Zak Smith, foreground, and Shane Coppinger, co-owners of Thunder Beast… (Ben Neary / Associated Press )
In the woods and on the plains of Wyoming, one traditional hunting sound may soon be headed toward extinction.
"Blam! Blam! Blam!"
State lawmakers are set to decide whether to allow silencers on hunting guns, a move that has divided the outdoor-oriented state. Proponents say screwing a muzzle onto a firearm to catch the blast and muffle the report will prevent hearing damage and reduce noise pollution.
Many opponents insist silencers for hunting weapons gives all those Elmer Fudds in the woods an unsporting advantage with yet another high-tech gadget against game species whose defenses have always been only their alertness and ability to run away.
An interim Wyoming legislative committee recently endorsed a bill to end the state's prohibition on hunting with silencers. The full Legislature will consider the issue in the general session starting in January. Officials say more than two dozen states already allow silencers and the number is growing, with Texas and Arizona approving their use for hunters earlier this year.
And they say, when it comes to hunting rifles, the term “silencer” is a misnomer.
The escaping blast from the gas that propels a bullet still makes a substantial noise, and there's no way to silence the sonic boom, or loud crack, of the bullet breaking the sound barrier, hunters say.
Steve Kilpatrick, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, told the Los Angeles Times that the image of silencers on hunting guns is bad for the sport.
“There’s already a plethora of things we invest in to go hunting -- night-vision goggles, ballistic scopes, GPS units, four-wheelers -- so you have to ask, are these things necessary? It just gives the image of them being snipers and not hunters,” said Kilpatrick, who is a hunter. “I don’t think hunters need that additional negative image, being in full camouflage all the time.”
He said that many land owners say silencers will make it easier for would-be poachers.
Richard Oblak says he’s caught in the middle of the standoff.
He’s both a longtime hunter and a board member of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, which has taken a stand against the move.
He told the Los Angeles Times that he is wrestling with his personal stand on silencers. If he comes down against them, he says, it will be to protect other hunters, not wild animals.
“I don’t know whether they would give hunters any advantage,” he said. “If anything, they might prevent other hunters from knowing where you are.”
And that, he cautioned, could be lethal.
“If you go out into the woods on the first day of hunting season, it’s crazy,” he said. “With me and my boys, if there’s the slightest question, we don’t pull the trigger, but not everyone feels that way. In a lot of areas, it would be downright scary if you couldn’t hear the shooting. There’s something about hearing where those shots are coming from, because not everyone is safe-smart.”
As legislators prepare to pull the trigger on the issue, one gun proponent recently took about a dozen Wyoming lawmakers to a shooting range for a demonstration. Oblak says his wildlife group plans to meet soon about the matter.
“I just don’t know,” Oblak told The Times. “When it comes to giving an advantage to hunters, I’ve shot and missed and the animals have left. Was it because of the noise or a big puff of dirt? How do you know what made ‘em run? Sometimes there’s the big boom and the animal doesn’t move.