It is estimated that the blast of a 12 gauge shotgun is outputting 165db at least. The Hearing Center for the US Department of Defense says that exposure to sounds over 110db can cause “instantaneous hearing loss and permanent damage.” There is no debate about the fact that when using a firearm the user should be wearing hearing protection. If you go to the shooting, range most people are wearing some sort of protection. When hunting, however, many hunters do not bother with doing anything to protect their ears.
Several reasons are given for this. Some people feel that when hunting you typically only fire one or two shots so it’s not worth worrying about. Others feel that the adrenaline coursing through their body during the moment of truth in a hunt protects the ears. Lastly, many hunters just avoid hearing protection because it affects their ability to hear an animal approaching through the trees.
Even one shot at 165db can permanently damage your hearing. As to the adrenaline protection theory, it comes about because many hunters report not hearing or remembering the shot because of the adrenaline they are feeling while aiming at an animal they have chased. According to the Union Sportsman’s Alliance, “The auditory exclusion you experience during the adrenaline rush of a hunt does not protect your ears from damage.”
“The auditory exclusion you experience during the adrenaline rush of a hunt does not protect your ears from damage.”
So we know it can cause damage and the only thing to prevent that damage is either never gun hunting (no thanks) or using hearing protection (tell me more!). Below are some of the options:
Ear Plugs: Ranging from the cheap orange foam circus peanuts (don’t eat these) to more engineered rubber or plastic plugs sometimes with a band or rope to hold them together.
Pros: Cheap, can be found everywhere, disposable.
Cons: Easy to lose, fit varies, and they indiscriminately block all noise.
Over the Ear Hearing Protection: Looks like a nice pair of headphones.
Pros: Better protection than earplugs because they seal off the ears. It can help keep ears warm.
Cons: Bulky, Gets in the way of wearing a hat, indiscriminately blocks all noise.
Electronic Ear Protection: Comes in in-ear and over the ear configurations. Cost ranges from $45 up to hundreds of dollars.
Pros: Can hear whats going on around you while still limiting the sound of excessively loud noise (gunshots).
Cons: Same cons as Over the ear and earplug. Hard to wear with a hat, or in the case of in-ear electronic protection, it is easy to lose.
Suppressor: Cylindrical device that attaches to the end of your gun and acts as a car muffler. Requires a special license from the ATF under the National Firearms Act.
Pros: Don’t have to wear anything. It also provides hearing protection for other hunters with you. Acts as muzzle brake as well (reduces recoil and lift). Reduces overall noise pollution. Legal in 42 states to own, check specific state hunting regs for use in the field. Looks cool. Lasts forever if properly cared for. Lowers sound by 20-25db.
Cons: The most expensive option. In addition to the cost of a suppressor, it requires a $200 tax stamp and a long approval period from ATF (currently around 10 months). Sound of gunshot still technically too loud to be safe.
Conclusion: There are enough different options out there that you don’t have to sacrifice your ability to hear animals for the ability to keep your hearing protected. All it takes is one shot to damage your ears and the damage is often permanent. I wish everyone could purchase a suppressor easily to use when hunting, but the electronic ear protection is a great option as well.