CHEYENNE — Wyoming hunters could use guns equipped with silencers to kill predators and non-game animals but could not use them for hunting big game under a bill the state House of Representatives advanced Monday.
The Wyoming Senate earlier had passed a version of the bill that would allow the firearm accessories for all hunting. The House amended it to specify that silencers wouldn’t be allowed for hunting elk, deer and similar game.
Wyoming is one of the few western states that bar hunters from using the devices. Proponents say silencers can help save hunters’ hearing. But some critics say using silencers is unsporting and potentially dangerous since hunters won’t be able to tell when others are shooting.
Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, proposed the amendment to prohibit using silencers for big game.
“I know when I hunt, and I hunt in the woods, I like to hear that loud report, that loud crack, particularly when somebody’s close to let me know where they’re at,” Sommers said. He said allowing silencers for big game would be a hunter safety issue.
“I do support their use with predators and trophy game animals,” Sommers said. “I think with trophy game, you’re looking mainly at wolves being hunted. Mountain lions are usually treed when they’re shot. Mostly bears are hunted over bait, so I don’t see the same issues as I would with big game.”
Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, sponsored the bill on the House floor. “Silencers is not the right word, that’s kind of movie magic name,” he said, adding that he prefers the word “suppressors.”
While silencers reduce the noise of a high-powered rifle substantially, Jaggi said they’re still audible to game and other hunters. He said after the vote that he intends to try to amend it on its next reading in the House to allow their use for big game hunting.
Current Wyoming law prohibits possessing silencers in the game fields. Jaggi said the bill would restore rights that were taken away when the federal government first regulated silencers in the 1930s. Silencers are regulated by the federal government and purchasing one requires a state and federal background checks as well as payment of a $200 transfer fee.
“It’s really about the freedom of choice,” Jaggi said. “Do you want one or do you not want one?”
Jaggi said he doesn’t see any reason to differentiate between big game animals or other species when it comes to hunting with silencers. “There really isn’t anything unethical about it,” he said.
Rep. Robert McKim, R-Afton, said he was against the amendment to prohibit using silencers for hunting big game.
“Having grown up being a hunter, going out into the wilderness, having an opportunity to chase animals and shoot at them, as the good presenter has said, you suffer hearing loss,” McKim said. “That’s what concerns me the most.”
Roger A. Bredehoft, lobbyist for the Wyoming Game Wardens Association, said his group is solidly against allowing any hunting with suppressors and had worked on the amendment to prohibit their use on big game.
“We feel that any reduction in sound is a concern,” Bredehoft said. He said about 75 percent of trespassing cases are made by game wardens and landowners hearing gunshots.
“We also feel that it’s a hunter safety issue, that hunters in the field want to know where other hunters are,” Bredehoft said.
Bredehoft said the association is also concerned that that general public may view silencers as unsporting, and that permitting them may erode public support for hunting.
“The suppressors themselves might not be a total fair chase issue, but when you’re talking about extremely long range rifles now, and special high powered scopes, and range finders, and now you throw suppressors in, you’re starting to get into a situation where, are you hunting or are you just killing?” Bredehoft said. “And we feel that suppressors are just another step in the wrong direction for that. And we feel it’s an issue for the future of hunting.”