Plenty of preppers spend plenty of brain cells coming up with the perfect plan for how guns will fit into their SHTF procedures, but most don’t stop to consider the consequences of actually using those guns. If you were dealing with a long- or indefinite term survival situation with little to no rule of law the roar of a nearby gun or the pattering crack of distant gunfire will get plenty of attention, attention you really don’t want.
You don’t need much in the way of imagination to come up with several ways the crack of gunfire might bring trouble down on your head. If hunting game, gun blast will spook animals far and wide.
In a self-defense scenario, the same blast is astonishingly loud, even in close quarters, and the short- and long-term damage on your hearing cannot be underestimated. Even in the near term you will temporarily deafened by such intense noise.
No matter what you are doing, the boom, crack, rattle and bang of guns will alert anyone listening, good guy or villain, that there is someone nearby that has a gun. That is often not a good thing.
The obvious solution to these problems is to remove or significantly dampen the noise of a shot, and the way to do that is with a suppressor, or silencer. Suppressed guns bring much to the table in the right circumstances, but not all firearms are suitable for hosting a suppressor and furthermore some guns are quieter than others, all things being equal.
In this article, we’ll be discussing the advantages and disadvantages of quiet guns for survival situations and recommending three choice options when you want to get your sneak on.
A Quick Note on Cans
Any old hands in the gun world have doubtless heard and participated in this argument a hundred times: is the device in question, the one that lessens the noise of a discharge, properly called a suppressor, or a silencer? Does it matter?
I am not going to burn much ink on this but suffice it to say that the terms are completely synonymous and practically interchangeable depending on the crowd you are hanging out with. The inventor of these devices called them silencers.
Firearms nomenclature sticklers and military types often prefer suppressor, and this is a more accurate description of their function, since even the best firearm/suppressor/ammo combo is far from truly silent.
A slang term for both is “can”, as in a container. Then again the U.S. Government and the kind, good, hardworking and competent folks at the BATF refer to such things as silencers or firearm mufflers.
For me personally, I honestly switch back and forth all haphazardly, using silencer in less formal speech and suppressor in more professional settings. Both are correct. Anyone who tries to beat you over the head is likely just being condescending and needs to get a life. I will say no more. On to the info!
How Do Suppressors Work?
This is not an article that will describe in detail how suppressors function and the science behind it. There are several articles here on Survival Sullivan and elsewhere that go over such things in great detail, so you might consider looking them up if you are interested in such matters.
Consider this a quick crash course on the physics so you can better understand and select a good suppressor based on your needs and your host firearm.
Firearms produce noise during firing through two primary mechanisms and one secondary mechanism. The two primary mechanisms are blast, which is the rapidly expanding volume of burning and burned propellant gasses that issue from the muzzle in the wake of the bullet exiting the barrel, and supersonic signature, which is the distinct crack of the bullet breaking the sound barrier.
Everyone knows what the former is like, and in close proximity to the gun upon firing the latter is indistinguishable from it. But the latter is why some guns seem to have two “bangs” when you hear them fired at a distance. More on that in just a moment.
If unmoderated and left to erupt into the open air, muzzle blast is responsible for a sharp pressure increase in confined spaces and a teeth-jangling, ear-splitting boom with most calibers.
The addition of a suppressor contains these gasses, redirects and slows them, and allows them to cool somewhat before they are released from its confines. By this action the amount of noise produced when these gases enter the open atmosphere is greatly reduced or sometimes nearly eliminated.
The other major factor that contributes to the noise generated by a shot is the crack of a supersonic bullet, called supersonic signature.
This noise is inherent to the bullet’s passage through the air and any bullet whose speed exceeds the speed of sound at in the current atmospheric conditions will generate it; a suppressor cannot reduce or eliminate this, except special units which are designed to physically slow the bullet to below supersonic speed prior to it leaving the muzzle.
Units of this type are rare. Supersonic signature may be eliminated by using downloading “subsonic” rounds to reduce their velocity(though this often causes reliability issues in semi-autos) or avoided by utilizing cartridges that are inherently subsonic by nature, like many heavy pistol cartridges, foremost among them being many loads of .45 ACP.
The last factor, and the one secondary to the first two by a huge margin is the cycling of the firearm’s action, if applicable. This is often the bolt, slide and cartridge case being ejected producing a noticeable racket.
