This empowers my wife and daughter, and gives them that eternal entitlement of women, the birthright they inherit, the opportunity they never fail to take — the chance to roll their eyes and speak condescendingly about the main man in their life and how he's just another little boy at heart, and isn't it sweet, his silly ways, but how we do humor him
"Oh," they'll say, with a tired smile, "that's just Gordon's (or Dad's) shooting contraption."
I knew I was going to have to do something about the noise when I went to my men's Sunday School class, and one of the guys said, "You were shooting yesterday afternoon, right?"
Now, this fellow lives a goodly long ways from me as the crow flies — like a couple of miles, maybe. To get to him, passage is made around several rural roads, and you will travel several miles by blacktop. But a large part of the ground straight between us is pasture, woods and fields. I guessed it would not be beyond the realm of possibility that he had heard me shooting — at least the centerfire stuff, anyway.
Suspiciously, I asked him what he heard.
"Oh, around 4 o'clock, someone started shooting a high-powered rifle," he said. "It went on for about an hour, and it sounded like it came from your direction. Who else would it be, out here?"
He grinned, a little evilly I thought, but then I am always paranoid about my shooting.
So from that point, I embarked much more intently on a part-time project that I had been playing with for some time — a noise-reduction device to cut back on the racket made by my centerfire rifles.
As a firearms writer, I frequently find myself with a gun that needs shooting, and my schedule doesn't often allow the chance to load everything that needs testing and make my way to Hunter's Run, across the Mississippi River in Port Allen, or to Sherburne Wildlife Management Area near Krotz Springs, where the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries operates a highly popular outdoor rifle range.
I often find myself needing to test a piece of equipment, and living in a semi-rural area, I just step out the back door, and shoot into any one of several backstops I have strategically placed on my property for that very reason.
And this has worked well for years because even though my community has grown, and become urbanized, I still live down a country lane, surrounded by forest.
Unfortunately, civilization encroaches. Go in almost any direction for a few thousand feet, and you're likely to run into a housing development of some sort.
The folks who live in these suburban neighborhoods are used to the sound of rimfires and shotguns going off since there is still a good bit of small-game hunting that occurs throughout the community.
But it is another thing entirely to hear the nerve-shattering "crack" that accompanies a high-powered rifle.
I wanted to be a good neighbor, and I certainly didn't want a nervous type calling the local authorities — not a likely occurrence, since there is still some deer hunting that happens around here in the fall — but when I get started, I really don't know when to quit, and might end up shooting a great deal.
My first attempt didn't work out too well. Of course, I maintain that the plastic 55-gallon drum I used had been sitting out in the sun for too long, and had become brittle.
That is the only way I can explain the reaction of the drum after I fired one shot from a bolt-action 7mm Remington Magnum through it.
I had cut 12-inch diameter holes out of each end of the drum, propped it up and sighted through it, with the rifle muzzle stuck about half way up in it. I sighted on the target through the far hole, and touched the trigger.
The resulting blast from the end of the rifle blew the top half of the drum to smithereens. I had plastic shards floating down from low-limb level, and the drum was good for the junk pile. Not only did it not work, but I had a heck of a mess to clean up.
I would have tried it again with a newer drum — I really thought the plastic was pretty old and brittle — but it was obvious this design was not going to achieve my main objective of muffling the sound at least to some degree.
The project went on a back burner. But neighborhoods kept popping up across the area — locals selling off family farmland, out of sight but obviously not out of earshot. And then came the conversation with my Sunday School classmate, and I started getting serious again.
A friend sold off some of his land to a subdivision developer, and contractors came in and started the digging and installing of the drainage system. When their job was nearly completed, there were two corrugated plastic drainage pipes left over — 24 inches inside diameter and 12 feet long. My friend mentioned my project to the construction boss, and he obligingly rolled one of the pipes into my friend's yard from the development. I had my tube!
I brought the pipe home, and mounted it in the pasture on a metal shooting table, supporting the other end with a metal rack. The tube was pointed at my berm, a little over 100 yards away. I was amazed to find that plastic 55-gallon drums have an outside diameter of 23.5 inches. This was too good to be true. I tried one, and it slid up inside the plastic pipe like it had been designed for it.
I cut approximately 12-inch holes out of the ends of two drums, and shoved them up in each end of the pipe. Taking one of my centerfire rifles, I set up my sandbags and fired a test shot at the 100-yard berm through the tube.
Since I wear hearing protection, I couldn't tell any difference, so I walked back in the house and asked my wife if the noise had been cut down any. She shook her head.
"No, not much at all. And it has a funny, hollow sound to it."
The Army has a saying: "The longer you're in a position, the more you improve it." In other words, your first position that first night is going to be a hasty hole in the ground, minimal protection from mortars, enemy fire, etc.
But everyday you are there, you work on your position, making it more secure, more comfortable — and that has been the outcome of my "gun muffler" project.
I took batt insulation, cut it, and stuck it up in the pipe. To keep it from collapsing, I cut fence wire and formed it into a compressed tube. When it was stuck up inside the insulation, it sprung out, keeping the insulation pressed against the inside wall of the pipe.
I found a piece of pipe with an outside diameter of 13 inches, and a length of some seven feet. I enlarged the hole and stuck it through the drum on my shooting bench, and fired through it. It carried the sound and concussion into the insulated sound chamber, while the drum at the far end kept the noise trapped inside the pipe.
I can't tell you it's not still loud. The concussive blast of a centerfire rifle is incredibly hard to contain. But I can tell you it has cut the sharp, high-pitched "crack" that comes with a high-powered rifle being fired almost to nothing. Now, my rifle shots sound similar to very loud shotgun blasts — not nearly as offensive.
It's been fun building and experimenting with this "contraption" as my wife and daughter refer to it. Future experiments will entail hanging carpet "baffles" in line inside the pipe, with holes cut in the middle for the bullets to pass through. I also intend to drape some heavy used carpet over the length of the device. I believe both of these experiments will cut down the noise even further.
I've noticed some interesting facets of my new "shooting tube." First, it does not affect the accuracy of the rounds fired. The interior diameter of the tube and the exit holes are large enough that the bullets are not affected by the proximity of the walls. I sight rifles in and gain excellent groups.
Second, of course I wear shooting glasses, but sticking the muzzle well into the smaller tube at the end, I do not get any "blow-back." All the gases and concussion go out the other end and are trapped in the chamber.
Third, no wasp nests. Oh, there have been a couple at different times, but it only takes one shot, and they leave — hurriedly.
Finally, the tube has the added advantage of insuring that anyone who uses it and shoots down its middle can hit nowhere but the dirt backstop. The sight picture offered down the tube allows aiming only at the mounded target area. You simply cannot aim higher than the backstop while shooting down this device. This is an interesting facet to consider for outdoor ranges that worry about shooters firing over the backstops.
The one downside I have found is sometimes you have to wait a bit for the smoke to clear in the chamber. When you shoot several shots in a row, the smoke will fill the tube, and it will take a little while for it to settle.
One of my shooting buddies jokingly suggested I should patent the idea. But in the interest of the greater good for shooting, I magnanimously offer the design to any and all willing to work this hard to make shooting a little more acceptable to the general populace. If we all try to be good neighbors, we'll always have the pleasure and right to shoot our guns in semi-populated areas.
Gordon Hutchinson's best-selling novel, The Quest and the Quarry, a generational tale that parallels the lives of a line of trophy bucks with the youth of a farming family and their hunts for them, can be ordered at: www.thequestandthequarry.com, or by calling (800) 538-4355.