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Reader Paul S. writes:

A comment in a recent post got me thinking. The commenter indicated his concern about possibly deafening a small child in his arms during a DGU. I don’t think this is a valid concern. A sound loud enough to *break* the eardrum certainly is, but it would take repeated loud noises to damage hearing permanently. In fact, I periodically (but infrequently) fire off 10 rounds or so without any hearing protection, just because I want to *know* first hand what the sound is like, so I won’t be shocked by it.  My reason: . . . 

The first time I accidentally forgot to put on my headphones and fired my Ruger LC9, I went into a state of shock for about 5 seconds, thinking “Oh, my God, WTF! The gun blew up. Am I still alive…am I dying now or am I already dead?” I was essentially incapacitated during those 5 seconds. Not a good thing.

It was such a shocking moment that it gave me great pause for thought.  The last thing (well, almost) that I want to do is be shocked into uselessness by the sound of my own first shot in a DGU.  So, as I said, I periodically test the waters to make sure that I can remain level-headed in the midst of nearby gunfire.  Knowing what to expect, and having experienced it, I’m better prepared to deal with it.

I don’t think this is particularly *good* for my hearing, but many soldiers have survived it, so I can too. And being a little bit hard of hearing at age 70 beats the hell out of being a lot dead at age 69.

The question for everyone out there who isn’t FPSRussia is, have you intentionally shot your gun without hearing protection? Would you?

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  1. That is a very stupid practice I engaged in a few times when I was 18 and a brand new gun owner. DO NOT shoot a 1911A1 without ear protection, even outdoors. I had a headache and severe tinnitus for a few days. I believe I did some damage to my hearing because up until a year or so ago it was difficult for me to discern which direction a sound was originating from after just that one shooting session.

    Use ear protection ALWAYS. If you’re in a DGU and the adrenaline is pumping you likely won’t even hear it. I’ve spoken with cops that were and they don’t remember hearing the report of their weapon.

    Although not exactly a DGU, my friend got into a close encounter with a water moccasin and opened fire on it. He said he couldn’t remember hearing his XD .40 go off. He just felt the recoil and saw the dust kicking up around the bastard.

    • Jeez, I have no idea how vets came out of combat with any semblance of hearing left. I know that my father was deaf in one ear due to mumps, so the Army in its infinite wisdom put him in the artillery. How did they hear commands while in combat?

  2. Intentionally shooting without HP is just dumb. During a DGU scenario your adrenaline will be going and you won’t notice the shot.

  3. I took three shots out of a Benelli Supernova at an outdoor range without hearing protection out of curiosity. It physically hurt my ears and I would not do it again unless my life were on the line.

  4. The point at which you have determined that your life is in danger and you must draw and fire your weapon at the center of mass of another person, with the intent of wounding them so severely that they are incapable of voluntary motor action to carry through on the deadly threat that you consider their immediately prior actions to represent is NOT the point at which you are likely to be startled by the noise of your own weapon firing.

    There are physiologic and psychologic changes that occur in times of high stress, among them the sensation that time has slowed down and ignoring even exceptionally loud noises, like handguns or rifles going off right in front of your face. Shooting without hearing protection, and also without anything approaching life-threatening stress, is not a simulation of what you will experience when you fire your weapon in fear for your life or that of another. At least, it is exceptionally rare for people who survive those situations to remember the sound being loud, or even that they have fired a semi-automatic weapon to slide-lock.

    The only person who benefits from your practice of shooting (at all) without hearing protection is your future audiologist. If you ever have to shoot for your life, your ears will ring afterward (it’s a physiologic response) but you will almost assuredly not recall how loud the firearm was.

  5. I have a few times out of curiosity. Then once by accident with an M2HB… that was the last time I will unless forced

  6. When practicing fire and movement with live ammo and grenades, I would often take the earplug out of the non-rifle side ear so I could better hear commands and information from guys in my Section. I figured better a little deaf than dead.

    I am 38 and my ENT guy says I have the hearing of a 60 year old, plus tinnitus that can be wicked at times. These days I sometimes find indoor ranges to be painfully loud even with protection.

  7. “The question for everyone out there who isn’t FPSRussia is, have you intentionally shot your gun without hearing protection? Would you?”

    No and no.

    I wear muffs when I run the lawnmower and snow blower as well.

    I suspect that if you had to fire your gun in a defensive situation, you would be so focused on the threat that you wouldn’t notice the sound.

