Got a minute for me to bend your ear? Good. I’ve got something important, that you need hear. While you still can, that is. Let’s call this one a public service announcement for your ears. Here’s the central message: WEAR HEARING PROTECTION EVERY TIME YOU SHOOT. Oh, sure. I get it. You’re thinking, “you’re not my daddy. I can do anything I want.” And you’re right. You can. But physiology is a harsh mistress, and lemme tell you, shoot without cans or plugs and you’re gonna be deaf in no time.
I’m a musician by trade. In fact, I come from a whole family of ’em. Fifth generation, to be specific. I’m a drummer, so I’m kinda used to making noises – LOUD noises. I’ve had a lot of friends in the same boat. Fortunately, I’ve not suffered any significant hearing loss. I can’t say the same for all my friends.
I’ve a buddy that played drums professionally for decades. You’ve probably heard him – he was the drummer on the original version of the hit, Susie Q. Good guy. Worked a five-night-a-week gig at a restaurant’s bar for a couple of decades, where his ear was about two feet from a Leslie, one of those rotating speakers they hook up to a Hammond B-3 organ.
One day he was teaching and heard a pop in one ear, then nothing. Went to the doctor. Found out that he’d literally blown one ear out, and suffered about 40 percent hearing loss in the other one. The nerve was shot. Gone. Never to be heard from again, if you know what I mean. Permanently deaf. Not a good thing for anybody, least of all, a musician.
Case #2 – my own father. He served on Nimitz staff in WWII. For a time, he served on the U.S.S. Missouri. Bunked right under the 21″ guns. Let’s just say that, back in the day, nobody gave hearing protection a second thought. Sure, you might be a little hard of hearing for a while after the guns went off, but when the ringing in your ears stopped you were okay, right?
Not so much, as it turns out. Nope, you see, my dad is 84, and has some serious hearing loss. Fortunately, it can be helped with hearing aids. Unfortunately, he doesn’t like wearing them. And that makes life difficult for both of us. I don’t like shouting, and he doesn’t like me yelling.
Now most gun ranges require both hearing and eye protection. That’s a good thing. But not all guys I know that shoot outdoors bother with ear protection if they don’t have to. BIG mistake. Turns out, hearing damage is cumulative. The more you get, the greater the eventual toll on your ability to ‘bounce back’ after hearing something loud.
Of course, who can blame most people. From the way it looks on TV and in the movies, you can shoot a gun off in a phone booth and never get so much as an earache. The fact that this is completely unrealistic never gets in the way of Hollywood’s “artistic license.”
I’ve an acquaintance that told me a first-person experience story about a handgun and his car. Seems he was tooling around the Texas panhandle, when he came upon a coyote. In the panhandle, coyotes are not a protected species. They’re not cute. And they’re not cuddly. Nope, they are pests, and can do some serious damage to cattle, not to mention pets. This guy had a handgun with him. Pulled his car over, rolled down the window, took aim and let ‘er rip.
When the smoke cleared, he couldn’t hear. For three days, all he could hear was ringing in his ears. As Bill Ingvall would say, “Here’s your sign.”
Let’s put it this way. If you’re in a life-or-death situation where you have to pull a gun and use it, inside or outside, you’ve got bigger things to worry about than your hearing. Like surviving. Nobody’s gonna care if your ears work when you’re a corpse. On the other hand, you need to understand how completely unrealistic it is to think about shooting if you have no hearing protection in an other kind of situation. Period.
If you don’t own hearing protection, buy some. And use them every time you shoot, indoors or out. Hear me?
I went to a gun range in Florida without my cans. The range gave me some foam earplugs. They weren't worse than useless, but they were as close to that standard as you can get.
After two minutes of a Remington elephant rifle on one side and an AR-15 on the other, I bailed.
One of the range supervisors went and got me a set of cans from his truck. Problem solved. Lesson learned. Never again.
Actually, those soft-foam earplugs are great – many of which offer better NRR than a set of cans. Standard “industrial quality” disposable foam plugs offer a 26-32db NRR, vs. 22-26 NRR of most ear muffs.
I use both and I carry an extra set of cans with me in my bag – just in case
Army basic training, 1957. No ear protection. Ears ringing ever since. Hearing reduced by half. I don’t like hearing aids either. They amplify all the trash noise just as much as what I’m listening to. How this is different from natural hearing I don’t know, but it is.
I was one of those dumb young bucks that didn’t use hearing protection when I shot. From the age of 17 to 21 must of cycled through thousands of 12 gauge, .22 rounds, and many 270 rounds with no hearing protection. Then I purchased my first pistol. a .45 1911 Springfield. I was so excited. About three months in to my 21st year two of my friends and I took a drive out to the logging roads to slaughter some helpless cans. I had the misfortune of being in the middle of the firing line. after a hundred rounds of .45 ammo the ringing was back. That night the ringing didn’t go away. About a week later the ringing still had not gone away, and I had not slept much. Two months down the road I finally went to the doctor. He told me it was never going to go away, and that I had lost ~50% of the hearing in my right ear and ~20% in my left. When asked about the sleep issue he did say that it would eventually become like an old friend. Now in loud settings I have to watch peoples lips, I love closed captioning, and my wife sometimes has to yell to get my attention. I am now 32 years old, I finally sleep well at night. If it is to noisy I just sleep with my good ear against the pillow and let the ringing block out everything else. Goodnight my old friend tenitis. You annoying bastard. WEAR YOUR HEARING PROTECTION!
Adding to above, sound pressure levels from firearms can be such that noise exposure from firing even *ONE SHOT* from a magnum type handgun or large caliber rifle can cause permanent hearing loss.
As already mentioned, simple cheap foam earplugs can reduce sound pressures by up to 33db, which is actually as good, if not better than most of the dedicated earmuffs. Muffs over plugs is even better yet.
A set of 10 pairs of foam “Flents” can be had at any pharmacy for $5, and plugs themselves are so small that a pair takes up less space then a single gun cartridge. While not optimal, foam plugs can also be re-used several times, if necessary.
The point is, there just isn’t a good reason NOT to use ear protection when shooting for sport or recreationally.
Personally, in addition to muffs, I keep a few pairs of foam plugs in my gunbag so I always have extra for guests or for “doubling up”, if necessary (eg if some guy next to me at the range shows up with a magnum rifle, or such). I also keep at least one pair in every single gun storage case I have, so I will never be caught without.
If your gun has a storage compartment (eg the pistol grip of an AR-15), you can cram a pair in there, and its usually possible to store a pair in a cartridge slot in an ammo box. Some handgun hunters will drop a pair of plugs into one cylinder of their revolver, so they can be protected at all times. Also, keychain-based earplug carriers are inexpensive and readily available, providing another way to keep these handy.
My story is just like Darren’s, my ears have rung 24/7 for decades now and you just have to get used to it. One thing not mentioned in the article or the comments is now my ears are much more sensitive to loud noises. Loud music especially HURTS, I have to keep plugs handy at all times.