According to their portrayal in movies and TV, the chief purpose of suppressors (aka "silencers") is quiet, quick mafia assassinations, silently dispatching the guards in a casino or storming a jungle compound in camouflage face paint.
Additionally, whenever suppressors are used, they make that whisper-quiet spit-hiss noise you wouldn't hear in the next room. But, of course, the reality is quite a bit different in most ways.
For one, suppressors have a place outside the TV and film world of secret agents and covert warfare.
At firing ranges in Europe, for instance, suppressors were common and often required to minimize noise pollution. The same principle has inspired tens of thousands of gun owners in the United States to purchase suppressors.
They have also become increasingly popular for hunting. However, that popularity raises a few practical questions. First, why are suppressors becoming so popular?
And, if some calibers (and loads) are better suited for use with suppressors (and there are), what are they?
Popular Ammunition Calibers for Suppressors
When it comes to selecting the best ammunition calibers for suppressors, there are a few factors to consider, including subsonic velocity, bullet weight, and compatibility with suppressor designs.
Suppressors, also known as silencers, are designed to reduce the noise and muzzle blast generated by firing a firearm. Here are some popular ammunition calibers that work well with suppressors:
The 9mm Luger (9x19mm) is a widely used pistol caliber that is ideal for suppressed shooting. It offers a good balance between magazine capacity, recoil, and noise reduction.
Subsonic 9mm ammunition, coupled with a quality suppressor, can significantly reduce both the noise and recoil associated with shooting.
The .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) is a popular caliber for handguns. While it may not be as common as 9mm, it has a larger bullet diameter and typically operates at subsonic velocities, making it an excellent choice for suppressed shooting.
The .45 ACP is known for its heavy and slow-moving bullets, which can further aid in noise reduction.
.300 AAC Blackout
The .300 AAC Blackout is a versatile and effective caliber specifically designed for use with suppressors. It offers subsonic and supersonic loadings, making it adaptable for various shooting applications.
Subsonic .300 Blackout rounds, when used with a suppressor, provide excellent noise reduction and improved terminal ballistics at shorter ranges.
The .22 Long Rifle (LR) is a small, rimfire cartridge commonly used in handguns and rifles. While it may not be as powerful as centerfire calibers, it is inherently quiet and well-suited for suppressed shooting.
Subsonic .22 LR ammunition combined with a suppressor can create an almost whisper-quiet shooting experience, making it ideal for plinking and small game hunting.
5.56mm NATO/.223 Remington
While the 5.56mm NATO and .223 Remington rounds are typically associated with loud and high-velocity shooting, they can be effectively suppressed when using subsonic ammunition.
Subsonic loads in these calibers provide reduced noise and recoil, making them a viable option for those wanting to use their AR-15 rifles quietly.
.45 ACP vs. 9mm Ammo for Suppressors
The name of the game for suppressor effectiveness isn't actually the size of the caliber - it's actually the speed of the bullet.
Bullets that break the sound barrier, supersonic, are less effectively suppressed than subsonic rounds that don't.
During World War II, the British took full advantage of the .45 ACP being subsonic by producing the "De Lisle carbine," a commando carbine fitted with an integrated (internal) suppressor for their special forces.
It is reported to be one of the quietest firearms ever produced. The difference is that a bullet breaking the sound barrier makes a pronounced crack that a suppressor can do nothing to suppress.
That's not to say that suppressors are rendered useless by supersonic ammo; their effectiveness is simply limited by it.
The “Old” Pistol Calibers and Rifles
Before the "hotter" 9mm loads and other more modern calibers, subsonic ammunition for handguns was traditionally the norm.
As such, the handguns with which suppressors tend to naturally be most effective are the "older" calibers: .22 LR ammo, .25 ACP ammo, .32 ACP ammo, .380 ACP ammo, and, of course, .45 ACP ammo.
(Again, if you prefer or only own a 9mm pistol, many terrific subsonic 9mm ammunition types are available.)
A great option for suppressed rifle shooting is .300 AAC Blackout. The Blackout results from military brass looking for a subsonic caliber that could be effectively suppressed but packed a solid punch for close-range combat.
The 5.56 NATO cartridge and its civilian cousin, the .223 Remington, are traditionally supersonic and, therefore, less effectively suppressed. (Although, once more, subsonic 5.56 NATO and .223 Remington cartridges are available.)
That has made the .300 AAC Blackout an extremely popular suppressed hunting load for mid-to-large-sized game at medium distances.
Since situational awareness, including uninhibited hearing, is often essential to hunters, it's clear why suppressed hunting is becoming as popular as it is.
Choosing the Right Suppressor by Caliber
Choosing the right suppressor for a specific caliber involves considering several key factors. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you make an informed decision:
- Determine the Caliber: Identify the specific caliber(s) for which you want a suppressor. This could be a handgun caliber (e.g., 9mm, .45 ACP) or a rifle caliber (e.g., .308 Winchester, 5.56mm NATO).
- Consider Intended Use: Determine the primary purpose of the suppressor. Are you looking to reduce noise for recreational shooting, improve accuracy for precision shooting, or mitigate recoil for competitive shooting? Different suppressor designs excel in specific applications.
- Research Suppressor Manufacturers: Look for reputable suppressor manufacturers known for their quality, durability, and performance. Read reviews, seek recommendations from experienced shooters, and consider factors such as warranty, customer service, and availability.
- Check Caliber Compatibility: Ensure the suppressor you are interested in is designed to handle the caliber(s) you plan to use. Most suppressors have specific caliber ratings, and using them outside of their intended range can lead to damage or decreased performance.
- Consider Suppressor Design: There are various suppressor designs, including pistol suppressors, rifle suppressors, and multi-caliber suppressors. Choose a design that matches your firearm type and desired versatility. For example, multi-caliber suppressors allow you to use them on different firearms with compatible calibers.
- Assess Suppressor Features: Look for features that align with your preferences and shooting requirements. These can include weight, length, attachment method (direct thread, quick-detach, etc.), sound reduction performance, and maintenance requirements. Some suppressors offer modular or user-configurable options for adaptability.
- Check Local Laws: Familiarize yourself with the legal regulations and requirements regarding suppressor ownership and use in your jurisdiction. Ensure that the suppressor you choose is compliant with local laws and regulations.
Choosing the right suppressor by caliber involves careful consideration of your specific needs, intended use, and compatibility factors.
By conducting thorough research, seeking advice, and making an informed decision, you can find the suppressor that best matches your requirements and enhances your shooting experience.
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