A bill that would allow sound suppressors on weapons used when hunting wolves and mountain lions was met with resistance from sporting groups during a House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee hearing Tuesday.
Rep. Ted Washburn, R-Bozeman, the bill’s sponsor, said now that wolf hunting laws are being expanded it’s a good time to review the law regarding suppressors, which also are known as silencers. He noted that they’re already allowed when people are shooting coyotes, foxes, gophers and prairie dogs, and added that they offer hearing protection when target shooting.
Washburn also said a company in his district produces rifles and silencers, and that’s part of the reason he’s sponsoring the bill.
“It’s never been the intent for people to use these suppressors to hunt big game,” Washburn added. “It was just to hunt predators.”
George Golie with the Montana Wildlife Federation questioned the need for the bill. Mountain lions typically are treed by dogs before being shot, and he wondered aloud why someone would use a silencer in that situation. In addition, he said it’s important for landowners to be able to hear a shot in case someone is poaching on their property.
“For a landowner, this gunshot is important because it’s an indication of somebody doing something illegal on his property,” Golie said.
April Lane of Whitefish said she and her friends also listen for gunshots on public property when they’re out recreating in order to avoid hunters.
“We like to give them a wide berth; I like to know where they are,” Lane said. “It also flies in the face of fair chase and hunting ethically.”
Sam Milodragovich with the Montana Sportsmen Alliance and Jim Kropp, the FWP chief law enforcement officer said they believe there’s a time and place for silencers, but not during the regular big game hunting season.
“Passage of the bill would complicate law enforcement during the big game hunting season,” Kropp told the committee. “If they’re using a silencer when hunting wolf or mountain lions, they wouldn’t be able to take deer and elk on the same hunt unless they carried a second weapon.”
Kropp noted that under federal law, people who own suppressors have to register with the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency. In 2011, the ATF reported about 600 licensed individuals in Montana.
E.J. Redding, a competitive shooter, supported the bill and said people can still hear the bullets fly since they break the sound barrier.
“It just isn’t the usual blast,” Redding said. “But you can’t stop the report of a supersonic missile.”
Rep. JP Pomnichowski, D-Bozeman, questioned why bears aren’t included in the silencer bill, since they’re not denning when the wolf hunting season starts in September.
Washburn said he may amend the bill based on some of the comments.
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or email@example.com. Follow Eve on Twitter.com/IR_EveByron