Improved accuracy is something that most shooters would consider an endless pursuit. From anyone dabbling in long range or precision shooting, all the way to hunters and competition marksmen; the need to be on target never ceases to be an area of focus. As a hearing healthcare professional and someone who has recently taken up long range shooting, I thought I would take some time to discuss some of the ways proper hearing protection can aid in the pursuit of a more accurate shot.
1) Reduced Recoil Anticipation
I remember learning to shoot with my Dad as a young boy. We would take the old .22 out that he had when he was young and he would teach me the fundamentals of breathing, trigger control, and obtaining a proper sight picture. The one thing I don’t remember is using hearing protection. A .22 may not be considered a loud caliber, nor is it known for it’s recoil however, with an unprotected ear it is enough to develop a flinch before firing (not to mention hearing loss). When we progress to using larger rounds with more volume and recoil, this flinch can develop into an anticipation of recoil. This leads to tension before the shot, not being able to follow the bullet to target due to flinching, and all sorts of other complications. One of the recommended remedies for this is using proper hearing protection. Using adequate hearing protection as a means to soften the blow of the high decibel level of a firearm will help us relax and can stop the flinch reflex associated with the percussive bang of the trigger pull.
2) Improved Cheek Weld (use the correct tool for the job)
This is where the term “proper hearing protection” comes into play. There are many types of hearing protection that work for many different circumstances. In the worlds of trap and skeet, rifle hunting, or precision rifle cheek weld is an important factor in accuracy. While earmuffs may be suitable for some shooting formats, they can be cumbersome and detrimental to your process in others. I recently went long distance shooting with a friend of mine, and left my electronic in-ears in a different range bag. This may not be a big deal for most, but as someone who makes hearing protection for a living, being reduced to wearing earmuffs was near humiliating. Not only was I upset with myself, I struggled all day to settle into cheek weld for a consistent sight picture. This is something that just doesn’t happen when I am wearing in ear protection. Wearing a good set of in ear protection allows me to settle on my rifle with solid cheek weld, allowing me to have a consistent sight picture, and little to no parallax in my optic. These are all important factors in long range accuracy.
3) Using Electronic Hearing Protection to Better Hear Instructions, Environment, and More...
One of the best ways to improve your shooting is to receive proper instruction. Earmuffs and earplugs may do a great job of protecting you on the range, but they aren’t going to allow you to hear your instructor clearly. The solution for this is electronic hearing protection. Good electronic hearing protection uses advanced hearing aid technology (100’s of millions of calculations/second) to allow you to hear speech and even environmental noises clearly, while limiting sudden impulse noise - like a gunshot - to safe hearing levels. Not only will you save yourself and your instructor all sorts of frustration, but you’ll get good use out of them being able to hear a bullet strike AR500 more clearly at a distance, or being able to wear hearing protection while hunting without sacrificing being able to hear brush and animal noise.
While wearing proper hearing protection may not in and of itself give you the ability to put 5 bullets in the same hole at 500 yds, it can have an impact on the way you react to, use, and train with firearms. Anyone who’s spent time behind a trigger knows how important these aspects are to accuracy. Putting money into the right pair of hearing protection can be just as important as selecting the ammo with the right grain count to tighten your groupings.
In my last blog post I touched on the high decibel levels produced by gunfire. Even an unsuppressed .22 can produce noise levels upward of 140 dB. This is more than enough to cause permanent hearing loss, even with limited exposure. This time I thought I would touch on a few of the ways shooting either without hearing protection, or with inadequate hearing protection can affect our hearing.
In my tenure as a hearing healthcare professional, I have seen the impact the high decibel level of firearms can have on hunters, recreational shooters, and our veterans. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, people who use firearms are more likely to develop hearing loss than those who do not. As a firearms enthusiast myself, this topic hits close to home, and is a large part of why I have pursued hearing protection as the focus of my career rather than treating hearing loss after the fact.