    How often have we heard about someone who was hit during a DGU and didn’t notice until later?

  8. There were a couple of times we were shooting out doors with just those little yellow foam inserts. Not hundreds of rounds, just a few shots. That was enough. I get it they are load but I won’t go shooting on a range, private property with out protection. Ear protection that is..

  9. When I was young and in the army I shot without hearing protection. I also rode in the back of the APC sitting next to the sign saying “hearing protection required” and listened to bar bands without hearing protection. Now I watch TV with the close captioning on, say “what?” a lot and am considering just giving up on movies in the theater because I miss half the dialog. Don’t miss half the dialog in movies.

  10. Guy on the left appears to have a very unnatural hair extension in back… no wonder the woman is only pretending to take him seriously.

    • + 1

      I also wear ear plugs at rock concerts and while using power tools & yard machines. I hope to die with good hearing, since nothing else will be left.

  11. Never shoot without hearing protection. For the reason why, attend a po-po Firearms Instructors meeting. “Eh?” Huh?”

  12. When I was a young guy, I didn’t wear hearing protection and neither did anyone else. We didn’t use eye protection, either. Now we know better. Nowadays, there are two things that I won’t do without wearing protection, and shooting is one of them.

  13. I shoot CCI CB’s from my Savage Mark II and my Henry without earpro. Anything other than that, plugs are an absolute must.

  14. I forgot with the Judge one day last year. Lot’s of ringing for a day or two. Since then, it makes me laugh to watch folks on the TV firing a hog inside a car and still carrying on conversations. I don’t remember there being a push in the Army on protection in the 60’s at the range with 1911’s or M14’s/16’s.

  15. I wear ear pro and earmuffs.

    I have sensitive hearing (if that is possible). I use my headphones at the lowest volume for instance. Even an airsoft gun indoors seems too loud to me.

    • “I have sensitive hearing (if that is possible).”

      You’re not alone. If I go out to see an action movie, I’ll leave with more ringing in my ears than when I went in. Headphones seem to be a particular problem, so I don’t even bother with them. As others have said, I wear earpro for yard work. Tinnitus can be worse than hearing loss, so it’s best to be careful.

    • Sadly I think the eight years in the Navy destroyed any sensitivity I may have had. “Huh” is my favorite word.

  16. Back in the 70s at Ten Mile River scout camp there wasn’t any hearing protection. Fortunately it was mostly .22s and the occasional 20ga.

    I’ve once or twice taken a shot with one muff off, if only to remind me not to do that. I’ve been caught with the muffs off at the range when someone else is shooting a couple of times. Not pleasant

  17. I did once – meaning a single shot. I was shooting my Colt 1903 and thought “This sounds so wimpy, I wonder what it sounds like without ear protection on?”, so why I loaded the next magazine I did the first shot without earmuffs – the sound itself wasn’t that loud, but the sonic boom left my one ear ringing for a few minutes.

  18. i’m another of those vets. exposed to a variety of loud bangs as a young man. i’ve had ringing in my ears since. hearing loss too. seperation physical showed the hearing damage and it’s in my files. the worse part is the ringing, on quiet nights it can be bothersome. i preach constantly to wear hearing protection to the younger shooters.

  19. Yes, when I was a stupid teenager. On one occasion I fired my replica Colt black powder revolver, and I must have been at exactly the right distance and angle from a reflective surface, because everything in my left ear sounded like it was ‘underwater’ for days. It was rather sensitive to cold and wind for years after that.

    Now, not unless I was forced to.

  20. I build things in a shop all day, and have for over 20 years so putting in hearing protection is pretty much an automatic reflex at this point.

  21. Having done virtually zero shooting in my life without ear pro, I never realized quite how loud it is. A couple months ago I’d been shooting all day, but as we were cleaning up I took my earpro off and laid it on the tailgate. A few minutes later I discovered I still had 3-4 rounds in the magazine of my holstered Sig Mosquito (that’s a .22, for the uninformed), and decided I’d make a can hop around rather than dumping them back in the box. Since my earpro was 50 feet away, I decided to be lazy. I took aim at a soda can on the ground about 15 yards away, and let ‘er rip. I was astonished at how loud it was. Left my right ear ringing for a good half hour afterwards. I won’t do that again by choice.

    • And yet there are armies of idiots who will post here all day long about how it is perfectly safe to shoot 22lr without hearing protection.

