Hunting | Silencers 101

A Better Approach to Hearing Protection for Hunting

A Better Approach to Hearing Protection for Hunting

The most common health affliction for hunters is noise-induced hearing loss, often caused by shooting firearms without wearing the proper hearing protection. Hearing damage is irreversible and the only treatment currently available is the use of hearing aids. Still, many hunters simply go without hearing protection so that they can hear their surroundings or communicate with their buddies. Some manufacturers claim that their high tech ear protectors will aid in communication, comfort, and protect a hunter’s valuable sense of hearing. Yet, are these types of inside-the-ear and over the ear hearing protection devices the best for hunters?  The findings may surprise you.

Why You Need Ear Protection when Shooting a Firearm

When a firearm is discharged, the burning powder within the cartridge case causes gases to expand as a result of the miniature explosion (for lack of a better term) created by the primer. As the bullet leaves the barrel, this is heard as the report of the gunshot. If the firearm’s cartridge is loaded to supersonic levels (above 1100 fps) it will be accompanied by the distinctive crack or sonic boom of the bullet as it passes through the air and breaks the sound barrier.

Although the shot may be instantaneous, sometimes that is enough to cause a ringing in the ears known as tinnitus. Eventually, this may lead to permanent hearing loss.

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Exposure to Hunting Rifle Noise Can Cause Permanent Hearing Loss

When a firearm’s report exceeds 140 dB, this creates a dangerous and traumatic effect on the shooter’s hearing, and prolonged exposure to these noise levels will cause permanent hearing loss. There is some evidence that noise levels below this threshold can be equally damaging.

To combat this, hunters and shooters have been relying on various forms of inside-the-ear or over-the-ear protection almost since the invention of gunpowder.

Hunting Rifle Db Levels

An unsuppressed hunting rifle typically exceeds the decibel (dB) threshold for pain as established by OSHA. While suppressed firearms help a great deal in reducing the sound signature, sound is still created.

The Magnum caliber rifle cartridges such as 7mm Magnum, 300 Winchester Magnum, and everything else up to 300 Remington Magnum create a lot of noise accompanied by a supersonic crack when fired. The power generated by these types of rifles is so great that the noise is an expected byproduct.

The non-Magnum hunting cartridges such as 308 Winchester, 223 Remington, 30-30 Winchester, and 30-06 Springfield may not be as loud as the belted Magnum hunting rounds mentioned previously, but each one generates dangerous levels of sound to the human ear all the same.

Some hunters try to load subsonic hand loads for bottlenecked high power rifle cartridges that were never intended to be produced in that fashion. There is an inherent danger of a squib load and subsequent barrel obstruction which can lead to catastrophic failure, injury, or death. We advise against that practice unless a demonstrably safe subsonic load has been approved by SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute).

We have published a chart and another article about the various dB levels with regard to hunting rifles and pistols that you may want to read to get a better idea of these numbers. In general, hunting with a suppressor can lessen the sound of most gunshots by anywhere from 25 to 35 decibels, depending on the silencer and caliber in question. This is below the threshold for most hearing protection commonly worn in or over the ears. If you hunt with dogs, it protects their hearing too.

The Problems with Traditional Hearing Protection while Hunting

As important as traditional hearing protection may be, it can pose a number of disadvantages, inconveniences, and even a certain degree of danger for the hunter.

Hearing Protection Makes it Hard to Communicate

If you have ever worn traditional hearing protection in the form of ear muffs or earplugs, you are probably familiar with how difficult it is to communicate with others while wearing them.

There have been significant advances in the field of electronic hearing protection. Some of these devices are said to advance hearing by actually amplifying sound until the muffs detect a dangerous level of noise and immediately shut the external microphones off and convert to pure sealed over-the-ear hearing protection.

Hearing protection such as this would seem to be perfect to allow communication between members of a hunting party.

The problem is that even the best of these devices are limited by battery life. When the battery runs low, that $300 pair of electronic goodness is reduced to the effectiveness of a no-tech set that can be had for as cheap as $6.99 at a discount store. They may be great for a few hours at a shooting range, but they simply do not perform as well on an extended hunting trip.

Hearing Protection Lowers Situational Awareness

If you are wearing over-the-ear or in-the-ear hearing protection, you are seriously compromising an important factor when it comes to hunting: situational awareness.

Although situational awareness most often comes up in the realm of self-defense; it’s a crucial component with regard to hunting.

Aside from not being able to hear the game you might be after, you may not hear important verbal cues from your environment that could compromise your safety or the safety of others.