In this month’s blog we will explore the 3 most commonly shared traits of those suffering hearing loss from exposure to the unsafe decibel level created by firearm use.
1.) High Frequency Hearing Loss - Exposure to unsafe decibel levels can cause permanent damage in as little as one shot. The sensitive inner hair cells wither away and will not regenerate. This most commonly affects the high frequency range of hearing. This is where sounds such as “Th”, “F”, “S”, and the other starts and ends of words occur. Someone suffering from this kind of hearing loss will begin to feel as if everyone is mumbling. They will have difficulty understanding women and children as their voices are typically in the higher register. They will also begin to have increased difficulty in noisy environments such as restaurants or other public places. This type of hearing loss is permanent, and can only be treated with hearing aids.
2.) Shooters Ear - Hearing loss among the firearm community is very rarely distributed between both ears evenly. It is quite common for the ear closest to the firearm (the left ear for most right handed shooters) to suffer a higher degree of hearing loss than the other ear. This happens so frequently among shooters that it has commonly been dubbed “Shooters Ear”. This is due to what’s known as the Head Shadow or Ear Shadow effect. As sound travels from the closest ear to the farthest one the decibel level is reduced by as much as 15 dB as it travels through the head. This type of hearing loss increases difficulty hearing in noise, makes it difficult to discern which direction a sound is coming from, and can have an impact on balance. This type of damage is also irreparable and is treated with hearing aids.
3.) Tinnitus - Have you ever watched a movie where someone is too close to an explosion and the result is a high pitch ringing or humming? This is something Hollywood actually gets right. The ringing is called Tinnitus. In real life, it doesn’t take a large explosion for this ringing to occur. This is commonly experienced after a night of loud music at a club or concert, a day at the range with no or inadequate hearing protection, exposure to moderately loud noise for a prolonged period of time, or exposure to very loud impulse noise (such as a gunshot). It can be temporary in some cases, and permanent in others. It is quite often a permanent condition for those who suffer from noise induced hearing loss. Sadly there is no proven cure for Tinnitus.
While we cannot currently cure any of the issues we’ve discussed in this article, there are ways to prevent them from happening. No one is expected to give up shooting, I know I won’t. However, we can protect ourselves from the damaging effects of the harmful noise levels by wearing adequate hearing protection. If you treat your ears right and protect them, you will decrease your risk of permanent hearing loss significantly! Hearing protection is much cheaper than hearing loss and hearing aids. Though, if you are already suffering from any of the symptoms discussed in this article, you may want to have your hearing tested by a qualified professional. In many cases this service is free, contact us for referrals in your area! If you don’t have any of these symptoms, GREAT, just do your ears a favor and get some custom protection made!
By Mike Zolczer, Hearing Healthcare Professional, Firearm Enthusiast
With the Hearing Protection Act gaining steam and attention, everyone is getting excited about the prospect of being able to legally own suppressors without investing outlandish amounts of time and money to get their hands on them. Who can blame them?!?! (I’ve got a .308 waiting patiently for one myself, see left). With benefits such as reduced noise levels, improved accuracy due to the associated reduction of flinch due to anticipation of said noise levels, and the appeal of having gun ranges be “better neighbors”, it’s hard not to see the attraction.
As an avid firearm enthusiast and hearing healthcare professional, I thought it would be a good idea to discuss what this all means where our hearing is concerned.
How loud ARE my guns?
In understanding the benefits offered by having a suppressed firearm, first we have to look at why firearms can be harmful to our ears in the first place. Noise becomes harmful to our hearing at around 85 decibels (dB). Momentary exposure to noise levels of 140 dB or greater can permanently damage our hearing, people who use firearms are more susceptible to hearing loss than those who do not. The American Speech-Language-Hearing-Association published an article written by Michael Stewart, PhD, CCC-A, Professor of Audiology, Central Michigan University that explains common noise levels during firearm use: