My brother Mike and I were still kids at the time. Dad had taken us to the range to plink with our .22 rifles, and a fellow club member arrived to sight in his deer rifle. Dad had us stop, and when it looked like the other member was going to shoot without hearing protection, Dad offered him some. “You get used to it” was the other guys reply. As we walked back, I heard Dad mutter “You get used to it by going deaf.”
That was then. Now, you can hardly stand on a range, even when there is no shooting going on, without someone asking you, “Do you have hearing protection?” You can use anything from synthetic foam earplugs to electronically enhanced (and now dirt-cheap) over-the-ears muffs to protect your hearing. And yet, there are still holdouts.
As a gun writer, I rub elbows with all kinds of shooters. And hunters still resist hearing protection. I did a survey of fellow gun writers once, and it was almost endearing how over-optimistic the hunters were, as to how much hearing they still had. I mean, when a guy who marked on the survey that he still had 80 percent of his hearing has to lean across the dinner table to hear you, he doesn’t have 80 percent.
I understand, you want to hear the wild game. It may be that it gives you an advantage. But, let’s just pick a number out of the air and say “foamie” plugs knock out 10 percent of your hearing off when inserted. OK, you’ve still got 90 percent left. But still you don’t use them. Now, a few hunting seasons later, when the accumulated gun shots have knocked your hearing back to 90 percent, you are where you would have been with “foamies,” and that loss is never coming back. Before, taking the foamies out got you back to 100 percent. Now, 90 percent is all you’ll ever have, with more loss in the future if you don’t wear protection.
Oh, and don’t hand me the line that, “Your ears don’t hear the shot under stress.” Just because your brain dampens the noise, so as to not be distracted from the shot, that doesn’t mean your eardrum doesn’t take the full hit. There is no flap in your ear canal that slams shut under stress, protecting your hearing. Your brain doesn’t record it, but the ears still get slammed.
A box of 100 pairs of "foamies" costs less than a box of ammunition, and they're reusable, so you'll get a couple years of use out of the box. It's worth the $20 investment.
Every one of those gun writers who had suffered some (in some instances, a lot of) loss, regretted not having taken precautions earlier.
You have the great advantage of learning from their mistakes, so use it. Foam plugs, custom-molded plugs, over-the-ears muff, electronic muffs, they are all available, and you can even combine them.
Me, I generally am on the range by myself, and I’m in the open air. I can easily use just plugs or muffs, and be fine. But if I find myself in a harsher environment, I step up. When I was acting as a range safety officer at USPSA matches, I would always wear over-the-ears muffs. When .38 Supers loaded to Major came along, I doubled-up: I used foam plugs underneath the muffs. Indoors, I always double up.
Before I became a gun writer, I worked in radio broadcasting. Back then, on-air DJs and musicians were so cavalier as to make hunters appear OCD. I wore foam plugs backstage even before it was cool for musicians to have custom-molded protection.
I’ll admit, I have advantages because of my profession. I have the full selection to choose from. I have a cubic foot of foam plugs to work with. I have custom-molded Decibullz, I have custom-molded Axil electronic plugs, I have self-molding Walkers Razor earbuds, and lately I’ve been heinously abusing a set of MSA Pro-X muffs. I wear what works, and what seems appropriate for the day’s work.
You might not have all those choices, but you do have hearing to protect. A box of 100 pairs of foam earplugs will cost you less than what a box of ammunition—shipping included—costs. If you never wash a pair (and they can easily be washed) and simply toss them after one use, that is two years of weekly range sessions. Once a month on the range gives you eight years of protection. If your hearing isn’t worth the $20 you’ll spend, then pardon me for not spending any extra effort shouting to you at the gun club.