In short, a very quiet combination of ammunition and suppressor may be so efficient that the physical operation of the guns components is louder than or as loud as the shot itself!
This is most obviously an issue on semi-automatic guns that self-load with each trigger pull until ammo is depleted. A few special firearms designed for clandestine use have employed locking systems that hold the action shut to completely eliminate this noise and render a shot so-called “Hollywood quiet.”
Most suppressors must be able to mate with the host firearm by way of attachment to the muzzle, this only being accomplished in a handful of ways. Typical arrangements include screwing on to threads on the end of the barrel for the purpose (called direct mounting) or attachment via some type of interface built into the muzzle device, if present. Some guns are able to make use of integral suppressors built into and around the barrel itself, though this is typically limited to long guns.
None of these methods are interchangeable! Most suppressors are designed to mate to one type of gun by way of a specific mount. Configuring it for another gun will require a like interface to be installed or adapted to the second host.
The Quick and Dirty Suppression Formula
The amount of noise your suppressed firearm will produce when a shot is fired is dependent primarily on three things playing nice together: the suppressor, the ammunition, and the gun itself.
You will be as quiet as can be using a manually operated firearm with a highly efficient suppressor and suppressor-optimized subsonic ammo. The resulting shot is going to be very quiet, indeed, but such setups are not always best for general purpose use.
Simply slapping a can on your favorite semi-auto and calling it good will drastically reduce the noise produced on firing, but without optimization the report can still be loud enough to cause pain, especially indoors, to say nothing of being heard by interested parties outdoors.
Ultimately, you will have to make trade-offs, as we do with all things. The quietest conceivable firearms often give up quite a bit ballistically to stay that way. You can cut noise somewhat and maintain good ballistic performance but such a gun will not be anything close to truly quiet.
For my purposes, if I am trying to minimize noise as much as feasible while still retaining decent ballistic performance, I will look to a semi-auto firearm chambered in a cartridge that is inherently suitable for suppression. This minimizes the bugs and issues that crop up when trying to “throttle down” more powerful rounds. More on my choices and why I like them best in just a bit.
Why You Want a Quiet Gun
A quieter gun means less attention being directed your way, or possibly even escaping notice when you are shooting.
A quiet gun will definitely save your hearing over time and also allow you to make better use of your ears during use, since they will not be covered by ear-pro or ringing with the tinnitus of an unprotected exposure to gunfire. This has obvious benefits in any kind of self-defense situation where communication is still essential.
When outdoors, a suppressed firearm is far less likely to startle or scare off game in a wide area, and using subsonic ammo or not suppression makes locating by ear the source of a shot much tougher for anyone who hears it
With supersonic ammo in particular the “crack” of the passing round may be mistaken for the report of the gun, and this can act as a sort of auditory misdirection in your favor.
Even if you are shooting from a relatively close position, any muffled report will sound father away, as with a classic ventriloquist’s trick. Combined with the seemingly contradictory sound of a supersonic bullet passing (assuming you miss or are shooting at someone else) this can seriously baffle a potential threat.
Obviously this is more applicable more often to military or police units than civilians, even civilians surviving in a seriously rough situation, but you never know when that info may be useful.
A real boon for preppers surviving in group settings that make it a point to equip all members’ guns with suppressors is the potential for easy auditory discrimination of fire. A suppressed gun, even one using supersonic ammo, sounds far different than one that is unsuppressed. This means that any shot heard unsuppressed will mean it is not one of yours, or potentially being fired as a signal.
The only practical shortcomings of suppressors aside from cost and acquisition hoopla is that they significantly increase the length of any firearm they are attached to and may also impart some reliability issues if done haphazardly.
Not all guns like having a suppressor on them, and various makes of suppressor mated to different actions will be more or less reliable depending, and that is before you even factor in ammo! Bottom Line: be sure to research any potential pairing thoroughly before you plunk down the cash and then test it to ensure function before relying on it.
The Top 3 Quiet Guns for SHTF
The following guns are my ideal setups for highly discreet guns that still have all the other features I want, namely being magazine fed semi-autos.
While I could theoretically get a package that is just a little bit quieter using a manually operated action, the ever-present possibility of a required follow-up shot plus the overall ease of use of semi-autos mean they are still my go-tos.
Each of these systems will still be quite formidable in its own way while placing major emphasis on getting those pesky decibels as minimized as possible.
