Exploding in Popularity
Suppressors are on the rise in the U.S.— it’s undeniable. From 2010 to 2015, the amount of legally owned suppressors in civilian hands rose from roughly 285,000 to more than 790,000. Considering they’ve been legal for a lot longer than five years, that kind of data bears out the fact that silencers/ suppressors/ whatever you want to call them are exploding in popularity (bad pun . . . sorry). Bottom line: they’re legal in more than 40 states now (42 states post-Iowa legislation) and the market is increasing by a large percentage each year right now. That’s shockingly impressive.
But spec’ing out a reliable suppressed pistol (or rifle) is about a lot more than decibels and ammo choice. So last year when I started doing the legwork and testing on this article I tried to cover all of the bases. Ensuring that whatever you spec out for suppressed use will work reliably for the purpose you intend involves a lot more variables than the can itself. To be sure, a high quality can is crucial, but suppressed firearms are far dirtier, generally less reliable as a result, possibly less accurate if there are any point of impact shifts because of the way a certain suppressor reacts with your specific firearm, and suppressors can affect the weight and balance of a specific firearm in both good and bad ways. In addition to all of that, when you are suppressing a handgun, sights might need to be taller if you want a sight picture that isn’t obscured by black metal. As I spec’d out a dedicated suppressed 9mm setup last year with my VP9, I tried to think about how I could address each of these things individually for the most effective suppressed setup possible. I am very pleased to report that the results have been outstanding. And I have thoroughly enjoyed shooting the crap out of this gun/suppressor combo in the months since first finishing the project.
First, the can itself: I opted for a SilencerCo Osprey. Here’s why: it looks really cool. Yes, that was what drew me to it. But the more I looked into one, the more impressed I was by the design and the performance of the Osprey. SilencerCo increased the volume of the Osprey but kept most of the additional volume below the bore axis. That kept most of the can out of the way of your field of vision while shooting—so much so that I opted not to even use suppressor sights on this gun. The top of the can was essentially flush with the top of the sights and I could use a six o’clock hold and hit what I was aiming at all day with the standard height sights I had on the gun already. Where a more conventional cylindrical suppressor would have had a lot of metal over the bore axis, the Osprey allowed for a much different option, which was ideal for a pistol.
Although the Osprey45 is slightly longer than the 9, it is a lot more versatile because it is compatible with 9mm, .40, and .45 (basically any caliber smaller than .45 that SilencerCo makes a piston for). So for anyone considering the Osprey, keep that in mind if you think you might want to suppress a different caliber down the line. As to the “decibels” I will just say that I have been extremely pleased with the Osprey and all of SilencerCo’s products that I have used. Due to the variety of actual testing protocols in use (even between companies referencing MIL-STD-1474D), I put a lot more stock in how quiet a suppressor sounds in person than a number that is listed next to it on the internet. The Osprey (with good subsonic ammo) is extremely quiet and I recommend it all the time. If you like another suppressor better or think another suppressor is quieter, that’s fantastic. This is not meant to be a comparison article, so I didn’t really want to open that can of worms.
You won’t have a very effective suppressed weapon without a threaded barrel, and a good barrel is key to a reliable firearm. In this case, my options were’t particularly abundant since I was starting with a VP9 right after it was released. Fortunately, the nice folks over at HKParts.net got some VERY high quality threaded barrels (this one) for the VP’s last year when I was starting this process. I went with 13.5 L threads because it is theoretically less prone to loosening during firing, and the micropolished feed ramp and specs on this barrel are highly impressive. Additionally, as a right handed person, I thread the can on with my left hand, and I have found that it’s an easier motion for me to thread a 13.5 L threaded barrel with my left hand. Just more natural in my opinion (completely personal preference). Whichever thread pitch you choose, just make sure that it corresponds to your suppressor’s threads. It sounds obvious, but I’ve gotten questions about it…so I’ll say it just to cover all the bases.
Big thumbs up to the team at HKParts for doing such a quality job with these barrels. I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for a barrel for the VP9, especially if you bought yours before the factory threaded barrels were released like I did. This thing has been extremely accurate, and the conventional rifling allows the use of lead or hard cast bullets without being concerned about messing up the polygonal rifling in typical HK barrels. The lockup has also been solid and I have literally nothing negative to say about this product.
Although there are a fair number of pistols that come from the factory with threaded barrels now (like the FNX-45 Tactical shown throughout this article, which also came with taller sights for use with suppressors), and that definitely does take one step out of the process, it isn’t difficult to find threaded barrels for most pistols on the market these days. So don’t let the fact that you didn’t buy a gun that came with a threaded barrel from the factory ruin your day. There are plenty of barrels available aftermarket, both from the original manufacturers in many cases as well as from smaller outfits that are putting out some super high quality barrels at the moment. SilencerCo even has their own line of barrels, as does AAC and a number of companies like ZEV who are making threaded barrels for Glocks.
