By Steve Baughman
Maybe I expect too much from my .22’s – all I ask for is 1/2 MOA accuracy and quiet suppressed operation for discrete target shooting. The quest for this performance started several years ago when I purchased one of JR Customs “Navy” suppressors for my Ruger Mk II pistol and an old Glenfield .22 rifle. My decision to go with the Navy was based on its versatility and performance ratings. I wanted a suppressor that could be moved from both pistol and rifle for quiet target shooting in the woods behind my property. At the time of purchase, the Navy was highly rated for quiet operation. An excellent and very thorough Al Paulson article (MGN – June 1992) sold me on its design aspects and sound reduction capabilities. I called Jim Ryan, and he guided me through the paperwork and legal details since it was my first Class III purchase. This conversation put me at ease since all this was new to me at the time. Although many of us who read this magazine have gone through the NFA paperwork process many times, there are probably just as many who are “sitting on the fence.” Some people do have reservations for taking the plunge into the NFA world, but those who do are usually happy they did.
After acquiring the Navy, it was initially put into service with the Mk II pistol, and usually shot “wet” by spraying some oil into the can before use. This greatly enhanced the degree of suppression over shooting in the “dry” mode. One would think that this would help while in service with the rifle, but the Navy seemed to perform equally well with the rifle in either the wet or dry modes. To me, the main hindrance of this system was that optimum suppression required a recharge of oil for every magazine fired through the pistol. This required that I carry a can of oil on my person while out on shooting expeditions. Although this might not be a big deal to some, it was beginning to be a hassle to me.
Navy to Vortex-2 Conversion:
Several years went by, and it was decided to upgrade the old Glenfield rifle to a Ruger 10/22 with a match bull barrel for the enhanced accuracy I desired. A call went out to Jim Ryan to discuss threading the 10/22 rifle barrel to accept the Navy can. I mentioned to Jim that in the past I had a few problems with bullets tumbling after moving the can from rifle to pistol on occasions, and he offered to let me Form 5 the can back to him for checkout. He also offered to upgrade the Navy to his latest design. When Jim Ryan and Dr. Philip Dater joined forces, their design ideas apparently meshed, and ultimately resulted in the Navy being reconfigured into a smaller and lighter package. Gemtech’s upgraded Navy suppressor is now called the Vortex-2.
The Vortex-2 reduced the Navy’s overall length from seven to five inches, and also utilizes new internal baffle configurations. Tube diameter remained 1 inch, but overall weight decreased to a light 6.7 ounces. The original Navy weighed a hefty 12.3 ounces. According to Jim, the new design offers a sound reduction in excess of 35 dB while shot dry on a pistol when using the right ammunition. Per Al Paulson’s previous MGN article on the original Navy can, the net sound reduction with a Walther pistol was 23 dB (dry) and 39 dB (wet) using Hansen Standard Velocity ammunition. In yet another previously published article, Al retested the Vortex-2, and produced a net sound reduction of 33 dB. I consulted with Al concerning the differences between his and Jim’s data of 33 versus 35 dB. He explained that the difference is due to several variables: (a) they both used different pistols as the base weapon, and different barrel lengths and chamber dimensions can affect a suppressed weapon’s sound signature by several decibels; (b) they used different ammunition which would account for a decibel or two difference; and (c) they tested under different atmospheric conditions, which can easily affect the sound signature by a decibel. Considering all these variables, Al concluded that his and Ryan’s data agreed pretty well. Whatever the sound reduction, it is a very quiet unit when utilizing quality subsonic ammunition.
Apparently, the meshing of their designs and ideas has resulted in optimizing suppressor performance in the smallest possible package. Not only is the new unit 2 inches shorter, it provides excellent sound suppression without the need for carrying around a can of oil for quiet shooting. The Vortex-2 end caps are constructed of 300 series stainless steel. Five 6061-T6 aluminum baffles replaced the original seven 300 series stainless baffles in the Navy can. Aluminum has thermal conductivity characteristics that provide some advantages over stainless steel. Heat will transfer through aluminum faster than steel, hence helping to cool the heat spike from the muzzle blast. The new unit is designed to meet the requirements for a compact, highly corrosion resistant muzzle suppressor. The Vortex-2 is engineered so that there is no necessity for disassembly for maintenance. This unit interfaces well with virtually any .22 Rimfire weapon, both rifles and pistols. The suppressor can be quickly removed, returning the firearm to its original appearance and use in non-suppressed shooting requirements.
