StateImpact Texas intern Dave Barer contributed research and reporting to this article.
UPDATE: On March 30, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department approved the use of silencers while hunting in Texas. Read about the new rule here.
Without making much noise, a new proposal is headed to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. If it passes, hunters in the state will be able to use a silencer when hunting deer, birds, and even alligators.
The Parks and Wildlife Department says the rule change is primarily about protecting hunters’ hearing and maintaining the tranquility of the outdoors.
“Some neighbors don’t want to hear gunshots, and they’re less likely to hear or be disturbed by gunshots through a firearm with a suppressor or silencer attached,” Scott Vaca, TPWD Assistant Chief of Wildlife Enforcement, told StateImpact Texas.
Just how quiet is a firearm with a silencer or suppressor attached? Well, if you don’t happen to have the equipment at home, you can watch this video to hear the difference a silencer can make.
“A silencer doesn’t make it completely silent, whenever you still use your normal .223 ammo or your .22 ammo or whatever. But it quiets it down quite a bit,” Don Steele, a guide who leads hunting tours in the state, told StateImpact Texas.
Silencers are already allowed in the state for hunting feral hogs (an invasive species that the state is willing to do almost anything to control) and hog hunting is something Steele has a lot of experience with. Despite what Parks and Wildlife says, he says silencers can be useful for more than just ear protection.
“You have an opportunity when you miss to shoot a few more times without everything scattering, running off,” he said.
But you need more than just the silencer to get that advantage. You need the silencer and special ammunition.
“When you use your subsonic ammo, whether its .308 .223, .22, the only thing you hear is the action of the rifle. You don’t hear the bullet,” said Steele.
In case your curious, here’s a video of an AR 15 being fired with a silencer and subsonic ammunition. As the person who uploaded the video writes, “the report of the gun is quieter than the steel being hit at 100 yards.”
Opponents of the rule change argue that a bullet is exactly the sort of thing that people should able to hear.
“I think there should be concerns across the spectrum, from people who are engaging in legitimate hunting activity and who are not able to hear the report of rifle fire from a hunter, or hunters who are not in their group and who don’t have that warning,” Ladd Everitt, a spokesperson with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told StateImpact Texas. “And then moving everywhere from people hunting on lands they’re not supposed to be, to people using these things for activities they’re not supposed to.”
In fact, the fear that it could encourage poaching is one of the reasons why most hunting with a silencer is currently prohibited in Texas. But Parks and Wildlife’s Scott Vaca says the Department has no actual data to show that silencers pose a risk.
“We did receive a petition for rule-making to do away with the current prohibition, and since we didn’t have any data to support that it was a poaching issue or a resource concern, we went forward with the current proposal,” said Vaca.
Vaca added that the purchase of silencers is costly and strictly regulated by the federal government.
Texas Parks and Wildlife is now taking public comment on the proposal, and will be holding hearings on the plan through this month.
The Parks and Wildlife Commission will review those comments at its March 28th meeting. The commission is expected to vote on the rule change on March 29th.