I recently left Gun Abuse Central on a secret mission: to find out what was new and exciting at SIG Sauer. I fully expected to see new handguns and perhaps handle a few Stoner-based rifles. But what I found was even more interesting: suppressors.
Despite the Hollywood hysteria, suppressors are not verboten, not invariably used by contract assassins and drug dealers, and not a signal to others at the gun club that you have succumbed to the alien radio signals being transmitted directly into your brain. They are, in fact, legal to own and use in 39 states, and nearly 30 allow you to hunt or control vermin while using a suppressor.
The market has been growing, and why not? In a world where a transferable machine gun costs more than a brand-new car, a suppressor is a bargain when it comes to fun. We are all subject to the stress of noise. If we can save our hearing and decrease the auditory impact of our ranges on the neighbors, we would be silly not to. For once, Europe is a good example here, where it is considered bad manners in many places not to have a suppressor on your rifle.
Look, I shoot for a living. I am often “plugged and muffed” on the line, wearing all the protection I can get. When I’m on a covered firing line, shared with multiple rifleshooters, I wish we all had silencers on our rifles to save our collective hearing. You can buy better glasses, arch supports and knee braces, but once any part of your hearing is gone, it is gone.
Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s get some terminology out of the way. The current vogue is to call the can on the end of your muzzle a “suppressor” and not a “silencer.” However, SIG Sauer takes the opposite tack. In the words of Ron Cohen, company CEO, “That’s what Hiram Percy Maxim called it, and that’s what all the federal statutes and paperwork call it. So that’s what we call it — a silencer.”
So that’s how I found myself on the range, left to my own devices with the current range of SIG Sauer-made silencers, the firearms on which they fit and a pile of ammo. I felt like a kid in a candy store. However, I did notice one detail. Whoever had pulled firearms out of the vault for me to test had grabbed semiautos only, save one — no doubt in the interests of preserving the company ammo supply. Because they were not worried about silencer longevity. More on that in a bit.
The silencers on hand were a handgun can, a rifle/handgun rimfire can and two rifle silencers — one for 5.56 and the other for .30 caliber. Let’s start with the rimfire silencer, which can be used on handguns or rifles.
With an aluminum tube, high nickel-content baffles and hardened stainless steel endcaps, the .22LR silencer is light, if a bit bulky. If you are already a silencer user and accustomed to ultra-compact rimfire silencers, the size of the SIG rimfire silencer might seem a bit much. It is, however, lightweight, and the size is for a reason. More volume means greater sound decrease, and rimfire silencers get gunked up quickly and need regular cleaning. A bigger can is easier to disassemble and scrub clean. The handgun I was provided with was a very cool P220, fitted with a .22 Long Rifle conversion upper. Despite the size, the P220 never failed to function properly. The rimfire silencer will come with a disassembly tool, but I found that when I assembled it hand-tight, it stayed tight but could still be hand-disassembled. Well, I could take it apart by hand, but after I had done so I couldn’t handle my camera due to the gunk all over my hands. And just to make sure you can’t say no, the .22 silencer can be had with one (or all) of three different thread pitch backplates.
The 9mm silencer is also an aluminum tube, with high-nickel-alloy stainless baffles and hardened stainless end caps, but it is not meant to be disassembled. It is not recommend, nor does the company feel it needs it. The 9mm silencer was actually a bit smaller than the .22, but with the right ammo it is still ear-safe. Part of the 9mm ear-safe function is that it is designed to be run wet. A wet silencer is one that you add some liquid or gel to to increase its efficiency at dampening sound. You can run it dry, but it just won’t be quite as quiet. And if you start wet and keep shooting past having used up all the liquid or gel, it’ll still work; it will just have a few more decibels than if you stopped and gooped it again. Like its little/big brother, the 9mm suppressor can be had in two different thread-mount pitches. The 9mm silencer came on a P226 SAO, the new single-action SIG Sauer based on the proven P226.
In terms of noise reduction, incidentally, the 9mm silencer is rated at 128 to 132 decibels with 147-grain subsonic ammo. The .22 version is rated at 114 to 116 decibels with standard-velocity Long Rifle ammo.
