Thursday, June 12, 2014

UPDATED: Supressor use for hunting in Ohio not getting silent treatment

Ohio’s deer hunters may soon have the opportunity to learn for themselves whether silence truly is golden.

The state is inching toward accepting the use of silencers – a term that is the technical equal to the term suppressors, says the National Rifle Association’s “Firearms Fact Book” – for hunting. Under consideration is a proposal to allow the use of these devices.

Leading the high-decibel exchange in favor of silencer allowance is the Buckeye Firearms Association which has been giving the state legislature an earful on the subject.

While Ohio does allow firearms owners to possess silencers it is one of 10 such states to also prohibit them for use while hunting. Currently 39 states permit silencer ownership and use in one form or another.

Thus the Buckeye Firearms Association’s on-going efforts is designed to see that House Bill 234 makes it through both legislative chambers and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich.

Yet as it now stands The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife is neutral on the subject.

However, the federal government is not so disposed. In fact, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is legislatively mandated to regulate silencers in virtually the same way as it does fully automatic firearms.

Which legally implies that a person desiring to own a silencer must seek out a person possessing what’s called a Class III firearms license, buy the device from that individual, undergo a thorough federal background check, clear a prospective purchase with one’s local police chief or similar law enforcement authority, wait up to six months for approval, pay a $200 federal tax as well as a likely transfer fee from the Class III license holder.

Based on the latest ATF statistics (2012) there were 360,534 licensed silencers in the U.S., including 10,407 in Ohio. The state with the highest number of registered silencers was Texas with 47,712 and the least was Rhode Island with 27.

Then there is the silencer itself; a device that can – and does - cost anywhere from a bare-bones model for $300 on up to $2,500 and even more.

Owners have to understand too that silencers are worse than new-born babies, requiring constant maintenance and attention.

They also can uglify some firearms, critics say, the devices being likened to hunks of cast-iron sewer pipe at the end of a gloriously refined rifle barrel.

Still, anyone thinking of making their own silencer should note that the federal government frowns on that sort of project even more so than it does distilling hooch in the woods.

At least from a wildlife management standpoint, silencers would neither add to nor detract from the ability of Ohio to keep in check the state’s deer herd.

“If it’s an issue at all it would be with law enforcement,” said Mike Tonkovich, the Wildlife Division’s deer management administrator.

Tonkovich said that over decades of observing deer and listening to hunters gripe, praise and question deer behavior, the net belief is that white-tails react in as many different ways to firearms noise  as there are individual deer.

“I really don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference one way or the other,” Tonkovich says of the possibility of allowing silencers for deer hunting. “Maybe it’s just a novelty.”

A possible benefit to silencers, says Tonkovich, is whether the lack of loud gunfire might make firearms usage more palatable in semi-rural/semi-urban areas.

“All safety concerns aside,” Tonkovich also says, “perhaps that will help us better manage urban deer.”

Silencers are not a cure-all nor are they perfect for every hunting situation even some experts and silencer manufacturers note.

Important to consider is the cost over and above the required federal stamp and any dealer transfer fee.

As a for instance, West Valley City, Utah-based SilencerCo. has a model (the Harvester 30) set aside for .30-caliber rifles with a suggested retail price of $750. And the company’s Harvester Big Bore 338 has a retail price of $1,600.

Even the firm’s Warlock 22 for .22-caliber firearms has a suggested retail price that is only one dollar shy of $300.

And while silencers have provided commendable duty in such Scandinavian countries as Finland where the devices are sometimes required on rifles, even one of that nation’s leading manufacturers says placing one on a shotgun poses technical challenges.

Finland’s Reflex Suppressors Company’s web site says this on the adaptation of silencers to shotguns:

“The limitations with suppressing shotguns are: 1 – With standard supersonic ammo the flight noise of shot is so high, that the suppressed noise is only 5-6 dB lower than as (one) unsuppressed.

“If one gets or can load subsonic ammo, the noise reduction is quite enough for hearing protection. 2 - Only single-barrel shotguns can be suppressed with a reasonable amount of work. 3- (A) suppressor affects balance and sight line of the shotgun.”

And the web sites of several other silencer manufacturers as well as those of firearms experts note that properly mounting a device on the end of a rifle barrel is critical for optimum accuracy and effectiveness.

Don’t bother going there with the idea of employing a silencer on a muzzle-loading rifle, experts say.

That is because in all probability a silencer would have to be removed before a round is stuffed down a muzzle-loader’s tube while the matter of black-powder smoke coughing out the end  is something that a silencer cannot cure.

Then too silencers can and do collect moisture as bullets pass through the devices; enough so that if a silencer-equipped rifle is allowed to stand barrel up in a gun vault the water will work its way down into the rifle’s action, some firearms experts have opined.

Silencers further have this dirty habit of attracting the grit and grime from powder residue as the bullet-propelling gases pour out the silencer’s business end.

Undeterred by any negatives-  be they the hoops necessary to legally acquire a silencer, their cost and maintenance, even their bulbous looks - the Buckeye Firearms Association is pressing on and is making legislative headway.

Partly because the volunteer group has demonstrated to legislators that a non-silenced rifle has a decibel level of 160 to 170 dBs while a similar rifle outfitted with a device experiences a noise reduction to around 120 dB.

While 120 decibels is less than the pain threshold (130 decibels) it is still more than for either the noise erupting from a rock concert (110 decibels) or what roars from a motorcycle engine (100 decibels).

Just as importantly, says the Firearms Association, there is no case history recorded by the Wildlife Division of a poacher employing a silencer, either.

Other benefits cited by the pro-firearms group includes oft-times increased rifle accuracy and reduced muzzle blast.

Besides, making choices is what being an American firearms owner is all about, says Larry Moore.

“Exactly” says Moore . “We should have the freedom to make our own decisions.”

Moore is an official with the Firearms Association and is an expert on the topic who has offered testimony before the state legislature.

Besides, says Moore, if silencers are legal now than they also should be legally allowed for hunting, particularly with the so-called modern sporting rifles which increasingly are becoming popular with varmint hunters.

“It’s an option we should be allowed to have, no question,” Moore says. “There simply is no reason to deny us from being allowed to use suppressors for hunting, especially when there is no Ohio law preventing us from owning them.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who  covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. During his 30 years with The News-Herald Jeff was the recipient of more than 100 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.

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