By Matt Smith
The first time I saw a suppressed .44 caliber weapon was at the 1999 National Suppressor Trials, held at the Knob Creek Range in Kentucky. John Tibbetts brought a suppressed Ruger 77/44 rifle that really impressed not only me, but also many of the participants and witnesses at the trials. It was quiet, accurate, handy, and very well made. Since that time, John has sold his truck dealership, built a new 3,600 square foot shop on his ranch in East Texas, and has been devoting his attention full time to the suppressor business. Recently, John upgraded his baffle design and added two new models of .44 caliber weapons to his line of suppressors.
John currently offers .44 caliber suppressors built on three different firearms. These include the Ruger 77/44 bolt-action rifle, Ruger 96/44 lever-action rifle, and the Thompson Center Encore single-shot pistol. The suppressed Ruger 77/44 bolt-action has been available since 1999. The Ruger 96/44 and the Thompson Center Encore are new offerings for this year. All three models are available in a blued or bead blasted stainless finish and include a takedown tool for the user to disassemble the front end and remove the baffles for cleaning. Customers can either send in their own host weapon to be suppressed or purchase a complete suppressed firearm from John’s Guns. The new baffle design is now being installed as standard equipment on all three weapons and an upgrade service is available for those with the earlier type baffles. The upgrade service costs $125, plus shipping.
The suppressed Ruger 77/44 is an integral system with a 20-inch long tube, which is 1.25 inches in diameter. The current model utilizes a 16.5-inch long barrel, which is machined and placed under tension in a retainer ring to enhance accuracy. The barrel is lightly ported to vent gases into the rear chamber of the suppressor tube. Five of the improved baffles – made of high grade aluminum and hard-coat anodized for durability – are stacked on top of the tensioned barrel and held in place by a threaded and machined end cap. The stock is expertly routed to assure a close fit of the suppressor tube. If the host gun is stainless, John uses 304 seamless stainless tubing and bead blasts the bolt receiver and outer tube to match. If the host gun is blued, he uses 4140 carbon steel tubing, which is blued to match the rest of the rifle. The suppressed 96/44 is also an integral system with a 20-inch long tube, measuring 1.25 inches in diameter. It has the same basic suppressor as the 77/44, but placed on the lever-action host gun. John had to design some new tooling and fixtures for this new offering to insure the same level of close fit and finish. Like the 77/44, the 96/44 is an excellent platform for suppression because of the availability of factory .44 Special ammunition. These rounds are subsonic, do not produce a ballistic crack down range when fired, and are available off the shelf.
The suppressed Thompson Center Encore is available in variety of suppressor tube lengths, depending on customer wishes. The example tested for this article utilized a twenty inch tube over a 12.5-inch barrel with nine baffles. Customers can contact John to discuss what configurations may be available.
John, in conjunction with Tom Sipos of Weatherly, Pennsylvania, has developed .44 magnum cased subsonic ammunition for use in his suppressed .44 weapons. These loads use a variety of bullets, including 300-grain Sierra jacketed soft points, 300-grain Nosler jacketed hollow-points, and 300-grain Hornady XTP jacketed hollow-points. These rounds from Sipos’ Guns and Ammo provide much higher subsonic velocities than .44 Special rounds, with excellent accuracy. Testing for this article included some of these rounds, as well as Black Hills .44 Special 210-grain flat-point lead bullets.
Customers who have purchased John’s suppressed .44 rifles include the State of Kentucky, the State of California, the State of Alaska, and the State of Colorado. These users include Fish and Wildlife personnel from these states and others. Suppressed rifles are used for animal control, with the purpose of removing encroaching animals, regardless of their size. Law enforcement customers regard this caliber as far superior to the .22 Long Rifle cartridge.
Three different configurations of John’s Guns .44 suppressors were evaluated and tested for the purpose of this article. The suppressed Ruger 77/44 was of the earlier design utilizing the original baffles and spacers and a 16.5-inch barrel. The Ruger 96/44 tested incorporated the new baffle design with a 16.5-inch barrel. The Thompson Center Encore pistol tested had a 12.5-inch barrel and nine of the newest baffles. These differences in the suppressed firearms account for the differences in the sound meter testing results.
The sound testing equipment utilized as well as the procedures were in accordance with the Department of Defense Design Criteria Military Standard 1474D. A Bruel and Kjaer Type 2209 Impulse Precision Sound Pressure Meter, with the setting on “A” weighting and peak hold was used with a B&K Type 4136 1/4-inch condenser microphone. The meter was calibrated using a B&K 4230 calibrator prior to the tests. The microphone was placed one meter away from the front of the suppressor or muzzle. The microphone was pointed straight up oriented at a 90-degree angle from the bullet flight path. The weapons were fired 1.6 meters above the ground. Velocity data was obtained using a P.A.C.T. Mark 4 chronograph with skyscreens set 24 inches apart and the start screen 8 feet from the muzzle. These are the industry standard procedures for suppressor testing.