      • Well, in their defense, when I was a Boy Scout 20 years ago, I remember going to the range and shooting bolt action .22’s, and I don’t remember eyes or ears being required. But you’re a lot further from the muzzle and have a lot less barrel that way.

  22. I have a very few times.
    Mainly when I was young and stupid and thankfully my hearing was none the worse. I credit that to doing a lot of that shooting with a very long barreled, bolt action .22.

    In fact I had great hearing until a bad sinus & ear infection left me with some ringing and a loss in a few frequencies.

  23. I will never go the range without my muffs. My buddy was shooting a 22 I was in the middle with my 9 and to my right was a older gentleman with a 454 needless to say my ears rang for a week and half

  24. I wear high isolation plugs all the time when shooting. Also on airplanes and when using power tools, and sometimes when just relaxing. I have experienced gunshots without them and there is no way I would do it voluntarily.

  25. Huh?
    Yeah, back when I was a kid we didn’t know what hearing protection was.
    Worked in the automotive repair field (air tools, unmuffled exhaust, etc.) all my early adult life with no hearing protection….
    So yes, I have lost all the hearing I care to lose and use protection now,,,the best that money can buy.
    Once you have lost your hearing, it’s VERY expensive to get it back, if at all..

  26. Uh, guys, I think many of us are missing the key points here. I (yes, I’m that Paul S.) didn’t mean to suggest that this is a fun thing to do, or that it can’t possibly degrade your hearing, or that everybody should do it or make a regular practice of it. The points I want to make are:

    1. Don’t worry about the effect of the sound on the baby. It’s non fatal. Worry about the shot you’re going to make, which might be. Or the one you’re going to get.

    2. Noise *is* a major stress factor, even when you are in a maximally stressful situation. Why do you think those Navy SEALS start Hell Week with instructors shooting lots of (blanks from) AR-15s all around them? SEAL training is probably the most realistic training in the military world for a reason. I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that such a significant stressor will be ignored in the event of a DGU. I’ve been under major gut-wrenching ready-to-puke stess several times, and I remember every bit of it.

    Think back to previous posts about practicing shooting when you’re tired, breathing heavily, sweating from exertion, etc. There are people who practice that, so they’ll at least know their limits and what to expect. I plan on doing a “run-and-shoot” in September, where we’ll run 100 yards, shoot, crawl 100 yards, shoot, carry tires 100 yards, shoot, etc. I don’t train for this, and I don’t expect to. But I’m willing (even thought I’m out of shape at the ripe old age of 60 (and yes, I still hear pretty well)) to give it a try so I know what my limits are.

    3. I’m not trying to encourage anyone else to do this if they are very concerned about their hearing. I’m just suggesting that if you want to know how you *might* react to it, you should consider trying the experiment. If you are content not knowing, that’s fine, too, and I don’t think any the less of you for that decision.

    4. I don’t think it’s “stupid” to try this, as some commenters said, and I consider such remarks to be ill-considered, rude and inappropriate. It’s a matter of expected values, which means considering the probability of an event multiplied by the cost or value of the outcome. Personally, I’m happy to trade a one-time 2db loss in hearing for the confidence that I now *know*, personally and first hand, what my gun will sound like if I have to use it in self-defense. Others may not make the same tradeoff, and that’s OK. But that doesn’t me stupid.

    • I didn’t meant to imply you are stupid because I have no reason to believe you are. It wasn’t a personal attack. So if you took it that way, know that I didn’t mean it that way.

      If you are happy with suffering hearing loss then more power to you. I already know what my guns sound like without hearing protection on.

      It starts with a bang, ends with “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” for a while and leaves me wondering which direction particular sounds are coming from for a very long time.

      I applaud you wanting to train realistically, but again I just don’t see the value in this. I’m glad that you do and hope you don’t regret it at some point down the road.

    • “I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that such a significant stressor will be ignored in the event of a DGU.”

      And yet, it is. Regularly.

      When experience is available, abandon conjecture.

  27. Back in 1962 I qualified with the M1, M1 carbine, and M14. Following that I fired the 1911 and M60 for “familiarization” and nobody on those ranges ever used any ear protection. In case you didn’t know, the M1 is “loud”. Today I have tinnitus 24/7/365 and can’t understand much of what I hear on TV. Now, when I go to the range I double up (foam plugs and muffs) and when I mow or snow blow I use foam plugs. With little hearing left I need to protect what I have. I don’t blame the army. That was just how it was done at the time. Hopefully we’re now smarter and future generations won’t have to put up with the ringing and other effects.

