Hunting game in Florida could become a little less noisy by the end of the year.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Wednesday advanced a proposal that would remove a prohibition on the use of noise-suppressors, or silencers, with rifles and pistols when hunting deer, gray squirrels, rabbits, wild turkeys, quail and crows.
The proposal will now be advertised in the Florida Administrative Register, and the commission is expected to vote on the new rule in November.
While critics said muzzling rifle shots could increase the risk of people being struck by wayward bullets or cause people to wander unaware into hunting areas, backers of the proposal said such concerns are unfounded.
Commissioner Brian Yablonski noted that suppressors take out some of the big bang and recoil, but they don’t silence weapons as depicted in the movies.
“It still makes a very loud sound and this was in all cases,” Yablonski said during a commission meeting in Kissimmee. “We’re talking louder than a rock concert, louder than a jackhammer with the suppressor.”
Commission staff, hunters and a representative from the suppressor industry defended the proposal as a means to protect hunters’ hearing, lessen the impact of hunting on others and even help while introducing people to the sport.
Knox Williams, president of the American Suppressor Association, estimated that 40,000 suppressors are already owned in Florida.
Florida currently allows the use of suppressors on shotguns for game hunting. A suppressor can also be placed on a rifle or pistol when hunting on private lands for non-game wildlife, which includes hogs, furbearers and armadillos.
Buck Holly, an owner of C&H Precision Weapons in LaBelle, projected that by lifting the ban, sales of suppressors at his Hendry County business would grow from about two to five a month to up to 10 a month. He said that would allow him to add one or two jobs.
“I know in most counties one to two jobs isn’t a big blip on the radar, but in Hendry and Glades counties, one or two is a tremendous economic boost,” Holly said.
Patricia Brigham, chair of the League of Women Voters’ Gun Safety Committee, cautioned that a proliferation of silencers would reduce public safety.
“They’re going to be used in such a way that they’re not intended to be used, which is to harm other human beings,” Brigham warned. “There are more important things than protecting the hearing of a hunter, than encouraging a young person to hunt … the more important thing is the errant bullet catching the sleeve of a nearby hiker, penetrating the skin of nearby hiker, penetrating the heart of a nearby hiker.”
Katherine McGill, a founding member of the National Urban Wildlife Coalition, said more time should be given to the review.
“I have no problem with suppressors personally. If someone is target-shooting near my property I’d be glad that they are using them. I’d like them to be put on fireworks, too,” McGill said. “But I don’t want to be riding my horse in the woods and not hear that hunter out there.”
Suppressors are allowed in 32 states for all hunting.
Division of Hunting and Game Management Director Diane Eggeman said lifting the prohibition isn’t expected to lead to a widespread proliferation of the use of suppressors. She estimated a rifle suppressor costs between $750 and $2,000, while individuals also have to pay $200 for a federal criminal background check.
Holly placed the cost for most suppressors between $450 and $1,000.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida
Note: an earlier version of this story had incorrectly included bears, rather than furbearers, among the animals that could be hunted with silencers. Bears are protected in Florida and cannot be hunted at all.