The GemTech Tracker and the Evolution of the Sound Suppressor in Modern-Day America

By Will Dabbs, MD | Photography by Sarah Dabbs

From Gangster Tool To Hunting Implement

Hiram Percy Maxim, son of the renowned inventor of the Maxim machine gun Hiram Stevens Maxim, is generally credited with the development of the world’s first effective sound suppressor in 1902. His patent for the device was awarded on March 30, 1909. From that point up until 1934, American shooters could pick up a sound suppressor at their local hardware store cash and carry.

Politicians always use tragedy to shape policy. Lawmakers tapped the ongoing gangster wars between organized crime and Law Enforcement to justify regulating certain types of firearms in civilian hands. The perception at the time was that sound suppressors were the tools of choice of brooding assassins in dark trench coats. Were something not done, chaos would inevitably ensue. As a result, sound suppressors were grouped with cut-down shotguns, automatic weapons and eventually in 1968 destructive devices—like hand grenades and rocket launchers—for exceptional government control.

At that time in American history, politicians still infrequently read the Constitution. Failing to appreciate any authority on the part of the federal government to ban anything outright, they instead attempted to use the nation’s tax code to tax these items out of existence. After 1934, law-abiding Americans could still own all the sound suppressors and machineguns they wanted. The rub was simply that they were charged a $200 making or transfer tax for the privilege. As $200 in 1934 was the cost of seven ounces of gold (which goes for over $1200 per ounce today), that effectively ended any market there might have been for such stuff. Now, some 82 years later, inflation has finally taken the teeth out of this egregious transfer tax, and more and more Americans are enjoying suppressor ownership as a result.

What’s the Point?

When I was young I was once out on a deer stand alongside my dad, trying to keep from freezing to death long enough to see a whitetail buck. I was too young to pack a gun myself, but the outing was an adventure for us both. A modest eight point had the supremely poor judgment to wander within range of my dad’s 7mm Magnum bolt-action deer rifle, and he put the animal on the dinner table in short order. However, I lacked the foresight to plug my ears. I still recall now more than four decades hence how my ears rang after that encounter.

Down here in God’s country, feral pigs have become way more than a nuisance. They breed like rabbits and are a holy terror for local farmers. A herd of pigs literally destroyed a stand of corn down the road from my house several years back, and a local farmer friend told me he had to plant his soybean fields three times in one year because the swine rooted along the rows and ate all his seeds. One of the reasons that pigs are so tough to eradicate is that they are surprisingly smart. Animal experts put them on a par with your favorite hunting dog in the intelligence department. They may not as yet solve differential equations or engage in space exploration (a comical mental picture that), but they won’t just stand still when folks start shooting at them.

Home defense is arguably the most common excuse we gun guys offer for purchasing serious social guns and gear. However, touch off that tricked-out black rifle in your living room at 3:00 a.m. and you are about done. The muzzle flash will trash your night vision, and the high intensity noise will render your ears worthless. That is inconvenient and annoying under the best of circumstances. When it means you cannot hear your kids’ calls for help or the responding officers’ demands for you to put down your weapon it can be more serious.

What Might a Suppressor Do for You?

Movies have ruined us. I don’t know where the Foley artists who conjure up sounds for movies first dug up that zippy little mouse fart noise they always use, but I have never heard that out here in the real world. Real suppressors fall into two broad categories, typically based upon the cartridge rather than the can.

If a bullet travels faster than the speed of sound (over 1,100 feet per second on a 58+ºF day), it will break the sound barrier and create a sharp crack. This noise happens outside the gun, and no sound suppressor ever created will be able to affect it. A cool way to demonstrate this with a suppressed weapon is to fire the supersonic round at a distant target, and then fire it into soft ground just ahead of the firing line. The difference is stark. What a sound suppressor will reliably do, however, is effectively mask the origin of the shot. When fired upon by a suppressed weapon, those aforementioned wily pigs just can’t figure out which way to run.

The effectiveness of a sound suppressor is largely driven by the hole in the end. A .223 or .30-caliber can running subsonic rounds is always quieter to my ear than a pistol can running .45 ACP. In fact, of all the suppressed weapons in my collection, the most impressive is a bolt-action .223 firing subsonic handloads. About all you hear when that thing goes off is the firing pin drop.

A sound-suppressed deer rifle produces less perceived recoil, offers potentially greater accuracy due to the extra weight dampening out barrel harmonics and makes the experience much more palatable for kids. You only get so much hearing in one lifetime. Burn through that in your youth, and you’ll spend your declining years answering the phone when it isn’t ringing.

Gemtech—the Apex Predator

Gemtech is a foundational name in the American sound suppressor business. They build their cans using actual science, and their quality is unrivalled. Their new Tracker .30-caliber sound suppressor is purpose-designed for the American hunter.

At 7 inches long and weighing a mere 11 ounces, the lightweight Tracker adds very little to a hunter’s burden in the field. The can is available with a .30-caliber bore and corresponding 5/8x24 thread mount. An inexpensive adaptor runs the can just as well on your .223 rifles. Any loss of efficiency that stems from shooting a .223 through a .30-caliber can is essentially imperceptible. The can is rated for use on rifles up to .300 Winchester Magnum so long as you adhere to barrel length and duty cycle guidelines. For independent sound testing, see Table 1.

