Adventures with a .22 Silencer: The SilencerCo Sparrow 22
Tom McHale 05.06.14
There are few things more fun than shooting a .22 LR with a silencer. Note I said “silencer” instead of “suppressor.”
While “suppressor” is a more technically accurate term, the original devices were named silencers. Maxim Silencers, in fact. Hiram Percy Maxim (not to be confused with his machine gun-inventing dad, Hiram Stevens Maxim) is the guy who most people believe invented the silencer. Not surprisingly, Hiram Percy also worked on early automobile mufflers as the basic principles are similar—taming hot and noisy gases after combustion.
For a long time, the industry drifted towards referring to “gun mufflers” as suppressors, but over the past few years I’ve noticed that most companies have gone back to silencers.
A few weeks ago, my BATFE Form 4 (Application for Tax Paid Transfer and Registration of a Firearm) came back from 10 months of hibernation on some faceless bureaucrat’s desk. Receipt of that precious document meant that I could pick up my SilencerCo Sparrow 22 suppressor (previously known as the “22Sparrow”) that was also in a 10-month deep sleep at my local FFL dealer. After dusting off the box and using carbon dating technology, I determined that it was, in fact, 10 months old. At least it’s new to me, right?
Let’s take a closer look at the SilencerCo Sparrow 22 and some gun and ammo options to go with it.
Specs and adapters
Simply put, the SilencerCo Sparrow is a whole lot of fun in a small package. It measures just five inches long and a hair over one inch in diameter. Its total weight is just 6.5 ounces. It’s a rimfire design, although it is rated for the FN 5.7x28mm centerfire cartridge. If you’ve got a .22 LR, .22 Magnum, or .17 HMR, you’re in business. It will even handle a full-auto .22 LR, if you’ve got such a thing.
For testing, but mainly just fun, I mounted the SilencerCo Sparrow 22 on two different .22 LR guns: a Smith & Wesson M&P22 pistol and a Colt/Umarex M4 Carbine. The Sparrow 22 comes with a standard 1/2×28 thread mount. Both guns required an adapter piece to mount the silencer. Some M&P22s are available with threaded barrels, but the threads don’t extend past the slide. Adding a Tactical Innovations thread adapter and extender provided the proper mount for the Sparrow 22. The Colt Carbine also required a thread adapter to convert the standard barrel threads to the required 1/2×24 mount. With the adapters in place, mounting the SilencerCo Sparrow was a piece of cake—just screw it on until it’s hand-tight. While I did not encounter any loosening of the silencer, be sure to check once in a while to make sure it’s still hanging on well.
The M&P22 with the SilencerCo Sparrow 22 was a beautiful combination. The M&P 22 is a full-size .22 LR handgun, yet is very lightweight. Because the Sparrow 22 is only one inch in diameter, it did not interfere with the standard sights on this gun at all. I couldn’t leave well enough alone, so I added a Crimson Trace Rail Master with a green beam for improved daylight visibility. The Smith & Wesson M&P22 has a standard rail, so this was an easy upgrade. Unless you’re opposed to giggling like a kindergartner, add a laser to your suppressed .22. Trust me.
Even though I was nowhere near bored with the pistol configuration, I eventually moved the Sparrow to the .22 LR Colt M4 Carbine. With its even higher iron sights, there was no issue with the silencer obstructing the sight picture. With the longer barrel, the rifle configuration was even quieter. Since I had to remove the muzzle brake, there was very little change in the overall length of the rifle with the Sparrow 22 attached.
Performance and ammo
Your choice of ammunition determines how quiet your shooting experience will be. Not counting whatever mechanical moans and groans your gun makes, there are two other sources of loud noise. The muzzle blast from rapidly-expanding gas blowing out the muzzle creates most of the “bang” we year. If you’re using supersonic .22 LR ammunition (anything over about 1,130 feet per second, give or take) then you will also hear a tiny little sonic boom as the bullet flies. The Sparrow captures, slows, and cools the expanding gas, thereby reducing the sound, but it can’t do anything about that sonic boom.
It’s no problem at all to shoot supersonic ammunition through the Sparrow. Most “high-velocity” .22 ammunition travels at 1,200 feet per second or higher. Some rounds, like CCI Stingers, travel significantly faster than that. No problem. Shoot away. It will still be a lot quieter than without the silencer.
If you want quiet, then use subsonic ammunition. “Standard” .22 ammunition travels somewhere around 1,050 feet per second, depending on the gun and barrel length.
If you want to go all the way to a truly awesome level of quiet, find yourself some Aguila SSS Sniper Subsonic ammunition. It’s a .22 LR round with a shorter-than-normal case so there’s room for a 60-grain bullet that will travel at 950 feet per second. This turned out to be the crowd pleaser with both guns. The loudest noise was the cycling of the action, and you could hear the bullet “zinging” through the air. Even with its odd configuration, we had no problems with proper cycling of both guns.
Maintenance and cleaning
The .22 Long Rifle cartridge, while cute, fun, and relatively inexpensive, is filthy-nasty dirty. I mean grungy, sooty, and mucky. Between powder residue and lead, what comes out the muzzle of a .22 will gunk up a silencer in no time. This is exactly where the SilencerCo Sparrow design shines.
Grime accumulation is not a problem in itself. The problem arises when grime accumulates to the point at which you can no longer disassemble the silencer for cleaning. The SilencerCo Sparrow 22 features an outer and inner tube. The grime cannot interfere with removing the guts from the silencer as it’s all contained within the inner tube. The inner tube is formed by two “half tubes” that peel apart. It’s a brilliant design that allows easy disassembly, cleaning, and reassembly.
While I find it disgusting that we still have to fork over $200 to the feds to purchase something as polite as a gun muffler, I have to recommend you bite the bullet and do it anyway. Not only is a .22 silencer fun, it’s a great way to expose new shooters to the joy of plinking. No noise means no flinching. It’s a great way to learn.
I love the thinking behind the design. The “stuck by crud” resistance is brilliant. Fit and finish were perfect, and the packaging displayed attention to detail. The box also included a heavy-duty case with MOLLE straps to keep your silencer from getting banged around.
The Sparrow’s reliability isn’t something that I’ll be able to comment on for several years. I’ll have to observe wear and tear on the internal baffle stack over time. Based on the quality of construction, it warrants a four-star rating with a disclaimer of “we’ll see.” I tried a half-dozen types of .22 LR ammo and did not experience any difference in functional reliability from the same guns unsuppressed.
The MSRP on the SilencerCo Sparrow 22 is $499, and you can find them for less on the street. It’s not the cheapest on the market, but then again, its design and construction are top-notch. Of course, any silencer from any manufacturer carries the $200 BATFE tax from the government.
Based on my experience so far, I’d recommend it. Its sound suppression is excellent and I like its small size, as it does not interfere with the sight picture.
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.
Images by Tom McHale