter than regular .22LR ammo, especially in long-barreled rifles.
You may hear that short-cased ammunition will cause problems in rifles chambered for the .22LR cartridge. Most of this is probably due to rifles that were fired extensively with short-cased ammo and not cleaned properly. Most of us are not likely to use huge quantities of .22 Short ammunition, but if we make a point of scrubbing the chamber afterwards, it should not be an issue.
One point about the .22 Short: like all the cartridges discussed here, it should be treated like a full-power .22 high-velocity round in terms of safety practices. Don't forget that the .22 Short was originally a defensive round (loaded with black powder) and that it was carried for that purpose by soldiers in the 1860s in the Civil War. None of the rounds in this article can be treated casually. All of them could be be lethal if mishandled. All normal safety rules must apply.
For any who are wondering whether they should bother with quiet rimfire shooting, I ask: Why not? If you're like me, much of your rimfire shooting with rifles falls under training, teaching, and plinking, and these tasks might be done just as well with quiet ammo as with full-power stuff, only with less noise.
Quiet rimfire ammo truly shines in use with young or novice shooters. Although there is almost no recoil with standard bulk pack .22LR HVHP ammo, the noise level is high enough to induce flinching, especially if the shooter is too small for the ear muffs to fit properly.
For hunting or discrete pest elimination, these rounds will do the job on rodents with good bullet placement. I would hesitate to go after anything larger than a rabbit, however, unless there was a pressing need for both meat and keeping a low noise profile. For a suspected rabid animal that was much larger, like a dog, I would much prefer a centerfire carbine round to the body, to stop the animal as quickly as possible while preserving the animal's head for later testing.
I recommend Quiet-22 as a starting point for your explorations into quiet rimfire shooting. With its 40-grain bullet and Long Rifle case, it should feed in most actions, and the standard-weight bullet should be compatible with the rifling in most firearms. It should also provide more killing power against small animals than .22 Short or .22 Long cartridges. Quiet-22 seems to be fairly easy to find, and it cost me about five cents a round from Midway USA -- not much more than "bulk pack" .22 LR ammunition from Wal-Mart.
Be careful with all of these loads! Treat them as you would any firearm ammunition and follow all safety rules.