Because the can wasn’t as tall as a round suppressor tube of the same volume, I was able to get by with standard height Heinie straight-eight sights designed for the VP9 (which are mentioned in my initial VP9 review). Although the blade of the sight is not taller than the portion of the can that is over the bore axis, they are close enough to the top edge of the suppressor that I have no trouble hitting smaller steel targets out to about 15-20 yards pretty quickly. Obviously, my approach here doesn’t result in the same degree of accuracy as taller “suppressor” sights, but I split the baby because I also didn’t want unwieldy super-tall sights on a gun I use for other things occasionally. If you did opt for a round can, you would almost certainly need some suppressor-height sights, though, so keep that in mind.
I mentioned that suppressors can cause reliability issues. In addition to the additional weight up front, which can wreak havoc on less reliable pistols, the primary reason for this is because of HOW MUCH DIRTIER suppressed guns shoot. For those readers who have not ever experienced shooting suppressed, the difference is pronounced. The reason is simple: all of the gas and debris that is pushed back into the pistol by the can stays there. So to make cleanup a joke and to increase reliability when running a high number of rounds through the can in a range session, I shot my friend Freddie Blish over at ROBAR an email and opted for the NP3+ treatment on my slide and small parts, including all internals.
Freddie and the team at ROBAR have got their NP3 treatment down to an art at this point. If you live in a high-humidity area, plan to shoot a gun suppressed a lot, or just want a freaking cool looking gun, you have to give them a call. In addition to a high-quality finish, NP3+ offers lubricity because of the teflon that is infused in the nickel matrix. What that means is that even if you run the gun entirely dry after break in, you are essentially still using a dry lube without doing anything at all. For anyone who has followed HP for any amount of time, you know that I am a huge NP3 fan—I have it on multiple carry magazines, the BCG of my AR-15s, and now on my VP9 that has become my 9mm suppressor platform. The reason is simple…it works and it works well.
I got the slide and small parts on the VP9 refinished a little over a year ago now. I wanted to ensure that I had plenty of time to shoot the gun dirty and run some rounds through it suppressed. And it has absolutely not disappointed. Except for the occasional stubborn carbon stain that requires some mild solvent or CLP to remove, a majority of the debris and buildup from shooting wipes out of the slide with a dry rag or a cotton swab (or a soft nylon brush/toothbrush). Considering how dirty a suppressed gun gets after anything in excess of 100 rounds or so, this is an enormous benefit. As the photos here will indicate, this finish makes clean up a breeze. Even the breech face comes entirely clean—here, the cleanup was done with a drop or two of oil on a rag and the before and after photos show a lot more than my words can. Suffice it to say that cleaning a dirty gun finished in NP3 is like cleaning a really nice non-stick frying pan. Coating the internals has been also key because of the amount of crud and gas that gets blown all the way down into the frame from the suppressor. The small parts wipe right off after a range session just like the slide.
There are truly a lot of great reasons to own a suppressor. They range from hearing protection for people who shoot a lot of rounds (you really only do get one set of ears) to “You’re allowed to have it, so why not?” You don’t need a great reason; they’re a lot of fun. But they are also practical tools for high round count shooters or even hunters in states where they’re allowed for hunting. As you begin thinking about the prospect of purchasing a suppressor, keep in mind that there are a lot of factors in picking one that is right for you—and those factors involve a lot more than just the suppressor you pick. Pick a gun that can handle being dirty to begin with, and pick sights that allow you to hit what you want to hit. I would also highly recommend contacting the nice folks at ROBAR if you are interested in spec’ing out a rifle or pistol that can handle being shot suppressed fairly frequently. The NP3+ finish has honestly made cleanup and reliability shoo-ins with this VP9 and based on my experiences with them I cannot say anything negative about their product or their customer service. Like I mentioned above in passing, I’ve been running NP3’d bolt carrier groups in my AR’s for a couple of years now, and I love the finish in that application as well. I am a fan.
As for the prospect of suppressors being dropped from the NFA, the Hearing Protection Act of 2015 (linked in case you would like to learn more about it) contains a provision that refunds any tax stamp fees spent from the time it was introduced last year (October 22) until now…so don’t worry about being out that $200 even if they were to become “standard” firearms. No worries there, either. Just know that suppressors open up a whole new world of considerations. And it is a lot of fun thinking through all of the options. HP
–Colt Driver; photos by author.
Disclaimer: As with any firearm/muzzle device combination, please ensure that the suppressor you pick is appropriate for use with the caliber of firearm and length of barrel you attach it to. Some thread pitches (1/2×28, for instance) can attach to threaded barrels of multiple different calibers (i.e. 9mm and 22 LR). Pay close attention to the caliber that the suppressor is designed for and the caliber of the weapon you are attaching it to, as well as any specific instruction from the manufacturer. Blowing up a suppressor is probably not a recipe for a great day.