WHO GETS THE BLAME?
… for ‘cordite ear’
WHEN A MAN does something that has negative consequences, hi sn atural reaction istolo ok for someon et o blame.
In the 1950s, asa school cadet, my ears were firs tpo unded by loud gunfire when firing .303 rounds on the shooting range. Long before those high school days I had hunted with firearms, but the pop of a .22 did no discernible damage. Later, hunting with bigger rifles did, but wearing ear protection was a fairly new practice and even today, is not widespread in hunting.
As a young man born in Rhodesia, fate decreed long years of close contact with large calibre rifles, artillery, grenades and mortar bombs. My ears took a battering for a cause I believed in. In addition to military service, I had hunting aplenty, for the country was wild and almost empty, with game of all sorts there for the taking. In the end, a team of doctors assessed the damage and awarded compensation when the army called me up after police service. As it turned out, high tone deafness was not much of a handicap, and has gone largely unnoticed except for the odd bird on a branch chirping soundlessly.
Fast forward several decades. Here in the semi-desert of the folded mountains of the East Cape, men still hunt when they can. There is also a shooting range with a decent clubhouse set on the side of a mountain that overlooks fruit orchards with a covered veranda and cement shooting benches. The range runs up one side of a valley and there are other lanes on each side of the valley. One lane has gongs, another has falling plates.
My nephew and his son have recently delved into black powder firearms. They were hand-loading their hunting rifle ammunition, so it was not a big step to black powder muzzle-loaders. The rifle is a handsome piece, of unknown make, with two triggers, one stiffer than the other. The revolver is a cap-and-ball sixshooter. They are well-made replicas. Both come with all the tools needed for starting and ramming bullets home. Powder loads are pre-weighed and kept in small pill vials to save time when re-loading. These old-fashioned weapons were outside of my field of knowledge so, when invited to a shoot at the range just for the fun of it, I accepted.
NOW: A CONFESSION. Never having been in close proximity to black powder shots, my assumption has always been that the old powder did not make as much noise as the modern fast-burning ones. Slower burning, slower expansion means softer bang, right?
So there we were, under the roof, pistol and rifle on separate shooting tables. Ear muffs were offered but declined; tough old soldiers did not use ear muffs and besides, black powder did not make much of a bang. Shot after shot. Bullets and wads rammed home after powder poured. Caps placed. Smoke and that special smell, dust and splintered rock from strikes and misses. Old shooting memories blended with new experiences.
What a revelation; these old-type guns were pretty effective. Somehow I had assumed they would be less than lethal but that notion was quickly changed. The paper targets we set out took a hit every time smoke bellowed. This was good stuff, and learning something new is always a pleasure.
While cleaning up and packing away, it dawned on me that the other two were speaking very softly with sort of cracked voices and there was a hissing in my head coming from my ears. That was three months back and my ear drums are still recovering; the TV sound needs to be turned high and loud voices sound as though they are coming from crackly wireless speakers. Soft sounds like doves cooing and the kettle boiling I hear, but louder noises are still a problem. When is one old enough to know better?
As is the fashion today, misfortune and one’s own stupidity must be blamed on someone else. So now I am looking at Magnum. My finger goes out and it is pointing at them, and at Robin Barkes. It is their fault for touting the black powder stuff. They made me do it.