Hunting Hogs, Exotics & Predators with Suppressed Firearms
Most serious hog hunting takes place at night, and anyone who has hunted at night knows that a rifle shot seems much louder than during daylight hours, when there is more activity to mask the sound. The use of a suppressor on a hog rifle can help dampen that sound considerably, although it will not completely eliminate it.
Suppressors on TV and in the movies are not real – far from it – and the sonic “crack” from a center fire rifle will still be quite noticeable.
A suppressor used on rifles firing anything that has a muzzle velocity over the speed of sound will normally be quiet enough to shoot without hearing protection for the shooter and close companions. Recoil will be less, muzzle flash almost eliminated, and barrel harmonics might be improved enough to help accuracy. To get that gun really quiet, however, means shooting sub sonic ammo.
Killing big game cleanly with sub sonic ammo means choosing a caliber that shoots a heavy, round or flat nosed bullet close to the speed of sound with enough energy to penetrate muscle and bone. The best choice is also a caliber that doesn’t normally shoot at a muzzle velocity much over 1100 fps, so the drop in power is less dramatic. The speed of sound varies according to elevation, humidity, and temperature, but a good rule of thumb with temperature is at 32F, it will be 1087 fps, at 50F – 1100 fps, at 70F – 1128 fps, and at 90F – 1150 fps. When looking for the ideal sub sonic caliber, large bore pistol cartridges are possibly the best, .30 caliber rifle cartridges among the worst. A 300 gr .44 magnum bullet fired at 1000 fps will have half again as much muzzle energy as a 220 gr .308 bullet at the same speed and the flat nosed bullets are less prone to tumble or yaw. Also, sub sonic ammo will often not cycle the action on semi-autos, so it is not a good choice for those who hunt with AR type rifles. The most efficient action types, to get the most from a suppressor, are single shots, bolt actions, and suitable lever actions.
TF&G’s Dustin Ellermann demonstrates the versatility of suppressors by frying bacon with one while on a hog hunt.
Because of the reduced velocity, no sub sonic round is going to be a long range sniper cartridge. With the .44 magnum in a suppressed rifle, 75 yards is going to be about the maximum effective killing range on an animal the size of a feral hog, and neck shots would probably be most effective. My own suppressed .44 magnum is a Thompson Contender which started out as a pistol, with a 14” barrel. I had Jim Rodgers of Class III Arms in Longview (firstname.lastname@example.org) build a titanium suppressor 12” in length and weld it to my barrel. This gives me a total barrel length, allowing for some overlap of 19”, meaning when I use it with a shoulder stock, a Short Barreled Rifle permit is not needed. Only the original 14” are rifled with a 1-12 twist, but the heavy, blunt nosed bullets are very accurate out to 75 yards. I have experimented with 300 gr jacketed bullets from Speer, Sierra, Nosler and Barnes, using Universal, H-110, and Trail Boss powders. The best accuracy I got was with the Barnes all copper Buster and H-110, but since that powder performs best with magnum primers, it was the least silent. Trail Boss and solid lead bullets at just over 900 fps sound like a BB gun and would be fine for predators. My favorite hog load right now is a 355 gr hard cast lead bullet from Montana Bullet Works with Universal powder and standard Large Pistol primers. This combination is reasonably quiet, and I recently killed two hogs with one shot with it, and failed to recover the bullet, so the penetration is there.
A good way to decide if a suppressor is for you is to book a trip with Randy Tausch and Gerald Hollub of Night Hogs in Seguin, Texas (www.nighthogs.com). These guys use .44 magnum Ruger 77 bolt action rifles with fully integrated suppressed barrels that are very quiet. Gerald loads their sub sonic ammo using 300 gr Hornady XTP bullets, and they have killed hundreds of hogs with this setup, often getting complete pass-throughs but sometimes recovering bullets showing considerable expansion. They also use Gen III Night Vision scopes and goggles as well as thermal imaging equipment and only hunt “spot and stalk,” getting as close to the hogs as possible and using shooting sticks. Not only have they invested in the best equipment so their customers don’t have to, but they will skin, gut and quarter the kill as part of their service. Using suppressed rifles and sub sonic ammo allows them to hunt multiple spots on the same property without chasing off the hogs for the night with their first shot.
Even with sub sonic ammo, don’t expect to wipe out an entire “sounder” of pigs without spooking them. Often the sound of the bullet whacking a hog is loud enough to alarm the others. Hogs are also very intelligent animals and the sight of one or more of their companions falling to the ground, bleeding and kicking, generally gets them moving. In the event of a missed shot, however, a suppressed rifle gives the shooter a better chance at a second shot.
For serious predator hunting, a suppressor on a varmint caliber rifle shooting full power loads not only helps reduce the need for hearing protection, but can confuse the sound of the shot so that its source is hard for the quarry to pinpoint. In calling, where shots might be close enough for a shotgun at times, a suppressed .44 or .45 rifle shooting 240 gr lead bullets can make the hunter a truly silent killer. Having both options available would make for a very interesting hunt.
When I was a kid in East Texas, landowners would often allow night hunting on their property with shotguns only, as even a .22 LR could kill or injure livestock with an errant shot or a ricochet. When seeking permission to hog hunt at night from someone who already wants the hogs taken out, the safety factor of a suppressed rifle shooting sub sonic ammo that has a shorter effective range and most likely will not ricochet might be a convincing factor.