All professional hunters and senior gunmen I've met in my life are usually a little overwhelming during the conversation. I am convinced that the underlying reason behind their loud voice is hard-of-hearing, caused by the years and years of hunting and shooting without proper hearing protection. I believe that we all want to keep our hearing in good condition as long as possible, and nowadays we also have various tools at our disposal that can help us achieve just that - so why not use them?
Any noise in excess of 85 dB (decibels) can cause permanent hearing damage. Practically every kind of shooting with hunting weapons exceeds this volume level (most common decibel values range from 100 dB to 180 dB). The fact is that every bang (regardless of whether the calibre used is 9x19, .223 Rem, 30-06 SPRG or some other) is harmful to our hearing, and although we find that certain weapons are louder than others, they all cause hearing loss. As long as we keep that in mind, we will make sure to bring with appropriate hearing protection on every hunt.
In order to reduce the likelihood of an avoidable disability, let’s take a look at various devices that can provide protection against deterioration of hearing. We are all familiar with earmuffs and earplugs. These and other types of hearing loss protection aids can be further divided into passive (mechanical) and active (electronic) ones.
The use of active earmuffs and plugs has been on the rise as they enable good communication. The latter also plays a great part in ensuring the overall safety of everyone involved (above all, it’s important to know the exact location of other hunters and hunting dogs).
Classical earmuffs are usually connected to the headband (strap) that the user puts on their head. On each end of the strap, there are earpieces that are designed to cover the entirety of the earlobes, effectively sealing them off against external influences. On the inside, the earpieces are lined with a foam material that dampens the sound. Earmuffs tend to be more effective in suppressing higher frequencies.
Advantages: Earmuffs protect all parts of the ear, not just the ear canal. When in the field, we won’t misplace or lose them as easily as when relying on earplugs.
Disadvantages: They are somewhat less comfortable to use than small and handy earplugs. Earmuffs are also more of a physical burden to carry around. What is more, they block all types of sound - noises of the game moving nearby, other hunters’ voices, etc. It’s difficult to communicate when using earmuffs and they can be a bother when aligning our head (the line of sight) with the rifle.
As far as the size and physical properties of active earmuffs are concerned, active earmuffs are no different than their passive counterparts. But when it comes to the actual use, these active earmuffs come with technological advantages.
Advantages: When using active earmuffs, there is no hindrance of communication. Not only that, active earmuffs also heighten ambient sounds (game nearby, movement, ...) while dampening the gun blasts. As a result, they are of great assistance in both protecting our hearing and hunting success.
Disadvantages: Higher price, dependence on battery packs, low-quality models are not impervious to water damage
Traditional earplugs (foams) are deformable and meant to be inserted into the ear canal, moulding into a shape that fits the insides of the ear. This protects it from the outside noise and blocks soundwaves from entering the vital parts of the ear. Earplugs are available in all shapes and sizes, from plugs designed for single use to more permanent solutions.
We usually insert them by twisting them in length (making them narrower) and pushing them inside the ear. There, the soft material of earplugs slowly returns to its original form and adjusts to the shape of the ear canal. Plugs are considered to be less effective than earmuffs.
Advantages: Passive earplugs arean affordable option, of very compact dimensions for easy transport and storage. They are never in the way when we place our cheek against the rifle.
Disadvantages: They suppress all kinds of sound, which makes it impossible to listen to the movements and noises of the forest. The ease of communication between hunters is also negatively impacted. Earplugs protect the ear canal but not other components of the ear, such as the mastoid bones behind the ears (if the pressure wave at the time of the shot is sufficiently strong, these can also play their part in hearing damage). Earplugs are more effective in suppressing lower sound frequencies.
Dimensions and shape-wise, active earplugs are fairly similar to classic (passive) ones but are much more useful.
Advantages: When using active plugs, communication between hunters can run smoothly. These earplugs amplify ambient sounds while protecting the ears against gun blasts. All in all, these devices are extremely useful thanks to their technological advancement and compact packaging.
Disadvantages: High price, dependence on battery packs.
Without adequate hearing protection, any shot can damage the extremely sensitive mechanism of the inner ear that detects sound vibrations and signals the brains what is being heard. Once the hearing organ is injured, the damage is irreversible. In other words: the situation cannot be helped! The responsible hunter does not only follow the legislation but also answers to nature, the environment, society at large and, last but not least, to themselves. It is no coincidence that a growing number of the member counties of the European Union is putting forward legislative bills that allow the use of noise suppressors.
Author: Renato BRODAR