Hearing Protection for Hunting and Shooting

This is an excellent, informative article, written by Col (Dr) Benjamin Findley, regarding the damage gunfire can do to one’s hearing.  Use of proper hearing protection is extremely important for those who are exposed to excessive noise, whether it be from firearm use, occupational noise, or even loud music.  If you are exposed to noise on a regular basis, feel free to call us and schedule a free hearing screening and learn about the best ear protection for your situation.

Select Proper Hearing Protection for Shooting to Avoid Permanent Hearing Loss

Select Proper Hearing Protection for Shooting to Avoid Permanent Hearing Loss

Select Proper Hearing Protection for Shooting to Avoid Permanent Hearing Loss

I learned over the years, from working around loud industrial plant noises and from seeing my Dad experience terrible ear pain, continuous ringing in his ears, and substantial hearing loss from job-related noises and from regularly shooting firearms, that serious hearing problems can develop quickly. Sometimes new and younger shooters don’t pay as much attention as they should to protecting their hearing, forgoing hearing protection for just that one time… or focusing only on eye protection. I certainly consider both eye and ear protection important and mandatory for shooting. For me and my firearms students, hearing protection is mandatory at the range.

Noise Hazard from Shooting

The noise from gunfire is one of the most hazardous non-occupational noises that people are exposed to. It’s possible that a single gunshot heard by an unprotected ear can lead to immediate and permanent hearing loss, often accompanied by tinnitus or ringing, hissing or humming in the ears. The Cleveland Clinic and the Sight and Hearing Association report that hearing loss can definitely result from a single gunshot or from noise over an extended time. According to Dr. William Clark, senior research scientist of the Noise Laboratory at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, “the damage caused by one shot from a .357 magnum pistol, which can expose a shooter to 165 dB for 2msec, is equivalent to over 40 hours in a noisy workplace.” Dr. Thomas Krammer, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana echoes this. Here are estimated average dB noise levels for gun calibers:

  • .25 ACP – 155.0 dB
  • .32 LONG – 152.4 dB
  • .32 ACP – 153.5 dB
  • .380 – 157.7 dB
  • 9mm – 159.8 dB
  • .38 S&W – 153.5 dB
  • .38 Spl – 156.3 dB
  • .357 Magnum – 164.3 dB
  • .40 S&W – 156.5 dB
  • .41 Magnum – 163.2 dB
  • .44 S&W Magnum – 164.5 dB
  • .44 Spl – 155.9 dB
  • .45 ACP – 157.0 dB
  • .45 COLT – 154.7 dB
  • 12 Gauge Shotgun – 155 dB
  • .22 Pistol or Rifle – 140 dB
  • M-16 – 160 dB

Generally, noise becomes damaging to hearing above a certain amplitude level for a certain duration of time, usually cited as about 90 dB for 8 hours. The OSHA permissible noise level exposure is 115 dB for just 15 minutes. Both amplitude and intensity duration are related to a sound’s power and possible hearing damage. So without hearing protection, listening to rock music at 90 dB for 30 minutes may not be as damaging as working in an industrial plant environment or hearing continuous gunshots at 90 dB for 6 hours or so. As the amplitude increases, the time duration your ears can tolerate noise without damage goes down. For example, at 115 dB the duration drops to 15 minutes or less and the pain threshold begins usually at about 130 dB. A dangerous sound is usually considered to be anything over 85dB for an extended period of time, without protection, but a single loud gunshot for a short time can also be very damaging. Most gun shots average a dB level of 150 to 160, as the above chart indicates. The normal conversation benchmark is 60 dB, while a jet takeoff is about 120 dB, and a jackhammer has 130 dB. I recall a few times at the shooting range when I forgot to put my hearing protector muffs on and the resulting loud bang and how my ears were ringing just from one occurrence.

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