Shhhhh…. Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
How is your hearing? I said, how is...
As an audiologist, I am not well-versed in the world of hunting, however I have a lot of experience dealing with a large portion of the population who have become hearing impaired as a result of noise exposure, particularly shooting. Did you know that many hunters, including the late Elmer Keith, Jack O’Connor, and Nash Buckingham, were severely hearing impaired as a result of the cumulative effects of gunfire that they sustained over a lifetime of shooting?
Hunters and shooters have been told many a time that hear- ing loss as a result of noise exposure is common, but many hunters do not wish to wear ear protection for fear of not hearing the birds sing, the rustling of leaves or any sounds that animals make. It seems to be a catch-22: to wear the protection to prevent damage to their hearing so that they can in fact hear the birds and other sounds of nature or to wear it, and accept that it blocks out the sound of the game one is targeting. And not to mention the time it takes to get the plugs into one’s ear – in that time the opportunity for taking a shot may be lost!
Shooters and hunters are exposed to some of the loudest, most dangerous noises (and animals) anywhere in the world. Even small calibre weapons create dangerous impact noises. A single gunshot can cause permanent hearing damage. This makes hunters and shooters especially prone to hearing loss. It is extremely important that you take appropriate steps to protect your hearing when you are exposed to noisy environments.
How much noise is too much? And how can one know the level they are being exposed to at any given moment? Any noise louder than 85 decibels can cause hearing loss, and if the noise is loud enough, the damage can be immediate. But what is 85 decibels to the average person? For reference, a gunshot blast is about 130-180 decibels (give or take, depending on the load). Additionally, some firearms produce a pressure wave strong enough to cause hearing loss by damaging the bones behind the ear, even if the ear canal is protected by an ear plug. This is especially common for people shooting indoors or in close proximity to others shooting shotguns or rifles with muzzle brakes.
HOW TO PROTECT
Instead of selling a product or service, I thought it would be pertinent to give some advice to the average hunter on how to protect his/her hearing. Of course, as an audiologist it is my role and responsibility to remind all hunters and shooters (and any individual exposed to loud noise, including domestic workers who use vacuum cleaners, etc.) to have their hearing annually assessed. Many hunters and shooters know this already, despite the fact that most only tend to come for an assessment once they begin to experience the symptoms.
It is also my responsibility to inform the public that prevention is better than cure! Natural and normal hearing levels are and will always be better than any piece of technology you place in your ears – so, I remind you all subtly to have your hearing checked before it becomes a problem. There really is so much technology out there to assist you in preventing noiseinduced hearing loss. So, what factors can a hunter take into account immediately, to assist in slowing down hearing loss?
• Hearing loss may not affect both ears equally. Because of acoustic shadowing by the head, those shooting rifles and shotguns typically suffer greater hearing loss in the ear that is nearest to the muzzle.
• The barrel length of the firearm (shorter barrels are generally louder);
• Cartridge intensity;
• Bullet speed (subsonic vs. supersonic);
• Presence of a muzzle brake, which can add up to an additional 11dBA.
• Shooting environment: enclosed areas with hard, acoustically reflective surfaces, such as an indoor shooting range with inadequate sound baffling, increases reverberation and sound exposure;
• Sound is also directional, so those standing beside a rifle, particularly if that rifle has a muzzle brake, receive considerably more noise exposure than the shooter. »
Gun noise levels.