Hunting season is here! Hunting and shooting are popular pastimes for Americans, but for those who hunt without hearing protection, this could be the season you permanently damage your hearing. While the gun range is usually a tidy row of shooters in earmuffs, out in the woods it’s a different story. Most hunters think one gunshot won’t do much damage, and they hunt without protecting their ears so they can listen for the subtle sounds of animals approaching. Here’s why this is a big mistake.
It’s all About the Decibels
Noises are classified by decibel (dB) levels. While things like normal conversation or background music are well within safe ranges, sounds over 85 dB are considered dangerous to your hearing. Things like city traffic and lawnmowers are around 100 dB, while an ambulance siren, a jackhammer, or a loud rock concert is about 120 dB. Even a few minutes at this volume will cause damage, and hearing specialists suggest wearing hearing protection.
Now let’s talk about gunshots. A single gunshot is over 140 dB! This is the same volume as standing right next to a jet engine about to take off. For example, a small .22-caliber rifle produces sounds around 140 dB, and big-bore rifles produce sounds over 170 dB. At these levels, a single gunshot is enough to cause severe and permanent damage in a split second.
Kristen Monroe, a hunter and writer for Outdoor News, knows how damaging firearms can be to your hearing. She’s ruptured her ear drum twice, and now struggles with tinnitus, or permanent ringing in her ears. All it takes is one shot. And for those who hunt with friends, the risk increases as several earsplitting shots will go reverberate around you at the same time, further damaging your ears.
Studying Hearing Loss in Hunters
A study by the University of Wisconsin looked at several thousand men over 40 who hunt each season. They found that hunters were more likely to have high-frequency hearing loss, and this risk increased by 7% for every five years the men had hunted. Those with high-frequency hearing loss have difficulty hearing consonants like “s”, “th”, or “v”. They will often think others are mumbling, and won’t get their hearing tested since they don’t realize they have hearing loss.
Of all the men who participated in this study, only 5% reported wearing hearing protection at some point in the past year! 95% reported hunting with no ear protection.
How to Protect Your Hearing
As a hunter, the last thing you want is foam earplugs that muffle all the sounds around you. Earmuffs will dampen the sounds you’re trying to hear, like the flapping of ducks’ wings, or the twig snapped by a deer. However, ignoring the risk of hearing loss is not the answer. Once the damage to your inner ear in done, it can’t be undone.
Wear Hearing Protection: The first line of defense against hearing loss is wearing hearing protection. From foam earplugs to top-of-the-line protection, don’t go out into the woods without thinking about protection. Hunters love active or digital hearing protection. These high-tech earmuffs or earplugs decrease dangerous sounds but allow soft and moderate sounds to enter the ear naturally. This means you can leave them in during conversation, when taking a break from shooting, or when you’re listening for that deer to make a sound.
Don’t Take Them Off: Just because you’re not the one shooting doesn’t mean you can ditch the ear protection. You still need to be protected if someone near you is shooting. If you’re hunting with a group or waiting your turn at the shooting range, you should be wearing hearing protection. Even if you’re not the one shooting, you are still being exposed to dangerous sound levels.
Take a Break: Even when wearing hearing protection, your ears need a chance to rest. Take a break between rounds to let your ears decompress. This prevents the volume from building up, and can prevent temporary or permanent damage and protect against tinnitus.
Sitting silently waiting for game is only half the story. Don’t forget about the earsplitting gunshot right beside your ear. It’s loud enough to cause instant and permanent damage in just one shot. Don’t let this happen to you. Invest in quality hearing protection and ensure you’ll be able to hear all the beautiful sounds in nature.
Learn about the new hunters and shooters earplugs and protect your hearing from shooting.