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Pew-Pew! What does a silenced weapon *really* sound like?

Posted on April 22, 2010 at 3:04 PM

As I’ve mentioned previously, this season of 24 has been just one shameful, long, tediously unbelievable train wreck. I’m still watching, but now it’s with the same amount of enthusiasm of a self-hating fattie that is just trying to complete the task of making it to the bottom of that gallon container of ice cream so they can move on to the shame phase of the evening.  Now I’m not even angered/insulted by the ridonkulous. I just shrug off the absurdly incredible. Secret Russian mole in the paramedic corps that is inexplicably on scene with impeccable timing to kill the terrorist before he can talk? Meh. Sniper perfectly set up with a giant, fully scoped-out weapon resting on a bi-pod that misses a clear shot from like 50 yards? Whatever. 24, you can NO LONGER shock, hurt or surprise me. In fact, I’m fully ready and expecting them to rip off Chloe’s face and have Austin Powers say, “She’s a man, Man!” and then have Jack wake up and declare that it was all just a dream...

 

So, we’re watching an episode of Flash Forward the other night, which has yet to truly leap off the rails into the insane, and there is a scene where a bad guy walks into a YMCA styled dorm room packed with a bunch of sleeping people. He creeps up to someone, whips out a pistol and pfooot! pfooot! pfooot! puts three silenced rounds into a guy’s chest. No one stirs, and he leaves.

 

This got me to thinking…just how quiet IS a silenced weapon? And is it even possible to silence a large caliber sniper rifle? Now I don’t know these answers, but what I DO know is who to reach out to, my cousin, Chris, ex-member of SEAL Team 7. (And was invited to come and "interview" with SEAL 6 in Dam Neck, those bad-asses that took down Bin Laden.) He’s cycled through *several* tours and been on multiple direct action missions. So HE has experience handling silenced weapons. (If you ever find yourself in the fortunate position of having Chris in your wedding party, you can count on him *totally* having your pack with a discreetly concealed weapon. You know, in case your soon-to-be-wife issues some crazy last second demand or the minister mis-pronounces your name too many times.)

 

So, I asked Chris to shed some light on silenced weapons, you know, in case you ever got a need to do some killin’, errr, clandestine target practice. Here’s what he had to say:

 

"With silenced weapons, there are four issues to deal with. First is the noise from the explosion of the round going off in the chamber. It makes noise and that noise exits through the barrel. Second, if the bullet is traveling very fast (around 1100 feet per second) it makes a "sonic boom" or crack as it moves through the air. Third, the action of the gun (if you're shooting an auto) makes noise as it ejects the spent casing and reloads a fresh round. Fourth, is muzzle flash. A surprisingly large amount of flame comes out of the muzzle as ignited powder clears the barrel."

 

"Suppressors muffle some of the explosive noise, reduce the flash significantly (which is huge at night, especially if you are shooting out of a darkened building, window, etc.), and some are designed to slow the bullet down to 1,000 fps. You lose energy doing that, but gain some quietness. They also make subsonic ammo which is quieter to shoot. Not much that you can do about the noise of the action unless you are shooting a bolt action rifle, or something that's not an auto."

 

"So folks sleeping through a shooting in the same room is impossible to believe."

 

"Depending on what kind of weapon you're shooting (pistol vs sub machine gun (submachine gun, by the way, means a rifle that shoots a pistol cartridge - HK MP5, Thompson Machine Gun, etc.) vs assault rifle, vs bolt gun), you are going to hear differing amounts of noise. The HK MP5SD is a suppressed gun that's built at the factory that way. It's one of the quieter suppressed weapons that I've heard, but it's still loud enough that I'm worried about waking up people in the neighborhood if I'm shooting out lights, or trying to kill a dog in a yard before I enter it. I'd shoot it without ear protection, but it makes a lot of noise in the quiet of the night.  Even shooting an M4 (JS: a favorite of spec operators) with a silencer is still pretty loud. I don't like to shoot this without ear protection."

 

"As for guys shooting heavier weapons with suppressors, yes it's happening. Some is to diffuse the sound when sniping in an urban environment, hey anything helps, and as important is to reduce that muzzle flash. In the dark, the muzzle flash will completely light up a room, giving away your position."

 

JS: Sonically, how would you describe the sound of a silenced pistol? It is always kind of muffled, high-pitched "pfooot" sound in films. I've read it described more like the sound of slamming a book down on a counter.

 

"As for the 'pfooot' sound in films, that’s not anything that I've ever heard. As for a silenced pistol, it so depends on where you are and the ambient noise around you. A heavy book, flatly hitting a table, is pretty accurate,  but think about how that would sound in your living room in the middle of the night, with no other noise, compared to how it would sound on a busy street at noon, with traffic."

 

JS: I've also read that the MP5SD is quite quiet, and that the noisiest part of the whole shooting is the clicking metal,  mechanicals of the slide system cycling. So, would shooting this be louder than a hand clap?

 

"The MP5SD is probably the quietest suppressed weapon that I've heard, and you can definitely hear the action working, which is strange to hear because this sound is almost always covered by the noise of the discharge with all other weapon systems you shoot. But it's still not something that you would shoot in your living room without everyone noticing. Might be able to shoot it out of a van with other noise around you and not have it detected. So yes, louder than a hand clap."

 

Awesome! Thanks, Chris! So, the next time you see any of the JB boys -- James Bond, Jason Bourne, or Jack Bowers -- tap someone out in a room full of people without raising an eyebrow, you can chuckle (oh so softly as to not wake the guy you’re sneaking up on) to yourself and know that Chris is still out there. Doing the hard things for real. Hoo-yah!

