Question: Why do all the older shooters that have been shooting for a lifetime all seem to have hearing problems? Am I at risk for hearing loss?
Answer: The short answer is, yes.
It is important to understand a few basic facts about hearing loss:
1) Hearing loss is cumulative. Damage to your hearing occurs over a person’s lifetime.
2) Hearing loss can be somewhat hereditary.
3) A clay shooter using hearing protection (plugs or muffs) reduces exposure to potentially damaging sounds from the shotgun but no hearing protection can eliminate the risk of damage.
4) The only way to completely eliminate the risk of hearing loss or damage is avoidance of exposure to sounds exceeding 90 decibels. A shotgun blast emits impulse noise to the tune of 140 to 155 decibels each time you pull the trigger. This varies depending on the barrel length, shell, porting, etc.
The very best hearing protection available will reduce these decibel levels by about 26 decibels; by 31 or 32 decibels if you wear double protection (plugs and muffs). Since most of us only wear a single hearing protection device (plugs or muffs, not both), this means that even if you use the best hearing protection available, you are still exposing yourself to around 120 decibels of impulse noise with each blast.
So how can you best protect yourself?
1) Wear the best hearing protection available. All hearing protection is rated with a number in decibels (dB) called a NRR, Noise Reduction Rating. The NRR for a given device is disclosed on the packaging or in the technical data available on the product.
2) Wear your hearing protection properly. Most shooters do not insert foam earplugs properly. Molded earplugs, whether electronic (ESPs) or silicone, will make proper insertion a bit easier.
3) Consider wearing double protection, particularly if you are an instructor or high volume shooter. I will continue to shoot a shotgun until they throw dirt over my lifeless body, despite the risk.
I hope you feel the same way. Hopefully, however, I have helped convince you of the importance of protecting your ears while you are enjoying our sport.