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In the U.S. alone, 10 million people have noise-related hearing loss. And one in 10 Americans has a hearing loss that makes it difficult to decipher normal speech.
So, when it comes to hunting and gun use, making sure you have the correct hearing protectors—whether it be earplugs, earmuffs, or another form of protection—is essential to your safety.
Hearing damage is such a serious matter that it has been reported as the No. 1 disability in the war on terror.
More than 58,000 soldiers and Marines are on disability for hearing loss.
The most effective way to finding the right hearing protectors for you is to know what to look for. And doing your due diligence means understanding the three basic fundamentals of sound.
If you've ever been to a live concert before, you're probably familiar with the term "decibels" (dB). Many times at shows, the audience's noise level is measured, tested, and shown on a big screen.
Decibels is the measurement used to determine the loudness, intensity, or volume of a sound. Near-silence is measured at 0 dB.
Where do gunshots fall on the decibel scale?
While the loudness of a gunshot depends on the type of gun being fired and the ammo used, it's somewhere around 140 dBs. That's the same as a jet engine.
To give you a more comprehensive reference point, the level of a normal conversation amongst people is 60 dB. Meanwhile, a chainsaw is measured at 106 dB, and a concert with a lot of bass (like a rock concert) falls at about 120 dB.
As a general rule of thumb, people are cautioned to wear a hearing protector while in an environment that exceeds 85 dB.
Sounds that reach 130 dB or more can cause instant permanent hearing damage.
Considering the statistics, the chances of hearing loss for hunters and gun users are high.
Data from 2012 shows that more than 28 million people in the U.S. hunt and fish. And, each hunter goes hunting an average of 21 days per year.
Those numbers seem to only be increasing.
In 2012, 72 percent more women were using guns for hunting than in 2007.
Another element of sound is frequency.
Audio frequency is measured in hertz (Hz) and is what determines the pitch of a sound.
The range of low to high audio vibrations is vast and generally falls on a scale of 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz.
When people experience hearing loss, whether it be from old age or from exposure to extremely loud noises, high frequencies are the first to be affected.
This is why frequencies above the 20,000 Hz mark are more likely to be heard by children versus adults.
An example on the low side of the frequency (Hz) scale would be the lowest pedal notes of a pipe organ. These can fall anywhere between 16 Hz and 32 Hz.
On the high end of the frequency scale that is still audible to most people are the sounds of bells, ringing, and cymbals. These can fall anywhere in the 8,192 Hz to 16,384 Hz range.
Audio frequencies can best be explained through audible examples rather than by written explanations. You can experience the full audio spectrum here.
The duration of a sound is the continuation, or length, of a sound.
This is actually why many people find it difficult to believe that a gunshot has the same level of decibels as a jet engine.
Because the jet engine has a longer duration than the gunshot, it's easy to mistake the jet engine for being louder.
Hearing damage isn't something that can be fixed. Once you lose parts of your hearing, they're gone for good.
If you've been around loud noises without protection and think you're invincible, think again. Hearing loss isn't immediate. It takes some time to notice the change.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that people are able to build a tolerance to loud noises such as guns. That's not true.
One way to avoid hearing loss is to take precaution when using guns. Invest in hearing protectors!
Some may argue that hearing protectors are uncomfortable. Or that they block out other people's voices, which can be especially important when you're armed.
However, awareness is key. And a little discomfort is nothing compared to a lifetime of damage to your hearing.
So without further ado, we present to you some essential know-how about hearing protectors that will ensure a safe, healthy hunting season.
When buying hearing protectors, it's important to be mindful of the following components:
Hearing protectors that are too loose and don't protect your ear canal aren't doing their job. Make sure to invest in a good fit.
If you're going to be wearing something all day, you better make sure its comfort level is up to par. Otherwise, you will probably be less likely to use the hearing protector consistently.
The noise reduction rating (NRR) should be listed on the item you're looking into. It's measured by decibels and marks how much volume the hearing protector blocks.
For example, if you're shooting a rifle that's 100 dB and you purchase earplugs with an NRR of 33 dB, the level of noise exposure would change to 87 dB.
Price is subjective depending on how much you want to spend. But it's important to be aware of. Hearing protectors range from less than a dollar to hundreds of dollars.
There are three main types of hearing protectors, aside from suppressors or silencers: earplugs, passive earmuffs, and electronic earmuffs.
Earplugs are the least expensive way to go. They can be bought as a singular pair or in a bulk pack. Most are disposable.
Earplugs are usually made from foam or plastic and fit in your air canal to limit sound exposure. You can also buy earplugs that are custom-fitted to your ears.
It's important to make sure the earplugs you invest in have consistent attenuation (like these). This means the blocking of sound won't weaken over time.
Passive earmuffs are more expensive than earplugs but provide more coverage. Each muff is constructed with padding for comfort and is connected by an adjustable headband for proper fit.
Electronic earmuffs, as you can probably imagine, are the priciest of the bunch, ranging anywhere from $30 to $300.
The difference between passive and electronic ear muffs is the technology. Electronic earmuffs regulate sound.
Electronic muffs regulate sound so that when a high decibel sound is detected, the earmuffs will reduce those sounds.
For lower decibel sounds, however, such as people talking, wearing electronic earmuffs won't block out the conversation.
Whatever your preference and price point, there are hearing protectors for all shooters and hunters.
Make them fun with color and customization, and happy hunting!