The ammunition used is all commercially available. Ten-shot strings were recorded for each weapon and the average reading obtained has been provided. Limited accuracy testing was conducted for the 300-grain subsonic loads available through John’s Guns and Sipos’ Ammunition.
Testing began with the Ruger 77/44 bolt-action rifle. Unsuppressed sound pressure measurements averaged 151.5 dB using Black Hills .44 Special 210-grain flat-point lead bullets with an average velocity of 817 fps. Unsuppressed sound pressure measurements averaged 159.1 dB for the Sipos’ 300-grain Hornady XTP JHP with an average velocity of 1,275 fps. Suppressed sound pressure measurements averaged 129.1 dB for John’s Guns 77/44 with the earlier baffle stack shooting the Black Hills .44 Special for an overall reduction of 22.4 dB at 701 fps. Suppressed sound pressure measurements averaged 138.9 dB for the Sipos 300-grain Hornady XTP JHP for an overall sound reduction of 20.2 dB at an average velocity of 1,035 fps. Velocities and terminal ballistics were much higher with the Sipos ammunition when compared to the .44 Special ammunition, with some sacrifice in sound reduction.
The second weapon tested was the Ruger 96/44 lever-action rifle with the upgraded baffle stack. Unsuppressed sound pressure measurements averaged 152.2 dB using Black Hills .44 Special 210-grain flat-point lead bullets with an average velocity of 807 fps. Unsuppressed sound pressure measurements averaged 160.2 dB for the Sipos 300-grain Hornady XTP JHP with an average velocity of 1,240 fps. Suppressed sound pressure measurements averaged 125.5 dB for John’s Guns 96/44 with the latest baffle stack shooting the Black Hills .44 Special for an overall reduction of 26.7 dB at 720 fps. Suppressed sound pressure measurements averaged 133.7 dB for the Sipos 300-grain Hornady XTP JHP with an overall sound reduction of 26.5 dB at an average velocity of 1,160 fps. It’s obvious from these test results that the new baffle stack actually increases the velocities over the earlier baffle stack and greatly reduces the overall sound levels.
The third weapon tested was John’s Guns suppressed Thompson Center Encore .44 pistol. Unsuppressed sound pressure measurements averaged 157.1 dB using Black Hills .44 Special 210-grain flat-point lead bullets with an average velocity of 647 fps. Unsuppressed sound pressure measurements averaged 160.7 dB for the Sipos 300-grain Hornady XTP JHP with an average velocity of 984 fps. Suppressed sound pressure measurements averaged 127.1 dB for John’s Guns Encore pistol with the latest baffle stack shooting the Black Hills .44 Special for an overall reduction of 30 dB at 659 fps. Suppressed sound pressure measurements averaged 131.8 dB for the Sipos 300-grain Hornady XTP JHP for an overall sound reduction of 28.9 dB at an average velocity of 1,001 fps.
Accuracy testing was conducted with both rifles using Sipos’ .44 magnum subsonic ammunition. Five shot groups were shot off of a bench rest at fifty yards. John’s Guns suppressed 77/44 shot a 0.625-inch group with Sipos 300-grain Hornady XTP JHP and a 0.75-inch group with Nosler 300-grain JHP. The John’s Guns suppressed Ruger 96/44 shot a 0.75 inch group using the same ammunition. This level of accuracy for the suppressed rifles actually exceeds the accuracy of the unsuppressed rifles.
When John first designed and built his suppressed 77/44 Ruger rifle, he felt it was important that customers should be able to disassemble the suppressor for maintenance. However, over the years that this rifle has been available, John has never received one back for baffle cleaning problems. John intentionally left the barrel of his suppressed rifles at least 16 inches long to avoid any potential violations of the NFA regarding short-barreled rifles. With the success and greater suppression of the newer style baffles in the Thompson Center Encore pistol, John is now working on developing a similar configuration for the Ruger 77/44 and 96/44 rifles. In order to shorten the barrels on these rifles and add additional baffles, John will have to seal the suppressor tubes, which will no longer be serviceable by the customer. John feels that this configuration will be a valuable addition to his current suppressor offerings with an even greater level of sound suppression.
John Tibbetts has made positive strides in his suppressor designs with the development of his new baffle design and its incorporation into Ruger .44 caliber rifles and Thompson Center Encore pistols. The new subsonic .44 magnum 300-grain loads developed with Sipos’ Guns and Ammo greatly increase the lethality of these weapons with outstanding accuracy. John is continuing to enhance his suppressor offerings with the development of a sealed .44 suppressor with an extended baffle stack. Whether for law enforcement applications, hunting where permitted, or for pleasure shooting, any of John Tibbetts’ suppressed .44’s would more than meet an end user’s requirements.
761 FM 2134
Voss, TX 76888
PH/FAX (915) 357-4526
Black Hills Ammunition
P.O. Box 3090
Rapid City, SD 57709-3090
Sipos’ Guns & Ammunition
203 6th Street
Weatherly, PA 18255
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V7N1 (October 2003)|