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Ear protection is no joke

There is an old joke about two aged hunters in a duck blind, and the first is telling the second about how good his new hearing aids are working. The second hunter asks, "What kind are they?" The first hunter looks at his watch and replies, "Nine o'clock."

The reality is that hearing loss is not so funny. My Marine Corps service records show that I had a hearing loss when discharged at age 22, more than 41 years ago. (Interestingly, it took the Veterans' Administration 35 years to finally accept my hearing loss claim, and supply me with hearing aids.)

I had spent a lot of time flying in helicopters on recon missions, and was exposed to rifle fire, hand grenades, mortars ... all with no sort of hearing protection. Incredibly, in boot camp we recruits were given pieces of cotton to stick in our ears -- substandard protection at best. I had an increasingly difficult time in "sorting out the sounds" when in a conversation with a lot of background sounds, like trying to converse in a restaurant or in a room where a number of people are talking. The hearing aids have helped me a great deal.

I suspect I am not alone. Since the 1960s countless young people have been exposed to blaring music at rock concerts, and they certainly have suffered hearing loss. People who work around noisy machinery also are at risk. Nowadays, when you see a young man or woman operating a riding lawnmower, they usually are wearing ear protection.

One of the reasons I still have some semblance of hearing ability, is that from my early 20s onward I always wore hearing protection when shooting on the range. In fact, I usually use in-the-ear protection, and wear muffs too.

I confess that while hunting I never wear ear protection. My excuse is that I usually do a lot more hunting than shooting; thus, it is unnecessary. I might be wrong.

Shooting handguns is particularly damaging if you are not wearing ear protection. The short barrels place the blast closer to one's ear than a long gun, and the short barrels themselves are more conducive to being noisy. Even a .22 rimfire handgun cracks with enough noise to damage one's hearing.

The flat, booming discharges from shotguns make it imperative to wear hearing protection during any kind of target shooting session.

Rifles, in my opinion, are even worse than shotguns -- particularly rifles equipped with muzzle brakes. The brakes may reduce recoil a bit, but they send blasts of sound out to the sides and backward, and are stunningly loud. The people standing nearby are likely to receive even a bigger blast of sound than the shooter! This problem is exacerbated by the new ridiculous fad of over-sized rifle cartridges chambered for rifles equipped with muzzle brakes.

My father had a hearing loss that became evident in his middle age. Whether it was a product of his Army service in World War II, or the shooting he did over the years, or both, I cannot say. I do know that by the time he was in his 80s, conversing with him had become more difficult. He had hearing aids but claimed they didn't work so he seldom wore them.

It is a sad story. By the time Jake was in his early 90s phone conversations became impossible. I'd call him, he'd finally figure out that it was me on the phone, he'd talk a bit and pretend to hear what I said. When I saw him in person I could shout at a distance of five feet, and he still couldn't hear me. He'd actually lip read. I wrote him two letters a week to keep in touch, and tried to convince him to get updated hearing aids. This he did, a few weeks before he died last fall at age 93. The loss of hearing caused him to become isolated. Hearing loss could do that to you or me or anyone.

Wear the hearing protection when you are shooting!

Kuntz has been an Outdoors columnist for The Sun since 1974