In the past decade, there has been an explosion in popularity of the use of NFA-compliant suppressors (commonly but incorrectly termed silencers) both in recreational use and in hunting. With that being said, is there a place in the rabbit dog community for these devices?
Hunting with suppressors?
First off, sound moderating devices such as suppressors and silencers have never been illegal in the United States, the country of their birth. From 1909 when the first Maxim silencers came out, until 1934 when the National Firearms Act placed restrictions on these devices, you could even buy them mail order over the counter.
In just the past four years, suppressor ownership across the country has doubled from 285,000 registered "cans" in 2011 to more than 571,000 today. No less than 39 states allow ownership of NFA-registered suppressors, and most of these further allow their use in hunting, with this club increasing every year. In 2014 alone, Georgia, Louisiana, and Alabama all expanded this right to their sportsmen, while Florida and Montana approved the measure so far this year.
According to the American Suppressor Association, 35 states currently allow for their use in hunting, with most of these having regular rabbit seasons.
Why fool with it?
Obviously, use of a suppressor can translate into quieter hunts in which hearing protection is built-in to the firearm rather than stuffed in your ears. Sadly, many of us choose not to use earpro while in the field so we can listen to the sound of the dogs, the flush of the bunnies from the brush, and other reasons. This translates into loss of hearing over time. (How often do you say, "What?" when people are talking to you?)
As noted by the ASA, "Suppressors reduce the noise of a gunshot by an average of 20 35 dB, which is roughly the same as earplugs or earmuffs. By decreasing the overall sound signature, suppressors help to preserve the hearing of recreational shooters, hunters, and hunting dogs around the world."
Overseas, especially in New Zealand and Great Britain, taking rabbits with what they term "moderated" shotguns is considered not only smart, but also downright polite.
A Brit using a Hushpower .410 in field tests-- and yes, he's speaking English!
Here in the U.S., there is a bit more regulation on suppressors (to include ATF paperwork, a tax stamp, and an inevitable wait) but there are lots of options for the rabbit hunter who wants to use one to hunt with.
This is my Marlin XT-22 rig that I built for under $700 to include everything from the TAC-65 suppressor to the stamp to the gun and scope. Overall, totally tricked out the project produced a gun that weighed in at 6 lbs. 14.1 oz. with the suppressor installed, the sling, swivels, 8 rounds of CCI Stingers loaded, the Simmons 8pt scope, Weaver medium rings and Marlin-provided scope base.Total length with the 'can' on the end is 47-inches overall. While it's not a rabbit dog gun, it can and has taken bunnies while still-hunting fields.
The same can fits my Walther P-22 range toy-- that is a hit around the camp and has successfully added both the occasional rabbit and squirrel to the pot (while following all applicable state hunting regulations)
Shotgun options to include Silencerco's Salvo series (currently available just in 12-gauge) are out there and you can be sure that models from competitors will soon be on the way which will likely drive the price down.
I've shot a Salvo on the clays range (nailed 2/3 rabbits on average) and its a little front-heavy which does not bode well for field use on bunnies, but it is functional if you can get used to it. Further, they can drop muzzle sound down to 136.8 dB at the muzzle -, which is below the 140 dB hearing-safe threshold set by OSHA after which earplugs are recommended.
Now if they just marketed an overbarrel version for a .410...
As mentioned above, these devices add inches and ounces to the guns they are used on, which slows their shoulder time down a good bit.
Further, some often see the use of suppressors in hunting as "unsporting," however, in the course of a rabbit hunt with dogs, there is lots of racket anyway so it's not as the suppressor is going to help any hunter bushwhack and unsuspecting bunny in an unsporting manner. Odds are, the rabbits likely know you are out there already anyway long before you draw a bead on them. You are trying to help preserve you and your dog's hearing while cutting down on nearby property owner complaints.
Finally, cost is a factor. These things can get expensive and there are a lot of hoops to jump through to get one.
In the end, the decision, as well as investing in the $200 tax stamp and $79-$200 trust (if you elect to go with a trust, which is not required but is recommended) is up to you. It all depends on how much you enjoy the prospect of a quieter hunt.