As popular as ever
Hunting and shooting guns is very popular in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly 37% of America’s 300 million people say that someone in their household owns a gun. Since many own more than one gun, it is estimated that there are 270 to 310 million guns in the U.S.(1) Furthermore, many regularly use the guns they own, be it for hunting or going to a gun range, for example. According to U.S. census numbers in 2011, there were 13.7 million hunters(2).
With noise levels approaching 140 decibels (dB)(3), it is imperative that shooters have hearing protection when firing their guns. Those of us who have tested veterans’ and hunters’ hearing can testify to the damage they experience. The human hearing mechanism was not made to endure that type of continuous punishment.
Speaking from experience
When I was young, I spent lots of time shooting all kinds of firearms. I remember going to my uncle’s house as a teenager and being amazed that he had an indoor shooting range in his basement. (Actually, it was a target taped to a large block of wood against the wall of the basement.) Shooting a 357 magnum handgun into that block of wood without ear protection did not help my hearing.
As a result of this and other such experiences, today I have continuous tinnitus and a high-frequency hearing loss. I still shoot guns and hunt, but now I am much smarter about it: I always use ear protection, be it earmuffs or earplugs. Today there are more options than ever before for hearing protection, and most reduce sound by 25 to 31 dB.
Plenty of options
Those who want small-size ear protection can find the foam-style plugs for a few cents. Those who want reusable protection can buy earmuffs starting at about $10. Some of the nicest options for hearing protection are reusable custom plugs. That is where we, as audiologists and dispensers, can help. These custom plugs require an ear impression, which is sent to a manufacturer to create plugs custom-fit to your ear.
These plugs can provide comfortable hearing protection or, in some cases, can not only compress the sound digitally but also enhance environmental sounds. Speaking from experience, hunting and shooting are great sports, but I would urge all who enjoy this sport to take the time to protect their hearing.
1 Pew Research Center, Factank, June 4, 2013, by Drew Desilver, “A minority of Americans own guns but just how many is unclear”
2 Census.gov, 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation, p. 22
3 Gunsandammo.com, August 22, 2013, by B. Gil Horman, “G&A Basics: The Science of Hearing Protection”