Stick It in Your Ear

Spend the money for first-rate hearing protection—or go deaf

hearing protection
The best in-the-ear hearing protection comes from your audiologist.Hearing and Speech Center

I’ve been asked about what you do if you’re going to shoot and you can’t wear headphones. For decades, my rationale was, what the hell, it’s only a few shots, what difference could it make? The answer turned out to be, a lot.

If you shoot without protection of any kind you’ll go deaf. The reason is simple. When we evolved to our present state, our ears were not designed to tolerate loud noise. Oh, there would be the occasional shriek or groan or roar, but it never lasted very long.

Headphones are not practical for most hunting. The big clunky ones that block out 30 to 31 decibels and actually do some good are cumbersome, and guaranteed to fall off if you have to run for your life. Nonetheless, I see African hunters are now wearing them in the heat of battle. Apparently the technique is to hang the phones around your neck and then, just before you shoot, clap them on your ears.

You can wear headphones in a treestand, but if you have to wear a heavy hat it will keep you from getting a good fit around the ears. This is why the hood was invented. If you can find a hood big enough, you can wear headphones that filter out loud noises but amplify ambient sounds. But the best solution is hearing protectors that go in the ear and do the same. I got a set from an audiologist about 10 years ago, and I would as soon go hunting without my rifle as I would without them.

Why an audiologist? Because mass-produced hearing protectors are made to fit everyone, which means they will sort of fit some people, but they may not fit your ears at all. My first pair of hearing protectors was mass produced, and not only were they uncomfortable, but they fell out of my ears at the slightest provocation, and they were subject to weird fits of whistling and howling.

So I went to the audiologist, and he made a mold and installed some first-rate electronics, and charged me, I think, $1,000. (If you think this is a lot, be advised that a first-line set of digitally-tuned hearing aids costs $6,000 to $7,000.) I can wear my hearing protectors for hours and hours, and they don’t fall out of my ears, and they work so well that I can use them in place of hearing aids.

I see more than one old guy on the firing line these days with earplugs and headphones. I am one of them. That’s because I have so little hearing left that I can’t afford to lose any more. There are plenty of young folks who wear earplugs and nothing else, or have no protection at all.

I wish them well on their journey to the land of silence.