The Best Calibers for Suppressors

According to their portrayal in movies and TV, the chief purpose of suppressors (aka “silencers”) is quiet, quick mafia assassinations, silently dispatching the guards in a casino, or storming a jungle compound in camouflage face paint. And whenever suppressors are used, they make that whisper-quiet spit-hiss noise that you wouldn’t hear in the next room. Of course, the reality is quite a bit different in most ways. For one, suppressors do have a place outside of the TV and film world of secret agents and covert warfare.

At firing ranges in Europe, for instance, suppressors were not only common but often required to minimize noise pollution. The same principle has inspired tens of thousands of gun owners in the United States to purchase suppressors. They have also become increasingly popular for hunting. That popularity raises a few practical questions. First, why are suppressors becoming so popular? And, if there some calibers (and loads) that are better suited for use with suppressors (and there are), what are they?

.45 ACP vs. 9mm Ammo for Suppressors

The name of the game for suppressor-effectiveness isn’t actually the size of the caliber, it’s the speed of the bullet. Bullets that break the sound barrier, supersonic, are less effectively suppressed than subsonic rounds that don’t. Which means, a bit counter intuitively, .45 ACP ammo is more traditionally subsonic, making it more effectively suppressed than 9mm ammo, which is traditionally supersonic. (Although there are a number of subsonic 9mm loads.)

During World War II, the British took full advantage of the .45 ACP being subsonic by producing the “De Lisle carbine,” a commando carbine fitted with an integrated (internal) suppressor for their special forces. It is reported to be one of the quietest firearms ever produced. The difference is that a bullet breaking the sound barrier produces a pronounced crack that a suppressor can do nothing to suppress. That’s not to say that suppressors are rendered useless by supersonic ammo, their effectiveness is simply limited by it.

The “Old” Pistol Calibers and Rifles

Before the “hotter” 9mm loads, and other more modern calibers, subsonic ammunition for handguns was traditionally the norm. As such, the handguns with which suppressors tend to naturally be most effective are the “older” calibers: .22 LR ammo, .25 ACP ammo, .32 ACP ammo, .380 ACP ammo, and, of course, .45 ACP ammo. (Again, if you prefer or only own a 9mm pistol, there’s terrific subsonic 9mm ammunition available.)

A great option for suppressed rifle shooting is .300 AAC Blackout. The Blackout is the result of military brass looking for a subsonic caliber that could be effectively suppressed but packed a solid punch for close-range combat. The 5.56 NATO cartridge and its civilian cousin, the .223 Remington, are traditionally supersonic and therefore less effectively suppressed. (Although, once more, subsonic 5.56 NATO and .223 Remington cartridges are available.) That has made the .300 AAC Blackout an extremely popular suppressed hunting load for mid-to-large-sized game at medium distance. Since situational awareness, including uninhibited hearing, is often important to hunters, it’s clear why suppressed hunting is becoming as popular as it is.

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