It’s unfortunate but true: The sound from a single gunshot can permanently damage your hearing. Permanent hearing loss results from each and every exposure to a dangerous sound level—and it might not be evident for years. So it’s obvious that you should always use hearing protection when shooting. And if it’s possible, consider installing silencers on your guns. While a silencer (also referred to as a suppressor) won’t completely negate the need for hearing protection, they do reduce sound levels significantly. It’s also a considerate way to shoot.

A suppressor works much like a muffler on your car. When you fire a gun, a large volume of hot, high-pressure gas exits the muzzle along with the bullet, which a lot of noise. The silencer contains those gasses for a bit and allows them to expand and cool more gradually by circulating them around internal baffles in the suppressor before they exit the muzzle. Slightly mellowed-out gas makes a lot less noise when exiting.

The Hollywood myth is that silencers muffle a gunshot to whisper level, but that simply is not true. To understand the relative volumes of un-silenced versus silenced guns, we have to understand sound and how it’s measured.

Sound level is measured in decibels, which use something called a logarithmic scale. Decibels are not linear in nature. Twenty decibels is not twice as loud as 10, it’s actually about 10 times as loud. Even a three-decibel increase represents a doubling of sound. The chart shown here lists approximate decibel levels of everyday noises.

The Silencer Surge: Be Very Quiet!

These Winchester Ammunition Train & Defend cartridges are subsonic—they travel less than the speed of sound and so don’t emit a sonic boom–which makes a Glock 26 topped with a SilencerCo Octane 45 a very quiet combination.

A .45 ACP pistol shot generates about 162 decibels, depending on the specific ammo and gun, and is well over the threshold for permanent hearing loss. Adding a suppressor reduces that sound output to about 133 decibels, below that threshold. While that’s a big improvement, it’s always a good idea to use hearing protection with a suppressor anyway if you’re shooting a lot, because sound level risk is cumulative. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration limits an eight-hour-shift exposure to an average of just 85 decibels.

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