Before sending the Navy can and 10/22 barrel to Gemtech for modification, a few test sessions were in order to ensure the rifle was performing adequately. The deluxe Ruger wood stock was routed to accept the new barrel. I simply used a short section of broom handle with sandpaper wrapped around it to open up the barrel channel. A Tasco 3-9×40 TR scope was mounted to the receiver with Millet rings. I thoroughly tested the rifle to ensure that the new Wilson Match bull barrel performed as advertised. Using match grade ammunition, the rifle produced groups hovering around 1/2 inch at 50 yards. CCI Standard and RWS Subsonic Hollow Point loads easily produced sub-1 inch groups at the same distance.
After satisfying my requirement for minimum group sizes at 50 yards, I filed the ATF Form 5 to get the Navy can modified. While waiting for all of the paperwork to clear, I also took the opportunity to fine-tune the 10/22 itself. First, the trigger pack was sent to Mark White (Sound Technology) to have him work over the trigger. Mark reworked the trigger to be incredibly smooth with a release of about 2 pounds. A smooth, light trigger is probably one of the best things one can do to enhance accuracy potential of any firearm. Mark has considerable experience with 10/22 triggers, and I highly recommend his work. I also installed an extended magazine release button, and a bolt hold-open device from Brownell’s in Iowa (515-623-5401) as finishing touches.
After the ATF Form 5 was approved, the Navy was sent to Gemtech along with the 10/22’s bull barrel for threading. When the new unit finally made it back, I was off to the range to test out the new system. I had Jim cut the barrel back to 16.25 inches, to provide a total “barrel” length of about 21 inches with the muzzle can attached. I compared the new Vortex-2 with a friends integrally suppressed .22 rifle. It was very difficult to “hear” which gun was quietest while in the field. The efficiency of both suppressors was remarkably similar under typical field conditions. Eighteen different brands of ammunition were fired though both rifles. With high velocity ammunition, the integral rifle obviously had the edge over the Vortex-2 since muzzle velocities were being bled down to subsonic speeds. Most integral suppressors are optimized to drop high velocity ammunition to subsonic levels in order the avoid the ballistic crack. A barrel fitted with a muzzle can will produce higher velocities than are produced by the ported barrel of the integral suppressor. With subsonic ammunition, there was the perception that both units were equally quiet. Without sound measuring instruments, this is very tough to differentiate when they are that close.
As we have learned over time, subsonic ammunition will provide the quietest sound signature for target shooting and pest elimination needs. One must experiment with different brands of ammunition depending upon the firearm and the intended purpose. Outside air temperature is also a factor, as the speed of sound is more easily surpassed as temperature drops. A projectile that surpasses the speed of sound will literally wake the dead as compared to its subsonic cousin. At 32oF, the speed of sound is 1086 fps. At 82oF, the speed of sound increases to 1142 fps. My measurements of more than 500 subsonic test rounds produced an overall average velocity of 1047 fps out of the 10/22 rifle. This is an ideal velocity as it produces both an accurate, hard hitting projectile that is subsonic down to, and below the freezing mark. It will not be subsonic if fired in temperatures which approach 20oF, or colder.
Some suppressors work best with loads which produce combustion gases of a particular velocity. I have found 2 or three loads/brands which produce the best performance combination of velocity, accuracy, and quietness for my needs. Al Paulson’s previous test of this unit showed that the Vortex-2 produced better sound reductions when mounted on a pistol as opposed to a rifle. Having used the Navy for two years, and then converting, the perceived sound reduction appeared to be about the same with the rifle. When used on the pistol, it is definitely quieter. From a shooter’s subjective standpoint, the Vortex-2 shot dry is almost as quiet as the Navy shot wet, and the Vortex-2 shot dry is vastly quieter than the old Navy shot dry.