Categories: April 2010, TV, Guest Blog

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7 Comments

Reply Pkscia@aol.com
4:18 PM on April 26, 2010 
I just hope I hever hear anything like that in my neighborhood!
Reply T~Law
6:50 PM on April 26, 2010 
i'll never forget the time a *cousin of yours* and i were in Berkeley on our way to an afternoon of pool/darts and snake bites at Raleigh's (one of those weekly monday afternoon meetings) when i had the pleasure of feeling completely protected as *piece of mind* was introduced to an approaching homeless man that was ignoring his 'suggestion' to "stay where you are and don't come any closer!" That's when my desire to apply for a concealed weapon permit was conceived..... This comment would actually work nicely as a suggestion for irritating pan handlers on the homeless blog as well.
Reply John Sciacca
10:31 AM on April 27, 2010 
T~Law says...
i'll never forget the time a *cousin of yours* and i were in Berkeley on our way to an afternoon of pool/darts and snake bites at Raleigh's (one of those weekly monday afternoon meetings) when i had the pleasure of feeling completely protected as *piece of mind* was introduced to an approaching homeless man that was ignoring his 'suggestion' to "stay where you are and don't come any closer!" That's when my desire to apply for a concealed weapon permit was conceived..... This comment would actually work nicely as a suggestion for irritating pan handlers on the homeless blog as well.

Totally remember that day! I also remember him saying -- as said piece of mind was leveled at homeless guy -- "I think we'd both feel a lot more comfortable if you just stay right there." Good times....
Reply Dan
6:25 PM on April 27, 2010 
Pkscia@aol.com says...
I just hope I hever hear anything like that in my neighborhood!


That's the beauty of a silencer.
Reply play solitaire online
1:37 AM on September 9, 2010 
Thanks for sharing this link, but unfortunately it seems to be offline... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please reply to my post if you do!

I would appreciate if a staff member here at johnsciacca.webs.com could post it.

Thanks,
Thomas
Reply SGT Carson
12:18 AM on July 7, 2013 
Great article, John! I too have done my time in the sandbox and "seen the elephant", although nothing nearly as high speed as being a SEAL, of course.

Couple of points based on my real-life experience:

1) The term "silenced" or "silencer" is depreciated; the correct term is "suppressor" and "suppressed". Compare "bulletproof vest" now being called "bullet-resistant vest" or "non-lethal ammo" becoming "less-lethal ammo". Same idea.

2) That high-pitched "zeet zeet" or "pew pew" noise you hear in TV and movies when a silenced weapon gets fired is pure sound-stage magic. Not sure who invented that sound clip, but it's so common now that people tend to assume all suppressed weapons sound that way. The actual sound depends on whether it's a semi-auto (in which case you get a rather loud clackety-clack as the action cycles) or a single-shot (which is markedly quieter at short range because it doesn't make the clackety-clack). I've handled SMGs and assault rifles that had a gas cut-off installed so as to prevent the action from cycling after the shot. You can get the same effect from "cold loaded" ammo, which is weak enough to be lethal at close range but not strong enough to cycle the action.

3) If you want to know how loud a suppressed, subsonic SMG or automatic rifle would be, just rack the action real fast. That's what it does when it cycles, after all, and that's about as loud as it'll be.
As your SEAL associate mentioned, this is quite noticeable if you're in the same room or even the next room over, but beyond that it'll simply sound like generic metal clicking (if you hear anything at all).

4) A big part of the success of suppressing a weapon is not making it perfectly silent. To do so usually requires too many sacrifices in velocity, ballistics and weapon design. What good is a super-quiet M4 with subsonic ammo and a suppressor if you can't make that 300 yard shot you desperately need? The most common suppressed weapon I saw was an M4 SOPMOD variant that used regular supersonic match ammo; this prevented any major loss of lethality at range, but wasn't anybody's idea of "quiet", either up close or with the supersonic bullet cracking over your head. The point was to eliminate muzzle flash at night and make it hard to pinpoint the shooter's location by sound alone; you could easily HEAR the bullet if it missed you, but the suppressor diffused the sound signature to where you couldn't localize the shooter's location, especially at night or in crowded/noisy situations.
Reply SGT Carson
12:31 AM on July 7, 2013 
Oh, also, it's entirely possible to create a "virtually silent" firearm. The trouble is they're extremely complex and specialized firearms, not particularly lethal, accurate or well-suited to combat. These types of weapons would be much more useful for an assassination, for example. The best example may be the Russian PSS pistol, which has the anemic muzzle energy of the .32ACP, a paltry 5-round magazine and can't hit a barn beyond 10 feet, but is quite possibly the quietest firearm on the planet, with zero muzzle flash and a report no louder than the snapping of a rubber band. There are other similar purpose-built pistols that have similar results.

It would be entirely plausible for a person to walk into a room full of sleeping men, zap one once in the temple with a PSS and walk out without waking the others. But you'd better make damn sure you kill him with the first shot, because shooting a man in the chest with a .32ACP is only going to piss him off. Zero chance of an instant kill.

Point worth considering: James Bond's famous suppressed Walther PPK fired a .32 ACP. Every time I saw him put a single round into a guy's chest, only to have him silently collapse dead like a puppet with cut strings, I wanted to laugh. When I bought my .32ACP ankle gun, the company rep actually advised me to "aim for the face and empty the magazine" unless I wanted to risk a pissed off bad-guy with a painful but non-lethal chest wound.