When Dustin Norton is crouched high above the ground in a deer stand, he wants to hear the crack of twigs and rustle of bushes in order to find his target.
If Norton sees his prize, like many Georgia hunters, he doesn't have time to shove in earplugs for protection before squeezing the trigger.
"They're just going to let their ears ring," said Norton, of Tunnel Hill, Ga.
And if you wear earplugs to protect your hearing, he said, "you won't hear what's coming."
That's why Norton and other Georgia hunters and gun enthusiasts say they support a new state Senate bill that could lift the ban on hunting with a silencer, or suppressor. They say it would help protect their ears and -- with the right weapon -- improve shooting precision.
But critics worry that the proposed law could make it easier for people to commit a crime or poach animals without getting caught.
The gun silencer bill -- Senate Bill 301 -- was introduced by Sen. John Bulloch, R-Ochlocknee, and also is backed by Chickamauga Republican Sen. Jeff Mullis. When introduced last week in the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, the legislation passed unanimously.
Hunting with a suppressor already is legal in several other states including Tennessee, officials said.
If the bill becomes law, hunters would be allowed to use suppressors on the end of any firearm used for hunting as long as the owners are registered through the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Silencers can be purchased now after a rigorous licensing process, and only the registered owner is allowed to use the equipment.
State Department of Natural Resources officials asked senators to add an amendment that would strip a hunter's license for three years if he is caught using a suppressor illegally.
The Georgia bill wouldn't change the extensive process potential silencer owners must go through to own a suppressor, said John Martin, owner of Shooter's Depot in Fort Oglethorpe.
Suppressors are class III weapons, the same classification as machine guns and other semiautomatic weapons, said Kevin Boydston, ATF director of industry operations for the Nashville office. Before someone can purchase a suppressor, he must go through an extensive background check, be approved by the local police chief or sheriff and pay a $200 tax, Boydston said.
While several lawmakers backing the bill didn't return calls seeking comment, Bulloch told The Associated Press he penned the bill in an effort to keep hunters from disturbing their neighbors.
But some police worry that the quieter weapon could lead to an increase in poaching or hunting on private property without permission or within city limits, all of which are illegal.
In Calhoun, Ga., police respond to complaints of people trying to hunt deer within patches of woods inside city limits, said police Lt. Tony Pyle. Usually the complaint calls come from residents who hear the shots in the distance and are concerned, he said.
Silencers "could make it harder for them to be caught because no one will hear [the shots]," he said.
David Saylors owns Liberty Suppressors, a manufacturing company based in Trenton, Ga., whose slogan is, "The right to remain silent." He said most suppressors cut a gun's noise level by about 30 decibels. While there are suppressors that can make a rifle quieter than a BB gun, those are the exception, he said.
With most rifles, a suppressor lowers their sound from about 160 decibels to about 130 -- 10 decibels below the threshold of pain and a level that typically won't damage the ear in small doses, Saylors said.
He said he gets complaints from hunters who want to buy his product but aren't allowed to do so. His shop sells more than 1,000 suppressors a year to recreational shooters and makes special silencers for other customers.
"[Owners] are not assassins," he said. "They are not evil waiting to kill their predators at night."
by Joy Lukachick