If you’re anything like me, I grew up hunting with rifles and shotguns and never used hearing protection. Sure, I’d throw in a set of plugs at the range, but I certainly didn’t hunt with any type of hearing protection. After all, how could you listen for game or hear your Dad’s last-minute advice about shot placement if your ears were stopped up?
By Eric Conn, Managing Editor
Gun Digest the Magazine
As most old timers and military vets can attest, that exposure to gunfire without protection can and will destroy your hearing. I remember one specific incident from my youth when, kneeling next to my brother and his muzzle-braked .300 Win. Mag., the shot rang out and left my ears ringing for at least 20 minutes afterward. That’s damage that can’t be undone.
Fast forward a decade or so to this fall when I headed down to Mellon Creek Outfitters near Refugio, Texas, to participate in a cull deer hunt with SilencerCo, Trijicon and Timney Triggers. We’d be using SilencerCo’s Omega and Harvester suppressors, both of which are ideal for big game hunting. The cans are built to work with any caliber larger than 5.56mm up to .300 Win. Mag. and feature a built-in Anchor Brake for added recoil reduction.
Suppressors get a bad name in the U.S., probably because we associate them with Hollywood’s depictions of assassins and hit men. What’s interesting, however, is that gun-unfriendly places like Britain actually require hunters to use suppressors because they protect hearing and greatly reduce noise pollution.
It also doesn’t help that suppressors are included in the National Firearms Act (NFA), which requires a $200 tax stamp and a mile of red tape and paperwork for personal ownership of a suppressor. That could soon change, however, with the introduction of the Hearing Protection Act (HPA), which would remove suppressors from this ill-conceived legislation. When it comes right down to it, owning a suppressor is a matter of personal safety and should be treated as such.
All Quiet on the Southern Front
I’ll be honest, until the South Texas hunt, I’d considered suppressors somewhat of a novelty for hunters. Sure, they’re cool, but are they really necessary? Is it worth all the hassle? The trip to Mellon Creek would put that question to the ultimate test. I’d be shooting bolt-action rifles in everything from .300 AAC Blackout (BLK) to .30-06, topped with either the Omega or the Harvester 30.
The Harvester 30 is the lightest direct-thread suppressor in existence, weighing just 11 ounces and measuring 8.8 inches in length, and is rated for semi-auto firearms. The Omega is constructed from titanium, weighs 14 ounces, is rated for full-auto and is an inch shorter than the Harvester 30. The Omega comes in at $1,100, while the Harvester 30 sells for $704. The great thing about either can is the versatility—as long as you’ve got the same barrel threading, both suppressors will fit any big game hunting rifle up to .300 Win. Mag.
At the range with SilencerCo’s Darren Jones, the Omega made the .300 BLK sound about like an air gun. I was more interested, however, to see what happened with larger caliber hunting rounds like the .308 Win. According to test data, most suppressors reduce noise by about 25 to 30 decibels (dB), roughly the same as earmuffs or plugs, and SilencerCo claims the Harvester reduces .300 Win. Mag. felt recoil to the level of a .243 Win. I cranked a Barnes TSX in .308 into the Tikka T3 CTR I’d be using most of the week and squeezed off a round. Not only was recoil substantially reduced, I was able to comfortably make the shot without earmuffs. In terms of accuracy, I was placing three-shot groups well under 1 inch at 100 yards. We got dialed in and headed to the field.
Get Your Cull On
Cull hunting is a bit different than any experience I’d had growing up in the West, since it’s mainly about managing enormous herd numbers on private property. On ranches like Mellon Creek, which can exceed 10,000 acres or more, it rests on landowners to manage herd numbers and carrying capacity by culling does and underdeveloped bucks. Guides play an integral role in determining which deer need to be culled, and meat is donated to local churches and food banks. For a gun writer, it’s also a fantastic opportunity to test firearms and equipment in a real-world environment since you’re able to shoot multiple deer.
I set the Tikka T3 on the sticks, centered the crosshairs of the AccuPower scope at the top of its shoulders and the base of the neck, took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger. In what would become one of my favorite benefits of hunting with the Harvester, I heard the crack of the shot, which was quickly overpowered by the wallop of that TSX bullet colliding with beastly flesh. At those ranges the guides suggest neck shots, and with the TSX bullet every deer I shot in the neck was anchored in place.
On one particular stalk, my guide, Trevor, stood in the brush glassing a foursome of bucks in a recently cut field. I stood behind him, counting the hundreds of mosquitos congregating on his head, back and legs. I tried not to think of how many of those suckers were on my back, but it was damn near impossible as I ran my hand across my face like a windshield wiper just so I could see. We made a hurried walk around a patch of mesquite, while Trevor set the shooting sticks out before me.
“There’s three bucks. We want the one on the left,” he said. “It’s right at 130 yards. You good with that shot?”
The Harvester reduces the concussive noise of the shot to the extent that the loudest thing you hear is the impact of the bullet, basically eliminating the oft-asked question, “Did I hit it?” Likewise, I’d talk back and forth with my guide as we worked up to the shot, not needing to worry about getting our eardrums blasted out. At least a half dozen shots were made from the truck, which has a tendency to maximize noise, and even then we didn’t need plugs.
After a week hunting with the Harvester, my line of thinking changed from “Why would you use a suppressor for hunting?” to “Why wouldn’t you?” Sure, the price is an obstacle and the governmental hassle factor is high (hopefully, that changes soon), but it’s still worth the effort. I’d rather fork over $1,000 now and save my hearing than spend that money on medical bills and a lifetime supply of hearing aids and batteries. I’d like to be able to hear my grandkids giggling in the living room without me saying “Huh?” every time one of them speaks.
Ranging with Radius
The other cool toy we got to play with was SilencerCo’s new Radius ($999), a rail-mounted rangefinder capable of handling distances out to a mile (depending on light conditions and surfaces). The device can be turned on or off at the body, or by a wired switch, and can be set to continually range wherever your crosshairs are aimed. At first this seemed like overkill, but it’s absolutely awesome when tracking a moving animal across a field. You can follow the animal in the scope and, with a mere glance upward, find the range simultaneously. You can mount the Radius wherever you’ve got rail space, or it is available with a mount for the top of your scope.
My other initial concern was the added weight and potentially limited mobility of the rifle with a Radius attached, but it proved to be a non-factor. We swung it in and out of truck windows and hauled it through the South Texas brush, and in both cases it worked well. It does add weight to the rifle, which means it’s probably not suited for every situation—a weeklong hunting-by-backpack trip comes to mind—but from the truck to treestand it’s worth the weight.
Most of the man-on-the-street, anecdotal data I’ve gathered suggests that a lot of hunters are at least a bit skeptical about employing a suppressor on their deer or elk rifle. Some think it’s an unnecessary novelty, while others buy the line that only people with the last name of Bourne need them. From my experience hunting with the Harvester and Omega, however, I’ve become a convert to the suppressor movement. Bottom line, it’s a great way to protect your hearing, reduce recoil and make the shooting experience more enjoyable. What’s not to love about that?
From Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine, the 2016 Whitetails Wall Calendar features the work of deer researchers Wayne Laroche and Charlie Alsheimer, who reveal the 2016 whitetail rut prediction, based on years of lunar cycle research. Utilize this deer moon phase calendar to find out which days the deer will be seeking and chasing so you can time the rut for the best time to hunt.