Some of the subsonic brands of ammunition that performed the best were CCI Standard, CCI Green Tag, RWS Subsonic, Lapua Scoremax, Fiocchi 300, Federal Ultra Match, and Eley Tenex. For normal plinking and target shooting, I found that CCI Standard and RWS Subsonic are tough to beat. They both provide excellent accuracy and are economical to shoot. For hunting (where allowed by law), the Lapua Scoremax is my pick due to its heavier 48 grain bullet. Federal Ultra Match should be selected for those who are serious about accuracy requirements, as they are expensive. Despite cutting the barrel back to 16.25 inches, no degradation in accuracy was encountered with the addition of the suppressor. At 50 yards, the rifle easily produces groups at, or under 1-inch with the lower priced ammunition. The high-priced ammo produces groups around 1/2 to 3/4 inches at the same distance as fired from the bench.
Although I don’t normally recommend swapping muzzle cans around on different firearms, my personal limit is two guns for one suppressor. This will ensure thread life is prolonged, as there is less of a chance that the threads will be damaged. The amount of torque applied while attaching the suppressor should remain the same each time. Also, the orientation of internal components of the suppressor should be the same every time the can is reinstalled. Although the new suppressor performed flawlessly while on the pistol, I keep the Vortex-2 dedicated to the rifle. The option for use on the pistol still remains, as I may use it in due time.
After each shooting excursion, I always spray a small amount of oil into the suppressor from the breech end of the gun, and fire a shot or two to disburse the oil throughout the can. This helps keep the unit from accumulating excessive powder residues, and will also help reduce or eliminate any corrosion concerns. I hate to clean my guns, and usually never do unless they don’t work, or if accuracy drops off dramatically. A few shots of oil at the end of a shooting session are my personal preference, but to each his own. As recommended by Mark White, a suppressed weapon should be stored with the muzzle pointing down and with the action open to allow venting so internal moisture can evaporate. I wholeheartedly second Mark’s recommendations.
External finish on the Vortex-2 as delivered was smooth and polished. I cleaned the exterior and applied two coats of spray-grit paint. This paint is an epoxy-based spray, with grit particles suspended within the solution. It is available from Brownells. This finish system has held up for two years now with no required touch-ups. It makes for a unique exterior coating, and gives just a little extra grip surface for checking that the can is secured to the barrel. I’ve even used it on a rifle scope that was scratched up beyond all recognition. The grit particles have no sharp edges so they can’t cut or abrade your hands.
Many people get into the NFA world by purchasing a suppressed .22 firearm. A suppressed .22 pistol or rifle can provide a lot of shooting fun. The low noise and low cost of ammunition are the main benefits. The .22 can be safely and quietly fired on my 5 acres without disturbing the neighbors. I’ve set up a shooting bench behind the back yard and have backstops at 25, 50, 75, and 100 yards. If it is an unusually quiet day around my neighborhood (no wind or road noises), I just fire up the Massey-Fergeson diesel tractor and let it idle while I shoot. The tractor provides excellent background noise which completely masks any noise coming from the gun or the bullets striking the backstop. With the right ammunition, the bullet hitting the target is usually louder than the report of the rifle. Neighbors just 60 yards away never near a thing. The quiet 10/22 has been one of my favorites during shooting excursions over the last two years. It allows me to make things happen quietly at a distance.
Gemtech’s Vortex-2 is a compact and quiet performer, and is easily moved from either a rifle or pistol for those who prefer this option. When used on the Mk II pistol, its overall length comes out to around the same as a factory 10-inch bull barrel. Holsters are readily available to accommodate this barrel length. The 10/22 rifle with the match barrel is now both accurate and quiet. Although the Vortex-2 can be made to shoot even quieter on the pistol by adding a small amount of oil and shooting in the wet mode, I found the unit is quiet enough to pass on this extra task. As before the modification, this was not necessary with the rifle since it makes no perceived improvement on sound signatures.
It’s nice to find companies and individuals that stand behind their products and strive for design excellence. The Gemtech folks get my thumbs-up. If you are looking for versatility in a 22-muzzle can, and a company that backs their products 100%, the Vortex-2 might be just what you’re looking for. It provides excellent sound reducing performance in a very small package. Add an accurate rifle to the equation and the end result is one happy camper.
Gemini Technologies, Inc.
P.O. Box 3538
Boise, ID 83703-0538
P.O. Box 391
Pelham, AL 35124
200 South Front Street
Montezuma, IA 50171-1000
2889 Commerce Parkway
Miramar, FL 33025
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N2 (November 1998)|