The lack of good situational awareness can be fatal if the hunter is in an area where there may be dangerous predators such as bears, wolves, mountain lions, and even rattlesnakes. Wearing hearing protection and turning around to face a mountain lion that has been watching and following you for a length of time can be a life-changing experience, to say the least.

Manmade threats such as vehicles, trains, or even the gunshots of other hunters can go completely unheard while wearing hearing protection.

Hearing Protection Just Isn’t Comfortable

While some expensive over-ear hearing protection for hunters and shooters can be extremely comfortable, these are the exceptions to the rule. Let’s face it; most forms of hearing protection are downright uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Hunting ear protectors which are inserted into the ear canal can cause pain and carry infection. They can cause a painful and dangerous compression of ear wax for most people. Some of these earplugs can fall out easily and most serious shooters have come to avoid them for these reasons.

Over-ear protectors or muffs can interfere with shouldering a long gun such as a rifle or shotgun or be easily dislodged and rendered ineffective when the shooter needs them the most.

A Better Hearing Protection Solution for Hunters

By and large, the best form of hearing protection for the hunter and shooter today is the firearm silencer. Also known as a suppressor or muffler because they do not truly silence a firearm, these devices reduce the sound signature to a relatively safe level. The reason they are called silencers has to do with the figurative appellation that Hiram Percy Maxim named his invention when he developed the first commercial firearm silencer in 1902 and secured a patent for it in 1909.

Suppressors Let You Hear Your Surroundings

As we mentioned earlier, most traditional forms of ear protection prevent the hunter from hearing their surroundings. The silencer negates this because it acts as one of the world’s greatest firearm accessories by containing and reducing the noise on the firearm itself.

Hunters can hear a buck with their ears unencumbered by muffs or plugs. They can hear cattle lolling, dogs barking, children playing in the woods, or even a deadly rattlesnake vibrating his rattles before he strikes.

This goes back to what we said about situational awareness.

Suppressors Let You Talk to Others in Your Party

Additionally, a suppressor lets you hear your hunting companions and allows you to communicate without trying to shout over their hearing protection, which in turn lets every animal in the area know you are tromping through their territory.

This is the main reason why tactical law enforcement teams and military units use suppressors on their firearms: ease of communication. A secondary reason would be to not give away their position by having to shout at each other when a stage whisper will do.

Suppressors protect the hearing of those around you

Not only will a suppressed firearm protect your hearing, but it will also protect the hearing of those around you. A suppressor lessens the sound signature of your firearm by acting on the firearm directly. So in most circumstances, this will preserve the hearing of your hunting companions.

If you hunt with dogs, who have better hearing than any human, it will protect and preserve their hearing as well.

Suppressors Keep Noise Pollution to a Minimum

One of the biggest issues with hunters having access to public lands involves noise complaints from local residents about the sound of gunshots. Suppressed firearms may not make a rifle completely silent, but they dull the report enough that the local residents will be less likely to complain to authorities or politicians about hunters and shooters in the area.

This is beneficial in the long term, as it is often noise complaints that cause authorities to limit or outright restrict hunting on public lands. It is the most onerous form of gun control in the sense that it removes places for people to easily hunt and shoot. When these lands are restricted, most hunters and shooters do not find out until after the fact and there is little that can be done to return things to the way that they were.

The same goes for shooting on private property. Be courteous to your neighbors and shoot with a suppressor.

Suppressors Help You Avoid Scaring Off Game

Another benefit of suppressed hunting is that the suppressed shots do not disturb game or varmints that you are intending to hunt. This has been observed firsthand with ground squirrels going into hiding for hours after the sound of the first shot and on other occasions with the animals not changing a thing because hunters were shooting suppressed.

The hearing of coyotes and wild pigs coupled with their intelligence will keep them away from an area where they hear gunshots.

Varmints are not the only animals with sensitive hearing. Almost all of the big game animals in North America including Mule Deer, White Tail deer, Elk, Pronghorn Antelope, Bighorn sheep and Caribou have incredible hearing and the sound of a gunshot can keep them out of their known territory for weeks at a time.

A suppressed rifle not only protects your hearing; it excels at not disturbing the game that you are after.

Don’t Leave for Your Next Hunt without Hearing Protection

Whether you take to the field with a traditional form of hearing protection such as muffs or plugs or have decided on using a silencer, make sure you bring your hearing protection with you. It is important to have traditional hearing protection to use in conjunction with a sound suppressor at times because not everyone in your group or in your hunting area for that matter may be using a suppressor of their own.

It could be argued that a suppressor is as important to a hunter as the firearm on which it is mounted. Some misinformed people see them as a tool for crime or dismiss them as an accessory or even a novelty item.

We see the sound suppressor as probably the number one firearm safety device to which every hunter and shooter should have direct access.

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