15% Off Coupon Code: KM15


/ /

What Does A Gunshot Sound Like?

Sep 21,2023 | KyleMatthews

The sound of a gunshot is a unique acoustic phenomenon that is often misunderstood or misidentified. It can range from a high-pitched pop similar to a balloon bursting to a deep, resonating boom akin to a cannon or bomb. This article aims to shed light on the characteristics of a gunshot sound, how it differs from other loud noises such as fireworks, and the potential harm it can cause to human hearing.

The Tone and Volume of a Gunshot

The tone of a gunshot varies significantly depending on the type of firearm and ammunition used. Pistols, especially those of smaller calibers, produce a high-pitched sound that can be likened to a popping balloon. Larger caliber rifles, on the other hand, generate a deeper, more resonating sound that is often compared to a bomb or cannon. Regardless of the pitch, a gunshot also creates a quick-duration pressure wave that can be felt in the sinuses and chest, similar to the sensation experienced when standing near a loud subwoofer. 

When supersonic ammunition is fired, the gunshot noise is accompanied by a whip-like crack. This is due to the bullet breaking the sound barrier and creating a sonic boom. 

Decibel Levels of Gunshots

Most gunshots are louder than a fighter jet at takeoff and can cause substantial pain. In fact, exposure to just a single gunshot can lead to some degree of permanent hearing loss. This is why it is recommended to use hearing protection or a suppressor when shooting.

The decibel levels of gunshots can range from 160 to 168 dB for most centerfire rifles and many centerfire pistols when unsuppressed. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), exposure to impulse sounds like gunshots under 140 dB of sound pressure level will not cause hearing damage. Therefore, the goal of most consumer market silencers is to suppress gunshot noise to bring the decibel level at the shooter’s ears to under 140 dB.

Gunshot vs. Fireworks

The sound of a gunshot can often be confused with that of fireworks, especially during festive periods when fireworks are commonly used. However, there are distinguishing characteristics that can help differentiate the two.

Fireworks are designed to include flashy sound effects in addition to explosive bangs. They often produce multiple crackling or sizzling sounds, which are not characteristics of gunshots. On the other hand, a gunshot is a single sound caused by the explosion of powder that propels a bullet out of the gun's barrel. Each pull of a trigger results in one blast, and you typically won't hear a cacophony of different sounds as you would with fireworks.

The noise and a visual representation of the sound wave

The Danger of Misidentification

The inability to distinguish between the sound of a gunshot and fireworks can lead to dangerous situations. For instance, during festive celebrations, people may mistake the sound of gunfire for fireworks and not take necessary safety precautions. This misidentification can delay emergency responses and put lives at risk.

The Role of Suppressors

Suppressors, also known as silencers, play a crucial role in reducing the noise levels of gunshots to safer and more comfortable levels. They can reduce the sound pressure by 25 to 40 dB, which is comparable to or better than traditional over-the-ear hearing protection. 

Gunshot Decibels by Caliber

The decibel levels of gunshots can vary based on the caliber of the firearm. Here are some examples:


Unsuppressed Decibel Levels

Suppressed Decibel Levels

.357 Magnum revolver

169 dB


.308 Win hunting rifle

167 dB

134 dB

5.56 NATO / .223 Rem AR-15 w/ 16-inch barrel

165 dB

136 dB

9mm pistol, e.g. GLOCK 17

162 dB

124 dB

12 Gauge shotgun

161 dB


.22 LR pistol

157 dB

118 dB

.22 LR rifle firing subsonic ammo (e.g. CCI Standard Velocity)

140 dB

113 dB


The chart below shows the difference in decibels between suppressed and unsuppressed firearms

The chart below shows the difference in decibels between suppressed and unsuppressed firearms


If you have never heard a gunshot in real life, imagine a balloon pop that’s so loud it causes pain and, depending on your proximity, potential hearing damage. Unsuppressed gunshot noise is not just heard, it’s felt, and it’s dynamic as the supersonic crack of the bullet rips downrange. 

Using a silencer can significantly reduce the volume of the gunshot sound and nearly all of the concussion – that overpressure wave thump that hits your sinuses and chest. This not only protects your hearing but also substantially improves your shooting experience.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the sound of a gunshot is not just a matter of curiosity. It is a matter of safety and awareness. Whether you are a firearm enthusiast, a law enforcement officer, or an ordinary citizen, being able to distinguish a gunshot from other loud noises can be a crucial skill. It can help you respond appropriately in situations where every second counts. 

Remember, when it comes to gun safety, knowledge is power. The more you know, the better prepared you will be.