Over the last 50 plus years I have attended thousands of wholesale dealer auto auctions. Earlier in my career I often attended 3 or 4 of these events each week. With the amplified voices of the auctioneers blaring in the background of 6 to 20 lanes of autos for sale, attending is like sitting at an eight hour rock concert. For about 30 years, I did nothing to protect my hearing and I am now paying the price. Not only have I lost more than half of my hearing in my left ear, I also suffer from tinnitus in that ear. Every minute of every day I hear an incessant rush of air. You might wonder why I’m talking about auto auctions in a gun column; well, this post is about hearing loss and how to prevent it.
I started shooting at a very young age. Like most of us baby boomers, eye and ear protection were not mandatory when we were young shooters and hunters; they were simply a suggestion. I didn’t have much trouble shooting my shotguns, centerfire rifle, and rimfire handguns. After a few rounds it seemed the only damage was a little “ringing” in my ears that usually went away overnight. The when I was about 22, I purchased a Ruger® Blackhawk™ in .357 Magnum. Anxious to shoot my new revolver, I chose to forgo any hearing protection. Bad move on my part; I fired about 4 rounds of .357 and those blasts were devastating. I couldn’t hear a thing for days. From that time on I decided that I always needed to use hearing protection while shooting; I just wished I had done the same at the auctions.
There are several options for protecting one’s hearing while shooting. Foam or rubber ear plugs are a safe, effective, and inexpensive way to protect your ears from damage. I personally prefer the squared end, closed foam type, but the tapered ones also work just fine. To use these, just roll the plug between you thumb and forefinger, then insert the plug in your ear. In just a few seconds it will expand and do a very efficient job of protecting your hearing. I use these plugs when I compete in shotgun events and I find them very comfortable, especially in hot weather.
Ear muffs or shooting muffs come in two basic options, electronic and non-electronic. The biggest difference is the electronic muffs allow the shooter to hear normal sounds such as range commands and conversations, then they shut down when loud noises such as the blast of a firearm occurs. Non-electronic muffs simply block all sound. Muffs are available with varying degrees of sound reduction. If you are firing large centerfire rifles or pistols, especially the magnums, I suggest getting as much noise reduction (NRR) as possible, somewhere in the 28-31 decibel reduction range. Good non-electronic muffs can be found for $20.00 or less depending on the NRR. Peltor®, Howard Leight®, Caldwell®, and Dillon® are brands I highly recommend. Some non-electronic muffs do have a “shut-off” capability that allows for hearing normal conversation, but blunts loud noise. I’ve had limited experience with these, but I can’t really justify the added cost.
Electronic muffs are more expensive, but as stated earlier, offer more options. One can even connect MP3 players to some of them. I am now using a couple of different pairs of Howard Leight® electronic muffs. I have a very large NRR set that I use at the range for both rifle and pistols and pistol competitions, and a lighter set I use when I am hunting. The lighter set not only protects my hearing, but also gives me an amplified 360 degree hearing range. The larger muffs cost under $ 70.00 and the lighter ones under $ 50.00.
There are now on the market electronic ear plugs. I haven’t tried these yet as the digital ones are quite expensive. These units are really compact, have all the attributes of muffs, and can be had with Bluetooth® capability. For me though, I think I would invest in regular hearing aids with the same capabilities as the electronic plugs.
At one time I purchased the “newest, latest, greatest” muffs on the market. These were extremely expensive, broke in the first week, had a huge amount of “white noise”, aka static, and were probably the worst shooting accessory I ever bought. They never worked as advertised and the service department was terrible. Expensive doesn’t always mean better quality. As the old saw goes: buyer beware.
I have suffered hearing loss as a result of my own negligence; please don’t you do the same. Save your hearing, wear ear protection.
Be safe and good shooting.