Ray Sasser: Protect hearing from firearm blasts

While taking her first shotgun lesson, Victoria Williams of Austin uses electronic earmuffs to protect her hearing. The earmuffs silence the shotgun blast while allowing her to clearly hear the instructor.

By now, a million or more shots have been fired at fast-flying Texas doves, and most of the state’s estimated 415,000 dove hunters have destroyed just a little bit more of their hearing.

Sound is measured in decibels. A normal conversation is about 60 dB. Exposure to any noise louder than 85 dB can damage hearing. Gunshots measure 140 to 190 dB, depending on the weapon.

I wish I’d known 40 years ago what I know now. I would have done a better job of protecting my hearing from shotgun and rifle blasts. Once it’s gone, your hearing cannot be replaced. I’m reminded of that on a daily basis.

My wife, Emilie, might say something like “what kind of bird made that sound?” I have to shake my head and admit that I don’t know because I didn’t hear a bird call. I’ve missed out on a lot of great, wild sounds.

I also have trouble hearing sounds that are not so wild, like the dialogue from a movie we’re watching on television. With some movies, I can turn the volume on my TV as high as it goes and still can’t pick out all the words.

Put me in a crowded restaurant or other social setting, and I may as well be listening to people speaking Latin. The same thing happens when Emilie and I are driving. The highway noise confuses what little hearing I have left.

I’m trying to protect the hearing that remains. I’d like to understand the soft voices of my grandchildren. Sometimes I forget because old habits are hard to break, but most of the time I remember to use hearing protection when I shoot.

The best are battery-operated and magnify sounds until they reach a certain decibel level. Then the sound is cut off and your hearing is protected. Thus, you can readily hear a distant turkey gobble or a single quail flushing 20 yards to the right but you’re protected from the muzzle blast.

My son, Zach, began deer hunting when he was 7. I equipped him with expensive electronic earmuffs so he could hear whispered commands but his hearing would be protected.

That was 20 years ago. Now electronic earmuffs cost about half as much. I’ve seen them advertised for as little as $40. We keep them handy whenever we’re deer hunting. We’re not always wearing them, but the earmuffs are close by so we can put them on whenever there’s a chance for a shot.

When sitting in a deer blind, Emilie keeps her earmuffs clamped on her leg so she always knows where they are. We wear earmuffs when we’re on the ground, rattling to simulate a buck fight. The sound magnification helps us to hear approaching bucks. I use Howard Leight earmuffs because they fit me comfortably and they operate on two AAA batteries, which are inexpensive and readily available.

Most hunters consider earmuffs too hot and uncomfortable for dove hunting, and they don’t like having their hearing mostly blocked by foam plugs. Emilie has trouble with earplugs because they affect her balance. The solution is expensive but effective — electronic earplugs that fit in your ear canals and work the same as electronic earmuffs.

They’re essentially hearing aids that allow you to hear at normal levels, then cut off the sound when it gets too loud. They work on hearing aid batteries that last about 10 days. Like other products in this category, GunSport Pro earplugs come with adapters so they can be modified to fit comfortably in most ears. The two earplugs are connected via a nylon line so they’re easier to keep up with. At $300, they are the least expensive, most convenient and most effective electronic ear plugs that I’ve tested.

My only problem is that I have difficultly handling the tiny batteries that power the earplugs. That’s more about my dexterity than the product. As with all electronic devices, keep spare batteries handy. Without functional batteries, these things are expensive earplugs or earmuffs.

It doesn’t matter whether you use $2 foam earplugs, $40 electronic earmuffs, $300 mass-produced electronic earplugs or much more expensive custom earplugs made just for you — be sure to protect your hearing. Nature is full of subtle sounds that are too sweet to miss.

Calendar

Through Saturday — Texas Fly Fishing Expo at the Grapevine Convention Center. Visit http://txflyfishexpo.com.

Sept. 10-25 — Statewide teal-only duck season.

Sept. 15-18 — Southwest RV Supershow at Market Hall, 2200 N. Interstate 35E in Dallas. Visit www.southwestrvsupershow.com.

Sept. 29 — Second annual Lone Star Quail Forever Banquet and Fundraiser, 6 p.m. at the Grapevine Convention Center, 1209 S. Main St. in Grapevine. For details, email info@longstarquailforever.org or call Al Stover at 972-332-1612. Tickets are available at www.pheasantsforeverevents.org/event/2198.

Oct. 1-Nov. 4 — Archery-only season for white-tailed deer, mule deer and Rio Grande turkeys.

Oct. 22 and 23 — Special youth-only weekend for duck hunting in the High Plains Mallard Management Unit.

Oct. 29 and 30 — Special youth-only weekend for white-tailed deer hunting statewide and duck hunting in the South Zone.

Nov. 5 and 6 — Special youth-only weekend for duck hunting in the North Zone.

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