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Acoustic Trauma - How to Avoid It

by Bill Hanus

Hearing damage is gradual, subtle, CUMULATIVE and PERMANENT. Normal conversation is in the 60-65dB level. The threshold of pain is about 140 dB. A 12 or 20 gauge shotgun blast from 28" barrels is about 152 dB, with shorter or ported barrels even higher. And as the audiologist I spoke to phrased it, we hunters are "moving up on the short list for the `Invisible Badge of Hearing Loss.’"

The dilemma is obvious. Hearing is an essential element of the bird hunting experience, so hearing protection that deadens all sounds is worthless in the field. When I am working a chest-high weed field or alder thicket, I not only need to hear Tootsie’s bell to know where she’s working, but when it stops ringing too. I want to hear a lost quail calling for its covey, or a pheasant clattering up through standing corn with a wind blowing. The only practical solution I have found that lets in normal conversation and the hunting sounds I want to hear and keeps out shotgun blasts I don’t want to hear is the "sonic" ear plug.

"Sonic" ear plugs have a tiny valve imbedded in a soft silicone rubber. It allows normal conversation and regular sounds to pass through, but a loud sound wave -- like a shotgun blast -- shuts the valve and protects the ear. As a reminder to use them, multiple sets should be spread out between shooting jacket, hunting coat, car console, etc., plus some extras for family and friends. There are several brands to choose from and are available at mass merchandisers for well under $10 a pair. Just be sure it says "sonic" on the package.

If you have already experienced some hearing loss -- after all, we live in a world surrounded by "toxic noise" -- you may wish to examine custom fitted hearing protection/amplification devices. For more information, click on to

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