.22 LR Pistol – Ruger 22/45 Lite with thread-on Suppressor
Ruger’s 22/45s are dynamite pistols made even better with a contemporary treatment like the work you will find on the latest Mark IV Lite series. While they look very Buck Rogers, their aesthetic is thankfully not indicative of a jabroni design; these pistols are all business.
Sporting a receiver top rail for easy optics mounting, an excellent control layout and a high degree of reliability and suppressor tolerance, you can stoke this lightweight rimfire with high-performance .22’s and you’ll be slinging hair-splittingly accurate little BB’s that are barely louder than an airgun.
The combined weight of the pistol, spare mags, suppressor and a brick of .22 weights only a few pounds, and will take up little room in a BOB, making it really ideal as a dedicated survival handgun suitable for hunting and discreet self-defense.
The .22 LR is not the best performing round for self-defense, but if you don’t plan on getting into rolling gunfights it can do the trick. As a total system for survival, this is one that is very hard to beat.
.45 ACP Pistol – HK 45 Compact Tactical
The .45 ACP may not be the best thing going for combat handguns anymore, but the old warhorse still has one major advantage over the 9mm: it is very easy to suppress, and I do mean suppress.
Standard 230 grain loads are almost always subsonic, meaning you need to do little more than function check and zero your pistol to the can before going all quiet-as-a-mouse while giving up no terminal effectiveness.
Among .45 handguns, H&K’s HK45 Compact Tactical is damn near perfection: designed from the ground up as a suppressor-ready host, an eight or ten round capacity in a just-right sized frame that is shockingly accurate and hell-or-high-water reliable.
You can also adapt its control scheme to just about anything you prefer, from traditional DA/SA with a safety and decocker to a consistent action DAO or even single-action cocked-and-locked carry ala the immortal 1911.
There is something to this German engineering thing it seems, and the HK 45 Compact Tactical can be seen as the distillation of all H&K has learned from their excellent handgun lines over the years. For a true fighting pistol that can go quiet with no fuss and no surprises, look no further.
.300 Semi-Auto Rifle – Q Honey Badger
Suppressed rifles are great: you can really reach out and whack what you need to shoot while saving your eardrums from the worst of the punishment and keep from notifying everybody in the county that you just went big.
That being said, suppressed rifles as a rule are still loud. One potential solution is to go with hobbled 5.56mm or 7.62mm NATO ammo to try to keep noise down, but you will be paying a terrible price when it comes to ballistics and often a steeper one when it comes to getting the whole kit and caboodle to run reliably.
Some people go the other way: they pick a long gun in a pistol caliber, ala a submachine gun or PCC, and enjoy a far quieter package with the better accuracy and modest performance those rounds are capable of.
That being said, while you may be a top class Sneaky Pete as you lovingly caress your 9mm roller locked gun from its 1980’s heyday, you won’t be kicking ass past 100 yards or so.
Enter the Honey Badger from Q, and its premise (which is succeeds at, utterly) reads like a fever-dream greatest hits mash-up: What if you could have a gun as small as an MP5, as quiet as an MP5SD, that functioned like an AR and was accurate and lethal out to 300 yards and even beyond? My temperature must be high, but they did it.
The Honey Badger is a highly refined and slightly modified AR-15 action chambering the slick .300 Blackout cartridge. For those unfamiliar with this hotrod, the .300 Blk is a round that is optimal for .30 caliber subsonic use in the standard AR-15 envelope, and in this platform as quiet as the quietest 9mm submachine gun.
But, by simply switching out a magazine loaded with supersonic ammo you can go from whisper quiet skullduggery to flat-out kicking ass with authority all the way out to 300 yards and a little beyond, all in a super-compact and flyweight package.
This is a niche gun: the gun is expensive, the ammo is expensive and not at all easy to find on store shelves or out in the world. That being said, if you want a superbly well rounded and compact rifle that can be as quiet as imaginable and with just a switched mag go loud and hard with no other changes, this is the current paradigm.
Staying quiet and unnoticed during a major SHTF event is probably going to be worth your time if you want to stay unbothered and above ground.
Taking the time to suppress you firearms and optimize them for reduced report takes time, money and a little know how but is well-worth it. Take what you learned in this article and use my recommendations to come up with your own clandestine setup.