Welcome to our first review and write-up on a suppressor! As we begin reviewing suppressors here at Sniper Central, we only thought it fitting that we begin with the suppressor that has been in use here the longest, and that is our Tactical Operations .30 Caliber steel suppressor. Normally when people think of Tactical Operations they think of their excellent rifles which we have reviewed here a number of times, but one of the passions at Tactical Operations is actually suppressors. They are a full class 3 manufacturer and they have been designing and building suppressors for pistols, carbines, and long rifles for many years, nearly as long as they have been building rifles. We have had our Tactical Operations 30 caliber can for about 10 years ourselves and unfortunately we are just getting around to doing this review! But this long delay does allow us to write this review having had many years of experience with it and it has allowed us to observe how it has held up over the past decade.
As you read this review, do keep in mind that suppressors are a class III NFA restricted item. It is no problem to have a rifle that is threaded for a suppressor, but the suppressor itself has to be handled with the normal NFA rules to include the Form 4 registration and tax stamp during the time of purchase. The procedure is not difficult to do, but it does take time, usually about 6 months, and it does cost the $200 tax stamp for each NFA item. All of our suppressor reviews are performed under strict accordance of the law.
Today the most common thread specification for the threads on a 30 caliber rifle suppressor is the 5/8-24 tpi spec, but a decade ago that spec was not as well established and this can is actually threaded for the 9/16-24 tpi spec. We have a few Tactical Operations rifles here that are threaded for that same thread spec and those are the rifles that we use this suppressor with. Tactical Operations likes to “time” the cans to the rifle to insure the can mates up to the barrel a specific way and to verify that everything is synched up to prevent any potential bullet strike as it travels through the suppressor. Tactical Operations did do the timing and verification on the three rifles we use this can on and all are good to go. This detailed timing process is probably not necessary, but it was nice to know there would be no issues.
This can is made with traditional steel which gives it extra weight and heft, 2.1 pounds worth, but it is probably regarded as the metal of choice for the ultimate in sound suppression. TacOps also makes titanium cans for reduced weight, but titanium can have a more “tingy” sound to them versus steel. We plan to review some titanium cans in the future in order to draw a comparison between the two materials.
The size and shape of all suppressors are about the same so there is not really a lot to comment about in those regards. The length is a tad over eight inches and the diameter is 1.62″. Both are about average for a 30 caliber suppressor. The finish is the traditional Tactical Operations favorite, Birdsong Black-T, the same finish they use on their rifles. Of course, the real engineering and design features of a suppressor are found on the inside with the baffle design and construction. This is what determines the effective performance of a suppressor. In essence, the old adage “it is what is on the inside that counts” holds especially true for suppressors. The actual design of the interior baffles is a bit beyond my expertise level to where we would feel comfortable comparing one against the other, but for us as snipers and shooters, what really counts is how effective the suppressor is, so that is where we will focus.
Anytime you hang a 2.1 pound lump of steel on the end of the barrel, it is going to affect the harmonics of the barrel and shift the point of impact of the rifle. Each rifle and suppressor combo will be a little bit different, even if the same suppressor is used on multiple rifles, or multiple suppressors are used on the same rifle, the shift will be different. The good thing is that the shift will always be the same on that particular rifle, so a shooter just needs to log what the shift is in their log book and the next time that suppressor is attached, make the necessary adjustments on the scope, and they will be good to go. The other alternative is to just always keep the suppressor attached, but that has its own negatives such as the added weight and length. Either way, log the data and make sure you have it.
