By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters
Part of the gun hobby, gun lifestyle, Second Amendment lifestyle, whatever you want to call it is the assault on your hearing. If you shoot, you’re subjecting your ears to more punishment than they’re made to take.
This is a bit of a departure from the typical gun and concealed carry related stuff, but it’s a good thing for anyone to be aware of. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and the cost of shooting (besides the monetary cost, of course) is the toll it takes on your hearing.
The typical gunshot produces 160 dB or more of noise. Granted, .22 LR is a little quieter at about 140ish dB. Unfortunately for us humans, instant hearing damage occurs at 140 dB. If you’re subjected to noise levels of 120 dB or more for extended periods, like say more than a few minutes, then hearing damage will occur.
The delicate hair cells of the ear – cilia – don’t take excessive vibration very well, and they don’t grow back. Once the damage is done, that’s it.
Picture a field of wheat. It stands tall, gently swaying to and fro in the wind. Now imagine what happens in a windstorm. Stalks get bent and broken, some of the wheat gets blown around, and it does damage. That isn’t exactly like what happens in your ear (the cilia that remit the information from the ears to the brain are in the vestibule of the cochlea, which is actually filled with fluid) but it’s an apt metaphor.
A loud concert is like an overnight windstorm. Shooting without ear protection is like a wheat field getting hit by a tornado. That’s why a lot of folks in the armed services wind up with hearing loss. When people tell stories about the Great Old Gun Writers like Elmer Keith, Jack O’Connor, Charlie Askins, Warren Page and so on, almost every single story from those who knew them mentions they were pretty much deaf, to a man, by the time they hit late middle age.
I forget who it was that wrote it, but someone with one of the gun magazines wrote about some encounters he had with O’Connor at the home office. He was said to be approachable, avuncular even (“Hello, young man! Are they paying you enough?”) but had to practically yell at people to hear himself talk.
David Petzal has written about his hearing loss at length in “Field and Stream,” Ken Hackathorn has said in a number of interviews and videos that he has hearing issues, and so on and so forth.
Point being that serious shooters typically wind up with some hearing loss.
I’m barely a cub reporter in the realm of gunwriting, and at the tender age of my mid-30’s, I already have some hearing loss. It’s self-inflicted, all due to my own arrogance and stupidity, but I’m noticing effects.
You, reader, may be much older than me. Maybe you’re the same age, maybe you’re younger. I just want to illustrate what the early stages are like, harbingers that worse is to come.
Naturally, I wear ear pro at the range – usually Walker electronic muffs – but when I hunt it’s a different story, and for all the usual macho idiot reasons. A few years ago, if I went hunting without ear protection I’d be sensitive for a day or so, and then be fine. Now, when a 3-inch turkey shell detonates a few inches from my ears I’m a little touchy with loud noise for about a week.
Like I said. Typical macho idiocy.
Random loud noises that used to be just annoying are starting to get unsettling. My wife has noticed that it seems to bother me much more acutely than her when our daughter (a toddler) screeches at us, as they are known to do occasionally.
As I write this, I have headphones on, and I’m listening to a Spotify playlist of Chopin’s Nocturnes. (Currently Op.55, No.1. in F Minor. Absolutely sublime.) I’m not the biggest classical music buff, but the soft tones of piano music is about all I can handle at the moment.
A few days ago, I went to a concert, which is also part of (what I realize now to be) my hearing loss. Lots of rock shows, turning my guitar up too loud when people are gone, etc. on top of shooting, driving with the window down and so on. Apparently, a lot of the stuff I like is bad for my ears.
The concert in question was Slayer, on their farewell tour. If you haven’t heard of them, Slayer is a heavy metal band and a notoriously loud (very) and aggressive one. I wasn’t missing the last opportunity I’ll ever have to see them live and they did not disappoint.
This is being written on a Tuesday, the concert was on Sunday, and the ringing in my ears is finally dying down. That means watching this band that I love gave me acute tinnitus, which is hearing damage. As a side effect, the din of my coworkers in the background if they get loud has gone from being merely irritating to being close to jarring if I don’t have something to block it out, hence the headphones.
Granted, Slayer (on their last tour ever) is kind of worth losing a little bit of my hearing in the grand scheme of things. In a weird way it’s kind of worth it while hunting, given that my quarry is losing a lot more than that.
Except when viewed through the lens that I have a choice. I don’t want to need hearing aids. What I know about aging and hearing loss suggests there’s a good chance I will, unless I start being more careful. So, before the next big rock show or hunting trip…I’m getting some quality plugs. Enough is enough, and willingly choosing to be an idiot is not something I want to keep doing.
And anyone who shoots needs to as well. This is also why it would be nice if federal regulations could be either relaxed or changed so that suppressors are more easily accessible. Suppressors are common for hunting rifles in many European countries; they should be here as well, as well as for general target shooting applications.
Granted, the garden variety suppressor only attenuates a gunshot down to 130 dB, but 130 dB that’s further attenuated to 110 dB by hearing protection? That’s far safer for the human ear than a 160 dB gunshot attenuated to 140 dB by hearing protection.
If you’re wondering what to get, electronic ear muffs are the best form of protection, as they attenuate any loud noise down to safe levels. Electronic ear plugs work pretty well too, but offer less protection than muffs.
If you use passive protection, the best practice is to combine the highest Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) plugs you can find with the highest NRR rating muffs you can find. Wear both concurrently for the greatest amount of protection. Ear plugs alone are NOT sufficient. Most meet the bare minimum for use on a jobsite, let alone standing up to the sonic abuse of shooting.
Being a macho idiot might make you look like a tough guy for a few minutes when you’re younger, but if the end result is looking like another pathetic old man that can’t hear a darn thing. It’s just not worth it. Stay safe out there, folks.
Sam Hoober is a Contributing Editor to AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.