    • My father served in the Big Army two years, from ’66 – ’68, and suffers from the same sort of hearing loss that you experience due to training without hearing protection. It seems to be a pretty common thing for grunts of that era to experience hearing loss today.

  28. No. I’ve only done it once. I didnt get my muffs down before my dad opened up with his 300 magnum. My ears hurt for a few days and rang for about two weeks. Its not worth it.

  29. Sorry Paulsilvas, this is stupid, because brain science. In an adrenaline situation like a DGU, the sound of the weapon report is almost always extremely muted, due to the extreme brain chemistry changes that occur in a life-or-death situation. The same thing can work for hunters, but it quickly wanes with habituation. So, for instance, a person might barely hear their first shot on a flock of birds, but mere seconds later, their brain will habituate to it, and a second shot might leave them ringing. To train this will only help in the sense that you’ll already be deaf when a situation arises. Take it from me, I’ve shot thousands of rounds unprotected. The initial few seconds or minutes of combat have the reduction, but very soon the noise starts to bleed through. It’s even worse in a building. Always use your hearing protection. Your body has a built in instinctive protection system in place, but you can’t “train” it. In fact, “training” will ruin its usefulness.

    • Sir, perhaps you didn’t read my message carefully. I don’t train this way, didn’t claim to, and don’t intend to. I only did it a few times (3 in one year, once accidentally, and I don’t plan to do it again for a while) as an experiment. And it’s not stupid. It’s an experiment from which I learned a great deal, at a price I was willing to pay. Other than that, I always use hearing protection when training. It’s common sense to avoid abusing one’s hearing. But it’s *not* stupid to understand first-hand what a gunshot sounds like for real.

      You misunderstand me if you think (as I read your post) that I’m trying to condition my hearing sense to ignore gunfire. That is not what I wrote, not what I meant, not what I said, and I don’t know why you think I meant that. I merely wanted to record the sensation in my mind, which I did at what I consider a fairly small cost. The experience was well worthwhile.

      The only way something like this could reasonably be considered “stupid”is if I knew it would end badly and would not be worth the price, but did it anyway. Such is not the case. All knowledge has a price. If you don’t want to know, don’t pay it. I respect you just the same.

  30. At an outdoor range once, I shifted my muffs to get them more comfortable just as someone a few hundred feet away fired an AR15. That was all I needed to hear.

    I wouldn’t think of firing without some form of hearing protection.

  31. I shot for years with out ear plugs. I also went to a lot of rock concerts, late 70’s early 80’s. Today, I mostly wear ear protection. Do my ears ring? Maybe, sometimes. I don’t have another pair of ears to compare. Some times at work I need to ask for a repeat. Damage? probably. Ever lived in a city, worked in a kitchen, cut you lawn a few hundred times, rode a train? Head phones and a stereo, cell phone, ear buds? Many things will damage your ears with repeat exposure. Will ear protection help, yes. Will shooting with out it be the end? Probably not.

    Be smart, think things out and don’t sweat the small stuff.

    What, did you say something…

  32. I’m sympathetic to the concept…my first High Power match the guys to my left and right were both using Garands. Even with plugs and muffs, I hadn’t anticipated how distracting the noise and muzzle blasts were, actually disturbing my muzzle a bit in prone.

    But you get used to it. No need to conduct the experiment without hearing protection.

  33. No disrespect to the original poster, but this is not a good idea.

    Three issues:
    1. If you think shooting guns at a range without hearing pro is even remotely as loud as discharging a carbine or pistol inside a small room you are mistaken. It is like the difference between a 9mm and a balloon popping. Unless you are shooting in an enclosed room you will still not know what to expect.
    2. As other posters have pointed out, when it hits the fan, the noise won’t bother you regardless of intensity.
    3. Even small amounts of shooting can be damaging to ears and it is useless for the reasons above.


  34. When I was 10, my anti-gun stepdad either wanted to teach us a lesson or wanted to bond with his macho hunter business partner, so took us out shooting 12 gauge and .357 without HP. It was darned unpleasant (but failed to turn me off). Much later, but still young and stupid, I decided to at least try my guns without HP. 9mm and .45 stung (9mm worse). .44 mag was really regretable. No desire to repeat (and probably suffering from it long-term).