We have been using this suppressor for years on three different rifles that it was fitted to, two 308’s and one .300 Win Mag, so we know the general behavior of the can. But we needed to do the “official” test to measure sound performance with the .308. For our tests with the TacOps suppressor we decided to use the .308 DM/S concept rifle. For those of you that are not familiar with suppressors on rifles, there are two things that contribute to the noise from a rifle. There is the explosion of the actual gunpowder going off, and then there is the crack of the bullet as it goes through the sound barrier. That crack is a tiny sonic boom, just like from an aircraft going through the sound barrier. The suppressor does the job of suppressing the explosion of the gunpowder and it does this by taking the exploding gasses that are propelling the bullet down the barrel, and then captures those gasses and lets them expand into the baffles and chambers within the suppressor. All of those baffles are made of metal that sound has a hard time passing through and this is what suppresses the sound. Of course, this does nothing to stop a supersonic bullet from breaking the sound barrier when it leaves the barrel, so you still will get a crack. Typically a good suppressor makes a .308 Winchester sound about like a .22 Long Rifle. Of course, there is always the additional option of using ammo that does not travel faster than the speed of sound, this is called sub-sonic ammunition and it does make the rifle extremely quiet. But on the other hand, the bullet has to travel at about 1000 fps or less, and as you might imagine, this destroys any long range capability and makes the .308 not capable of going past about 200 yards effectively.
Since we are snipers and we use the ballistic capability of our rifles to its fullest advantage, we at Sniper Central perform our suppressor tests with full power loads and try to compare and perform some meaningful measurement using this full power ammo. The main problem that we ran into is that all of the decibel meters we could find on the market only go up to 130db which is well below what the report of a rifle is at about 175db. We wanted to just measure the db drop, but currently we cannot find a way to do that (if you know of one, please let us know!). So instead we decided to record the audio of the shots with and without the suppressor attached and then display the graph to give a visible comparison of what the sound is doing. We also have the audio clips to listen to in order to hear the difference.
The ammo we used for testing this suppressor was the HSM 155gr AMAX load that the DM/S rifle was tailored around. The impact shift from when the suppressor is attached versus when it is not was the same as normal on the DM/S rifle, about 1.5″. Again, this is the same as it always has been and is good to see it does not shift. Over the years this suppressor seen extensive use and it has held up very well. Some of the Black-T finish has worn off of a small area on the front edge of the suppressor where it was resting against a metal clasp during transportation, but beyond that, it still looks very good. The Black-T is not a super matte black, so there is a bit more sheen to it than some other matte finishes, but it is subdued enough for tactical work. The sound does not have any sort of resonant ‘ting’ but rather you just get the crack of the bullet.
The Tactical Operations .30 caliber suppressor reduced the report of the rifle enough that if one desired they could fire the rifle without hearing protection. We suspect that this still will cause hearing damage, so only do it at your own risk, and consult an ear doctor or hearing specialist before attempting this. The real advantage of suppressors comes to a sniper team by masking their location. Yes, there is still a crack from the bullet, but the crack that an enemy hears is from a moving bullet and it is extremely difficult to determine the origination of the shot, where as the normal unsuppressed boom originates from the location of the shooter, making enemy detection simpler. This was a big reason for the US Army requirement for suppressor capability on both the M110 and XM2010 sniper rifles. To hear the actual comparison between the suppressed and unsuppressed DM/S click below:
The microphone and recording software also normalize the sound at a certain maximum level, so even the recordings above are not a 100% accurate portrayal of the volume of the shots, but you can hear the difference in the sound. To actually ‘see’ the comparison of the sound profile with the suppressor attached and unattached, take a look below at the sound profiles of the two audio recordings from above:
Notice how the time duration of the pulse is about twice as along and has more “power” behind it. We are not audio experts here but to us the pictures show a significant drop and change in the sound of the report of the rifle. There is still a sharp crack from that sonic boom, but the report of the rifle itself has been drastically reduced, which is obvious when you listen to the shots. We hope to develop a more empirical means of measuring the performance of suppressors to compare them, but until we can do that, we’ll just have to go with the subjective info we provided here.
All in all, the TacOps suppressor is a very nice suppressor that has been a workhorse, performs very well, and gets the job done right. On top of that it has held up well over the years and has provided many years of solid service.