Once the thing of gangsters and spy movies, suppressors are becoming more common among hunters because of the hearing protection they provide.

What has become the most common four-letter word in my vocabulary these days. It comes from nearly 60 years of muzzle blasts from guns, with a dash of hard-headedness thrown in for good measure.

I grew up in an era where there really was not effective ear protection for the average hunter, and even if there were it would not have been the manly thing to do. The result is I now wear hearing aids.

Because most hunters do not continuously pull the trigger or subconsciously do not notice the noise of the gun during the excitement of the hunt, hunters do not immediately realize the impact on their hearing. However, shotguns and rifles produce 150 decibels and louder when they are fired. Permanent hearing loss can occur at 140 decibels.

“A jackhammer on concrete is 130 decibels. These are very high decibel ratings,” explained Dave Matheny, CEO of Austin-based The Silencer Shop (

While conjuring up images of movie spies or military snipers, suppressors are becoming the new big thing for hunter hearing protection. First adopted by hobby shooters using modern sporting rifles firing hundreds of rounds per outing, the suppressors are gaining traction with hunters often slow to change from traditional ways.

A hunter himself, Matheny got into the suppressor business in 2010 after looking for a way to protect his young son’s hearing.

“I didn’t think about myself getting into hearing protection. As someone growing up in the 80s, I didn’t think I needed it. My son was born 100 percent deaf in his right ear and with 100 percent good hearing in his left ear. When he started going hunting and shooting with me, his mother and I wanted to protect his good ear,” Matheny explained.

They tried the available muffs and plugs, but like any 8-year-old in a deer blind those quickly went by the wayside. That led him to investigate suppressors and eventually get in the business.

“In my opinion, hunters are the key group that benefits the most from silencers. I love hunting. Hunting is what I do most, but you spend all day and may take one or two shots so you don’t wear hearing protection. You lose a little bit of hearing every time and by the time you are 70 or 80 years old, you cannot hear,” Matheny said.

Matheny estimates about 60 percent of his current customers are hunters, and added that if guns were invented today government requirements would probably include suppressors.

A suppressor is going to drop the decibels of a MSR down to about 130. A traditional bolt action could be 120. Both are still loud, but below the instant loss threshold. And this is with standard ammunition, not sub-sonic loads.

“I hunt with hot loads. My goal is comfort and hearing safety, not silence. Sub-sonic will get quieter, but not that much,” Matheny said.

As for the impact on accuracy, Matheny said after adding a suppressor the rifle will have to be re-zeroed, but once dialed in it should fire tighter groups than without it.

There is also psychological effect that can help accuracy from both reduced noise and recoil.

“It will have less recoil. It is more effective than a muzzle brake, but not nearly as irritating,” Matheny said.

Along with rifles, suppressors are also made for shotguns and pistols, both of which are equally as loud as rifles.

A good suppressor can cost from $400 to $900, comparative to the cost of a mid-grade rifle. Compared to hearing aids, which start at about $1,500, it might be considered a deal.

“In a lot of ways it is an investment for your safety,” Matheny said.

Reportedly the largest distributor of suppressors in the country, Matheny said sales have been doubling every two to three years.

It would probably grow even faster except for the federal permitting process, which is actually considered a tax. Historically the tax on suppressors goes back to the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the fee has never changed from $200. As a tax, it originally went to the IRS, but is now under control of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The process is similar to buying a gun, but requires additional things such as fingerprints and a passport photo. Because it is not part of the National Instant Check background system used for guns, qualifying for the tax can take months.

To help with the permit process, in 2016 Matheny introduced stand-alone kiosks located in gun stores to help gun owners traverse the paperwork trail. Today he has close to 1,400 of the kiosks around the country including several in Tyler and around East Texas.

“It is like taxes. Everyone fills out their taxes every year and some go to Turbo Tax and some go to an accountant. We are like an accountant,” Matheny said.

He explained that when purchasing a suppressor, there are things to consider other than just the hardware like whether it will be used by a single person, whether there should be a trust created for multiple users and multiple items or a simple trust that allows multiple members of a trust to freely use a single suppressor.


Recent Stories You Might Have Missed