    Funny: my one embarrassing AD with my .45 and I didn’t even hear the shot, just the ringing and the powder smell to tell me what I’d done…

  35. Keep a set or sets of plugs in your car.Of course if it’s a immediate reaction situation you do what you got to do.If you sense upcoming shtf,plug em in.

    • Seriously,
      If you sense upcoming shtf, the last thing you should be doing is trying to find/insert plugs. Not only is this a good way to impair situational awareness, but is also a good way to get killed when you should be focusing on other things. This all goes without saying as the last thing on your mind will be hearing pro.

      • I don’t see a problem with it.I did say if situation requires immidiate attention/reaction then you do what you got to do,meaning you will be engaged without protection.This scenerio is in a car.Actually i carry them on person as well.Does not mean im going to be able to use them.Just to clarify.The focus is on fight first,im aware.

  36. I never recall the sound or recoil from a 12 gauge when out rough shooting until the next day when there’s a whine in my ears & a bruise on my shoulder.
    Both are signs that I’m imposing stress on my body & that I ought to take notice.
    When shooting clays, or at the range, I always wear ear protection & often wonder why I’m dumb enough not to do so out in the field.

    Say whut?????

  37. I shoot open ear when hunting, sometimes three shots. I find that up in a tree stand off the ground it’s not as bad as on the ground. I know they sell fancy ear plugs with electronic mics et al but I so rarely take a shot I’m OK with it.

    • I also go without hearing, or eye protection, when deer hunting. I get so zeroed in on the deer that I don’t really notice the extra noise when I shoot.

      But at the local public range, I always put on my protection before I even get out of the vehicle.

  38. Once went to the range with my .22 and my Earpros- no big deal, until the guy next to me opened up with his .223. His compensator/flash hider was turned so as to deflect the majority of the blast sideways. After my hair settled back into place from his first round, he kindly rotated it 90 degrees for me.

  39. During my 22 years in the Army, I NEVER used my ear pro. It was uncomfortable, inhibited my senses and situational awareness, and was just a pain in the ass. It also flew in the face of the concept of “Train like you Fight”. The only time I ever used Earpro was on civilian ranges where they require it for insurance purposes.

    That being said, I have never had an issue with my hearing tests, even after my 2006 tour in Afghnaistan’s Korengal Valley where we were routinely engaged up to 3 times a day. The only weapons systems that bothered me were the Barrett .50cal and the SPG-9, but still no damage. The only time I showed hearing damage was in the midrange on my left ear after my daughter was born. I guess crying babies right next to the ear are far worse then sharp quick sounds.

    Not saying my case is standard.

  40. I once (and only once) forgot to put one earplug in after talking to a guy amd proceeded to shoot my AR with a good brake on it. I don’t recommend doing this. It felt like i was physically stabbed in the ear with a needle. I jumped at the shot and almost felt dazed. I then switched to a flash hider and were active sound protection while coyote hunting. Dont shoot without your ears on Its not worth the damage

    • Same here, plus duck hunting. I do find some foam plugs or something if we are practice shooting clays or target shooting pistols/rifles but never when hunting. Never thought anything about it. I’ve never been to a range so I don’t know what people do there.

      12 ga isn’t loud but a buddy with a 10 ga in the same duck blind will make you cover your ears when you see him go for a shot.

  41. McBane always wears hearing protection with rifle and handgun, but not very often with shotgun. The thing I noticed as a hunter is when you are focused on your game and you pull the trigger, you rarely even notice the noise of the gun. McBane out!

  42. I recently read a very good book that studies the effects of combat on the human body. Essentially the author explained that adrenaline physically changes something inside of your eardrums/earcanals when under stress. Thats about all i can remember at the moment but i will have a read through this afternoon and report back.

    Oh and before i joined the army at 18 I never once used hearing protection. But the majority of what i fired was a .22, a 12 guage and a .243. The first time i was on a military m16 range without hearing protection my ears were ringing for weeks.

    Another time, right after buying my first 1911, I forgot to put in my ear protection just before firing off 8 rounds of rapid fire. I really think i caused permanent damage with that one.

    Then deployed with the 82nd and got to experience a lot of gunfire without ear protection in the form of an m249 and an m2.

    All these stories add up to one thing….partially deaf in my right ear and ringing in my left. I am only 23 years old.

  43. To answer the question:

    Terrible idea. Totally not worth it.

    I already know how bad it is with inadequate protection. I don’t need to go fullly unprotected and inflict permanent hearing damage to know what it sounds like and what my reaction would be.


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