Staying safe in the woods is often one of a hunter’s top priorities; however, one safety measure that is often disregarded is protection of their hearing. Sudden very loud sounds, such as the shot from a hunting rifle, can cause permanent injury to the ear. Almost all firearms create noise that is over 140 dBSPL and some may produce a sound over 175 dBSPL. Those who do not wear hearing protection while shooting can suffer a hearing loss with as little as one shot. The hunters’ neglect to shield their hearing may be due to the fact that traditional hearing protection can seem counterproductive to the hunter’s goals. It offers defense against damaging noise during the gunshot, but can hinder useful sound when seeking out prey. Luckily there are hearing protection solutions to this conundrum.
There are two main types of hearing protection specifically designed for sudden intense noise. Each is available in a variety of styles and at varying levels of cost.
The first are electronic hearing protective devices. They are available in earmuff styles, one-size-fits-all earplugs, behind the ear devices or can be made custom made to fit each ear. Electronic hearing protection contains microphones that make softer sounds louder, amplifying the hunter’s environment when seeking out prey. This amplification shuts down when there is a loud noise, such as a gunshot, and the devices then become hearing protection. This can be a very advantageous style of protection for those hunters who already have hearing loss as they could benefit from some amplification for soft and moderate sounds.
The second type of devices available is referred to as nonlinear hearing protection. They work on the principle that there is an acoustic resistance to the nonlinear valve due to its small size. The resistance of the valve is a function of the gas-flow through it; resistance grows with increasing flow/increasing decibel level. These devices allow soft and moderate sounds to pass through, but reduce loud sounds. They can be made in an earplug style or can also be made custom.
Both types of hearing protective devices are designed to work against the damaging effects of impulse noise when the user is in quiet environments. They are not, however, suitable protection in environments with continuous noise. These environments require a type of protection that is fully occluding during the entire exposure of noise.
Having a hearing loss does not disqualify you from use of hearing protection. Though you have lost some of your hearing you need to protect the vital hearing that you have left. You should also encourage others in your hunting party to do the same. If you are unsure what type of hearing protection to use or if you are interested in the custom styles of protection, you should contact a local audiologist for more information. The audiologist can instruct you in which hearing protective style or type is best for you and demonstrate how to properly utilize it. They may need to know what types of hunting you do and if you have a known hearing loss. It is also a good idea, for anyone exposed to noise on a regular basis, even once a year, to have their hearing monitored annually for shifts that could be due to noise.
Personal safety is an important consideration for every hunter; this includes protecting your hearing for many hunting seasons to come. The price of a good fitting hearing protection device is far less when compared to price of permanently losing your hearing.
Sarah Nordberg, AuD is an audiologist at Affinity Hearing in Plymouth. She may be reached at 763-744-1190 for any questions. Affinity Hearing provides free hearing screenings and hearing protection consults to the general public.