The Tracker is designed from the outset for hunting applications, and it should not be used on weapons that shoot fast or produce high round counts. Gemtech recommends that you allow the can to cool to ambient temperature every 10 rounds. No legitimate North American hunting application employing a centerfire sporting rifle should ever exceed that in practical application. If you want an indestructible can to mount on your full-auto M4 for the day the zombies inevitably come, Gemtech can hook you up with a more appropriate device. However, the Tracker will still yield yeomanly service on the end of your favorite home defense gun so long as you don’t just wring it out.

Almost everybody offers threaded barrel versions of their weapons these days. With a .223 adaptor, a single Tracker suppressor can support a variety of platforms from .30 caliber down. Once you have used a Tracker, you will never go back to your archaic unsuppressed rifles.

Subsonic .223 rounds are just above the ballistic equivalent of .22 LR. However, subsonic .30-caliber rounds, whether they be factory .300 AAC or home-rolled 7.62x51mm handloads, retain enough energy to drop proper game while remaining just nuts quiet. The versatility of the Tracker across multiple platforms is remarkable.

MSRP for the can is $599, and the device is built from aluminum and titanium to minimize weight. Even adding $200 for the transfer tax, you likely dropped a lot more than that on your four-wheeler. To quote the Gemtech website: “Don’t kill your hearing. Kill your dinner.”


There is no noteworthy crime committed with sound-suppressed weapons. That only happens in movies. Sound suppressors should be sold over the counter unrestricted at your local box store alongside the fishing supplies and beanbag chairs. Legally owning one of these devices at present requires a bit of paperwork, a set of fingerprint cards and a check for $200, but you no longer have to beg permission of your Chief Law Enforcement Officer. We may even yet see sound suppressors deregulated at the federal level in the next year or two.

Hunting big game with a sound-suppressed rifle is sensible, safe and fun. It makes you a more neighborly shooter as well as a more effective hunter while preserving your irreplaceable hearing. If you want an excuse to use with your spouse, just tell her you want to remain an engaging conversationalist well into your twilight years.

Subsonic Ammo for the Luddite

I have owned a reloader for three decades, but I’m not very good at reloading. Reloading was always a means to an end for me rather than an end unto itself. I’m not the guy who cuts his powder charges with an electron microscope and then swoons in glorious rapture when his bullet holes finally become confluent. I reload because I’m cheap.

Bulk steel-cased blasting ammo is typically available for roughly the cost of components. So long as I can mail order 9mm and .223 by the case at reasonable prices, it isn’t worth my time or trouble to roll my own. Amassing a supply of subsonic ammo, however, is the perfect excuse to get into reloading.

Commercial subsonic ammo is available but expensive. The key to affordable subsonic ammo is Hodgdon’s Trail Boss powder. Hodgdon’s Trail Boss powder was designed specifically for cowboy action shooting. The individual powder particles look like little doughnuts with a hole in the center, so they have a large volume for a given charge weight. As a result, this powder works perfectly for reduced charge subsonic rifle loads. Short-charged loads with conventional powders can result in inconsistent ignition and poor performance. With Trail Boss, the powder takes up plenty of space, and it is all but impossible to overcharge your cases.

I initially tried heavy bullets. Really heavy 77-grain subsonic loads tumbled out of my suppressed .223 Remington 700 bolt gun sounding like a swarm of angry bees. This 1-in-12 barrel twist is inadequate to stabilize slow, heavy bullets. I typically get better service loading standard-weight bullets and titrating powder charges down until the velocity is subsonic.

In 7.62x51mm I started out with 10 grains of Trail Boss behind a Speer Match King 168-grain HPBT (Hollow Point Boat Tail) bullet. This produced around 1,075 feet per second and a modest sonic crack. For trans-sonic loads the bullet slows to subsonic speeds quickly, and the crack is less pronounced as exposure to the supersonic phase is brief. I tweaked my powder charges down until I consistently got around 1,015 feet per second with 9.0 grains of Trail Boss. The resulting load is thoroughly ear safe. These loads through my suppressed .308 Remington 700 are all but noiseless, and they don’t cost anything more than the basic components. They also retain enough downrange thump for practical use at appropriate ranges.

You likely won’t burn huge volumes of subsonic ammo in a suppressed bolt gun, so a single-stage reloader might suit your needs. Several companies produce them and getting set up need not be expensive. If you really need a lot of subsonic ammo, a progressive reloader will be a good investment. The internet will answer any technical questions you might have. Reloading is a relaxing way to kill an evening, and my kids were my able assistants back before they grew up and moved away. Be forewarned, however, that silent shooting is addictive.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N1 (January 2018)
and was posted online on November 17, 2017


12-13-2017 5:55 PM

The content of this article is fine but why such a provocative (and incorrect) title?  The gun grabbers get more ammo!

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