It’s easy to think that when you’re outside hunting, you don’t need to worry about hearing protection. At the shooting range there are numbers of people firing steadily in an enclosed space. How much damage can one or two gunshots in the wide open, spaced out over time, do?
It’s a dangerous mindset to fall into for anyone who cares about their hearing. Hunters in particular need a fine-tuned sense of hearing to succeed, and even shooting once without hearing protection can cause irreversible damage to that vital tool.
The problem with gunshots is that while they are brief, they are very intense. Sound intensity is measured in decibels (dB). To give you an idea of scale, everyday conversation usually measures somewhere around 60 dB while a live music performance is around 100-115 dB. On top of that, the louder the sound, the less exposure is needed for it to cause permanent damage. Sounds as low as 85 dB can cause hearing loss over time, and experts recommend you wear hearing protection if you are regularly exposed to such volumes. Sounds of 140 dB can cause permanent hearing damage no matter the length of time an individual is exposed, even a few seconds.
So how loud is your firearm? A small .22-caliber rifle happens to produce noise around 140 dB. Larger-caliber rifles can produce sounds of 175 dB or even higher. That’s why it’s important to use hearing protection no matter what sized firearm you are using for hunting. Even small-caliber target shooting should always include the use of hearing protection to make sure that you’re staying safe.
Sensorineural hearing loss is so prevalent among hunters that there is a common name for it: hunter’s ear. Hunter’s ear is an asymmetrical type of hearing loss, meaning that it is more pronounced on one side of the head than the other. This is because the side of the head closest to the muzzle takes the brunt of the impact from the sudden, loud sound of gunfire. The head creates a sort of buffer for the opposite ear, protecting it somewhat from the dangerous volume level. Though this type of hearing loss can often be treated with hearing aids, it is almost always permanent.