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How shooting a gun can affect your hearing

 

Using hearing protection while shooting Browning X-bolt rifle
All photo credits: Brady Miller

Recently the Hearing Protection Act of 2017 (HPA) was introduced. Why? Because shooting a loud gun can really damage our hearing and we need all the protection we can get! But this article is not about the HPA. Rather, it’s to help us understand just how much shooting a firearm can really affect our hearing health.

First, it’s important to determine how loud is too loud. According to studies done by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), if you are consistently exposed to noise louder than 85 decibels, you are likely to develop noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

If 85 decibels is the benchmark for what is deemed to be too loud, then how loud are guns? As you can see from the infographic below, a 9mm pistol typically produces around 160 decibels. Looking at that, it is clear that the noise from even a small pistol is way over the limit! To put it another way: a shot from a 9mm pistol is even louder than a jet taking off, which creates a noise of approximately 140 decibels!

How Shooting Affects Your Hearing
Source: The Smoking Barrel USA


If a 9mm pistol makes a lot of noise, how much does a hunting rifle create? The Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation (CAOHC) did some tests and came up with a list that compares the noise levels of specific rifles and shotguns.
 

Hearing protection watching rifle bullet impact
Hearing protection watching rifle bullet impact at the range.

The tables below represent a wide array of different rifles and shotguns for a broad example of the decibel levels.

Rifles decibels level examples

Rifle model Ammo dB level
Winchester Model 70 7mm Mag 166.5
Remington Model 742 .30-06 163.6
Remington 742 carbine (18" barrel) .30-06 162.6
Steyer-Daimler Mannlicher .270 161.9
Browning X-Bolt .30-06 161.4
Rossi Trifecta .243 160.6
Winchester 94 .30-30 160.5
Ruger Model 1 .45-70 160.1
Thompson Center Encore (muzzleloader) .50 169.7
Winchester 70 XTR 7mm Mauser 159.2
M14 7.62x51mm (.308) 159.0
Colt AR-15 5.56x45mm (.223) 158.9
Marlin 917 VS .17 HMR 147.1
Ruger 10/22 .22LR 143.4

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Shotgun decibel level examples

Shotgun model Ammo dB level
Remington 11-87 turkey 12 ga. (3" ammo) 161.5
Remington SP-10 magnum 10 ga. (3.5" ammo) 161.4
Remington 11-87 turkey 12 ga. (3" ammo) 161.0
Beretta Gold Match AL391 12 ga. (3" ammo) 161.0
Remington 11-78 slug 12 ga. (3" ammo) 160.1
Remington 870 12 ga. (2 3/4" ammo) 159.7
Rossi Trifecta 20 ga. (2 3/4" ammo) 159.1
New England SBI .410 (3" ammo) 157.5
Remington 11-87 field 12 ga. (3" ammo) 156.1
Pietro Beretta 20 ga. (2 3/4" ammo) 154.2
Mossberg 183KE .410 (3" ammo) 151.9
Mossberg 183KE .410 (2 3/4" ammo) 151.8
Mossberg pump 20 ga. (2 3/4" ammo) 150.0
Mossberg bolt .410 (3" ammo) 149.1

Based upon the above tables, it appears that most rifles generate a noise level around the 160 decibels mark (with the .22LR rifles generating closer to the 140 decibel mark). At these noise levels, if we do not use appropriate protection for our hearing health we are definitely going to feel the effects!

Hearing protection options

Rifle practice with Browning X-Bolt

Fortunately, there are a lot of protective equipment products now available to help you protect your hearing. These include old fashioned earplugs and earmuffs. Based upon the infographic above, doubling up by wearing earplugs and earmuffs provides the maximum level of protection.

Hearing protection methods for rifle shooting

Of course, when you are out hunting, wearing this many layers over your ears isn’t the most comfortable or practical solution. Luckily, there are some products on the market that are designed with the hunter in mind. These include earplugs that can hang around your neck when they do not need to be in your ears as well as high tech electronic earmuffs that allow in low noise (such as a voice when someone is talking to you) while keeping out excessively loud noises (such as a gunshot).

If you are using a rifle, adding a suppressor will also reduce the noise level you are exposed to even further. And, thanks to the HPA, obtaining a suppressor will become cheaper and easier in the future (check local state laws if hunting with a suppressor is legal).

Wrapping up

We need to take our hearing health seriously. If we don’t, we will suffer the consequences possibly for the rest of our lives (think about it: how many long-time shooters do you know who have a constant ringing in their ears?). So, even if it is not very comfortable or practical, make the effort to wear appropriate protective equipment when you are out hunting. Your future self will thank you!

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4 Comments

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paul h. - posted 3 weeks ago on 09-24-2017 05:25:04 pm

Add a muzzle break and those rifles are getting a LOT louder.

jeremy_8
Jeremy W. - posted 1 month ago on 09-20-2017 06:56:13 am
Perry, Georgia
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Great article.. I'm one who suffers from hearing loss and 24hour a day tinnitus. I sure wished I could turn back the time to be more educated on this as I was growing up.

jamie k. - posted 1 month ago on 09-19-2017 07:35:02 pm
Nevada
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great article and great reminder to us all as I am guilty of not wearing hearing protection out in the field from time to time.

jamie k. - posted 1 month ago on 09-19-2017 07:34:59 pm
Nevada
goHUNT INSIDER

great article and great reminder to us all as I am guilty of not wearing hearing protection out in the field from time to time.