You have a passion for hunting and/or shooting, and we have a passion for hearing. Our two interests come together during National Protect Your Hearing Month, celebrated in October. To keep being a sharp shooter, you have to protect your hearing. Here’s what you need to know about your hearing and protection options as a hunter or shooter, as well as countless options for protection while maintaining your A-game.
How Can Guns Cause Hearing Loss?
People who use guns are more likely to have hearing loss, tinnitus, or other hearing impairments than those who do not. Further increasing your risk — or that of bystanders — is the reverberation of a gunshot. Adding a recoil compensator or other modifications can make a firearm louder. The ear that is closest to the muzzle of the firearm can experience more hearing damage. The opposite ear is partially protected by head shadow.
Exposure to sound levels above 85 decibels (dB) can cause noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL. The loud noise permanently destroys the fine hairs in your ears that are responsible for stimulating auditory nerve fibers. Almost all firearms create noise greater than 85 dB. A small .22-caliber rifle can produce around 140 dB, and big-bore rifles and pistols can create noise greater than 175 dB.
What are the Effects of Hearing Loss?
Losing your hearing because of hunting doesn’t just affect the way you hunt; it affects the way you live. Usually, high-frequency sounds are the first to go when you begin to lose your hearing. This means you may be unable to hear s, f, sh, ch, h, or soft c sounds. Communicating and engaging with those around you will become more difficult and frustrating, especially communicating with women and children, whose voices tend to fall in higher-frequency ranges. Think about how important those dinners are after a day of hunting. You want to be able to relax and enjoy your company after a long day — not work hard to hear.
Another result of NIHL is tinnitus. This incurable ailment can sound like a whooshing, ringing, or buzzing that’s soft or loud, high or low pitched. You can experience it in either one or both of your ears. Sounds annoying, right?
If you opt out of using hearing protection while hunting, severe hearing loss can occur with as little as one shot — and often during hunting season, hunters and bystanders may be exposed to rapid fire from big-bore rifles, shotguns, or pistols.
Hearing loss isn’t always sudden; it’s cumulative. Hearing protection is just as essential as protective eyewear. Every visit to the range and every hunting trip combine to slowly damage your hearing. But you probably won’t notice the loss until it’s so apparent that you have no choice but to treat it.
How Can I Protect My Ears When Hunting or Shooting?
Ear protection is absolutely essential, not just to prevent hearing loss but also to minimize flinching. Your ability to hear is an essential part of the sport, so it should be essential to protect it. Here’s what to look for in your hearing protection:
- Knowing the difference between hearing enhancement and hearing protection is important. If you want to amplify hearing, get a hearing enhancer that reduces gunshot noise. If you only look to amplify, you’ll be amplifying the problem.
- Earmuffs are designed to fit close against the head and reduce outside noise using acoustic foam. When worn with earplugs, they reduce harmful noise even further.
- Shooting earplugs come in a variety of types, so it is best to talk to a professional when deciding what’s best for you. Types include:
- Custom: ideal for the professional shooter/hunter who needs high-quality, secure, comfortable protection or daily use. These plugs are an actual mold of your ear canal taken by a hearing professional.
- Electronic shooter earplugs: Digital sound technology works to compress noise above a harmful decibel level and enhance quieter levels. This hearing protection is smaller, making it more appealing than earmuffs for most firearm users. Some have advanced background noise reduction to reduce ambient white noise for enhanced clarity.
- Reusable shooter earplugs: These plugs come in either the most commonly known foam material, moldable putty-like material, or a more structured silicone.
- Look for the Noise-Reduction Rating (NRR). It is a rough guideline for how many decibels are being reduced.
If you feel you’re experiencing ringing in your ears or hearing loss, or if you are at risk for either, consult a hearing care provider. We know you take your hunting seriously, so take your hearing seriously. Contact us today to find out more about hearing care and prevention.