Editor’s note: Click here for an update of this article.
Many a feral hog and varmint coyote in Texas have fallen to shots muffled by sound suppressors, but it’s not legal in this state to use “silencers” on game animals, including deer.
That could change next season if the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission agrees to allow these devices for hunting everything except waterfowl and upland game.
No formal action by the full commission would happen at least until the commission’s meeting in March, said Scott Vaca, assistant chief of TPWD’s law enforcement division.
So far, 39 states, including Texas, allow people to own sound suppressors, as long as they have federal permits for them. But Texas is also among 20 states that currently don’t allow using them on game animals, according to the newly formed American Silencer Association.
Backers of the plan, primarily sound suppressor dealers, say silencers offer several advantages.
Chief among them is protecting a shooter’s hearing, according to the ASA. And by cutting the noise, hunters can hear well in the field.
“I’m a deer hunter,” said ASA president Scott Bittner of Amarillo, “but I don’t like wearing hearing protection. That’s the biggest thing for the deer hunter, and to let him be more aware of his surroundings.”
Bittner is also CEO/president of Silenced America, which sells several brands of sound suppressors.
He said suppressors, frequently called “cans,” also cut recoil.
Hunters thus avoid flinching, especially with larger calibers. This helps them become better shooters, according to ASA.
The non-profit group incorporated last August in Washington D.C. and has since been working on education.
For example, a lot of people are surprised to learn that silencers can be legally owned with special permits allowed by the National Firearms Act.
But first, a buyer must complete the federal application process, including background checks from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Purchasers must also buy a $200 federal tax stamp, which is affixed to their permits.
The process can take four to six months, but the ASA members would like to see changes to streamline it.
The group is also concerned that some may think poaching could increase with more suppressors, Bittner said.
Vaca noted, however, that TPWD staffers aren’t worried about that. He said he could recall only a couple poachers arrested with legally permitted devices.
“A good deal have been the homemade jobs,” he said of suppressors found with poachers. “If you’re really willing to go through ATF process and get approved, you’re getting a pretty stringent look from feds.
“Someone legally in possession of a silencer wouldn’t be poaching.”
Vaca said he did not believe the devices would prevent wardens from hearing the gunshots of poachers, especially at night.
The word “silencer,” according to ASA, is not the best term because while a “can” cuts the noise level of a .30-caliber rifle from a kapow to a crack, there’s still a sound.
“When you shoot standard ammo, you still hear it,” Vaca said. “You still get the sonic crack, but it’s greatly reduced. If you shoot subsonic, it gets real quiet, but with a .308 you can still hear it.”
Vaca said he would deliver a briefing on the issue Jan. 25 at the commission’s regulations committee in Austin.
Next, the commission is expected to put the issue in the Texas Register and allow the public to comment.
Vaca said only a half dozen people commented by mid January.
“But,” he added, “after next week, it will probably get the most public attention. Already some Web sites said this is being proposed.”