The two rifle silencers were something else entirely. Made of steel, with high-nickel-alloy stainless on the inside, they are welded and sealed, never to be disassembled. They are also stepped, and the reason for that is simple. SIG Sauer had an end-user who wanted to fit the back end of the silencers under a free-float handguard, but wanted maximum efficiency. The step fits under common free-float handguards.
Both the 5.56 and the .30 are rated for full-auto fire and use on SBRs, and they will probably stand up to the heat of shooting better than your barrel or wallet. The .30-caliber silencer is designed for use on carbine-length and shorter .308/7.62 rifles in mind. They will have to be tested to see if they handle other calibers such as .30-06, .270 and so on with equal aplomb.
I used the 5.56 model on a SIG Sauer 516 and the .30 silencer on a 716, both piston-driven models. The 516 was an SBR, with the 716 sporting a carbine-length barrel. These silencers are offered only in thread-on design. And they are both built hell-for-tough.
Why? Again, in discussing silencers with company CEO Ron Cohen, it became clear that these aspects were not settled on capriciously. SIG Sauer is determined to be at the forefront of the burgeoning silencer market. Rather than simply copy existing designs, SIG Sauer put the R&D branch to work and came up with a sealed, efficient, tough design that used durable materials without the need for exotic alloys. The company set out to design a rifle-caliber silencer that would outlast the service life of the barrel. Time will tell, but since SIG Sauer’s idea of preproduction testing when it rolls out a firearm is to expend 1 million rounds, I’m pretty confident that will be achieved.
Also, the lack of a quick-mount system is part of the longevity of the silencer. If the silencer is going to last as long as the barrel, or longer, why would you take it off? Simple. You’d take it off if it didn’t outlast the barrel. Now, I differ here. While I have an entire rack full of rifles that can accept a silencer, I can’t see fitting a silencer to each and every one of them. No problem, as the SIG Sauer silencers do not need to be torqued on to extreme levels. The figure that was mentioned when I asked was 25 foot-pounds. Heck, on a good day I can do that with my bare hands.
And last, I noticed that the 9mm silencer lacked a linear-inertial mount called a Nielson device. On handguns, where the barrel has to move to unlock, the extra weight and length of a silencer can cause the pistol to malfunction. The Neilsen device lets pistols cycle with heavy silencers attached. The 9mm silencer is so light (3.7 ounces) that it doesn’t need one. A new and tight pistol with a new, full-power recoil spring might balk occasionally in the beginning. But just shoot it in (no need to do this with the silencer on) for a couple hundred rounds and by then it will function fine.
The silencers — and firearms — will be made at the brand-new SIG Sauer facility. The company has spent $40 million building and equipping a 206,000-square-foot building, making it the only firearms maker to be directly designing and producing silencers, and doing so in mass production as well.
As I mentioned earlier, 39 states allow silencer ownership. And the ones that don’t are, for the most part, all the usual suspects when it comes to legislative buffoonery vis-à-vis firearms. If you take a silencer to your gun club, inevitably someone will make a few jokes at your expense about shipping out to Iraq or trying out for a job as a movie hitman. Just smile and keep practicing, knowing you’re saving your hearing as well as dampening the noise the neighbors are subjected to.
The Cost Factor
One of the main drawbacks to silencers has been the fact that they’re expensive. Well, not anymore they aren’t. SIG Sauer has thrown down the gauntlet by offering its silencers in the $495 to $795 range (compared with other brands that can start at more than a grand per). Add in the obligatory $200 transfer tax and you’re the coolest guy at your gun club for less than the cost of a smartphone and a year’s service.
Now, one last question (besides the various paperwork questions), and that pertains to shift in point of impact. You can put a silencer on your rifle and not have a POI change. And then again you may. My plan is to find out just that. I’m on the list, and as soon as SIG Sauer gets its silencers in production, I’ll have some to test, just as a curious hunter would. Accuracy with the silencer on. Accuracy with the silencer off. I’ll find out what happens with a selection of hunting-caliber bolt guns and report back.