Hunters realize that guns make a lot of noise and blasts can cause hearing loss. However, most hunters head to the woods and water every year to hunt and shoot and often leave the hearing protection at home. As a result, many hunters sound like Great-Grandpa every time they carry on a conversation because their favorite phrase is, “What did you say?”
Many people believe that hearing loss is something that happens to old people, but the fact is young and old people can lose their hearing as the result of regularly shooting guns. Liza Button, a hearing specialist from Virginia, says age doesn’t matter and that hearing loss can happen dramatically or over time. “The average conversation takes place at 60 dB. A gun blast, on the other hand, often exceeds 140 dB. So it is easy to see how someone can quickly start to lose their hearing if they regularly shoot guns,” Button said.
A dangerous sound level, according to several studies on the subject, is anything that exceeds 85 dB. When most of us get rocking to the tunes in our car, our radios regularly surpass 100 dB — so it is easy to see how quickly we can start losing our hearing.
Hearing loss often happens gradually, so many people don’t notice they are losing their hearing. As a result, most people don’t try to protect their hearing until they have lost a significant amount of it. Loud gun blasts aren’t the only thing that can cause hearing loss. The simple act of using loud game calls can also affect hearing.
Brett Berry from Ohio is a competition turkey caller for Zink Game Calls. Five or 10 years ago, Berry had normal hearing. In the last several years, he has lost a significant amount of his hearing as a result of practicing his yelps and cackles a little too much. “As I got more serious about calling, I practiced more. I often practiced in small rooms like my kitchen because of the good acoustics. However, the loud calling started to affect my hearing. At first, my ears would hurt or ring, but over time I noticed that I couldn’t hear as well. Eventually, I went and had my hearing tested. I discovered I lost 68 percent of my hearing. I have a hard time hearing high-pitched noises,” Berry explained. As a result, Berry can hardly hear a long-distance gobble in the woods.
Hunters who use hearing protection often don’t get into the habit until they are older. Button says the younger you are when you starting wearing hearing protection, the better. “Kids can lose their hearing too. Get kids in the habit of wearing hearing protection when they are young and it will become a habit that they will hopefully keep as they age,” Button advised. Of course, the younger a person is when they start wearing hearing protection when firing guns, the better their hearing will be as they age. Adults are always preaching safety to kids when shooting. We should also stress the importance of hearing protection.
The major reason most hunters don’t wear hearing protection when hunting is because putting ear plugs in or muffs on your head can inhibit your ability to chat with friends or hear the flock of mallards come in as their wings whistle overhead. “For some reason, many hunters use hearing protection when shooting sporting clays or sighting in a rifle, but when they go into the woods, they don’t wear protection. Most hunters think they will miss something if they wear hearing protection in the woods. That is not the case with today’s technology,” Doug Mann from Walker Game Ear said.
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With today’s technology, you can have your cake and eat it, too. Brett Berry uses Walker Game Ears to protect his hearing and allow him to hear in the woods. “The Walker Game Ear protects my hearing from the loud noise of a gun blast, yet amplifies noises like turkey gobbles or the sound of a bucks’ feet as he walks in the leaves,” Berry said. If you’re on the gun range, many of today’s high-tech hearing devices will allow you to hear your buddy talk, but when a gun goes off, the device blocks the noise.
“The Walker Game Ear blocks all noises above 85 dB,” says Rob Wardell from Walker Game Ear. “On the other hand, normal noises like a bird singing can be amplified by seven times or more.” One of the greatest things about hearing devices is many of them help the hunter pinpoint which direction a sound came from, which can be tough, regardless if you have lost part of your hearing or not.
Keep in mind if you want to be able to hear for years to come, you shouldn’t just protect your hearing while shooting a gun. A lawn mower or a boat motor for example, produces 100 dB or more. You might look silly driving your boat to the duck blind with muffs on, but the act of doing so is well worth it. If electronic muffs are out of your price range, regular dime store earplugs also help block loud noise.
One of the main reason outdoorsmen enjoy the woods and waterways is because of the sounds associated with the wilderness. Few things are more memorable than the sound of a wood duck whistling at dawn or the beating of ducks wings overhead, which is all the more reason to protect your hearing so when you are old and gray, you can still enjoy the wonders of the woods.
With today’s technology, protecting your hearing is easy. Below are a few of the latest and greatest devices on the market.
CALDWELL PLANTINUM SERIES G3
Caldwell (www.battenfeldtechnologies.com; 877.509.9160) has the Platinum Series G3 Muffs ($80) that are economically priced. They protect your hearing and amplify low-level sounds like birds singing or turkeys gobbling. The G3 muffs have dual microphones so you get stereo-quality amplification. These compact muffs work well and have a low profile.
WALKER GAME EAR DIGITAL HD ELITE
If you don’t like the idea of big bulky muffs, check out the Walker Game Ear (www.walkersgameear.com; 800.269.8490) Digital HD Elite ($250). The Elite fits behind the ear, so you will hardly even notice they are in your ear — and neither will your buddies. The Elite comes with a 20-bit audio processor which produces crystal-clear sound. It comes with a toggle volume control and four digital sound processing channels.