Hunting, the Holy Grail of Fall

By Patty Tillman Johnson


From the HHTM Editor:  Today’s post continues the series on noise in a variety of forms.  Please welcome Patty Tillman Johnson, AuD, as this week’s guest writer; her article on noise exposure from hunting firearms and remedies for the same, will have follow up posts. 


Patty Tillman Johnson AuD
Patty Tillman Johnson AuD

It’s that time of year again: hunting season! Depending on where you live or where you travel to, hunters are gearing up to shoot geese, pheasant, quail, duck, turkey, rabbit, squirrel, deer, elk, or bear.  (Editor’s note:  In Arizona, fall big game hunting season is allowed for these species:  turkey, javelina, bighorn sheep, buffalo, bear, and mountain lion.) 

Where I live in the Midwest, deer hunting is not just a sport; rather, it is considered by many to be the Holy Grail of Fall. As the leaves turn various shades of gold, orange and red and drop off the trees, local hunters are dreaming, wishing and praying for cold and snow–all the better for deer hunting. At this time of year it is not uncommon to see hunting clothes hanging on clotheslines to reduce the human scent on them (deer have a keen sense of smell), and the sale of all manner of blaze orange clothing and accessories skyrockets. Deer stands are prepared, guns are sighted, hand and foot warmers purchased, hunting licenses procured, food packed, and farewells said to spouses and children as hunters spend days in the woods hoping to bag that trophy buck.

 Gun Noise Hurts Hearing

With all the preparation that precedes any hunting event, one thing most hunters never think about is hearing protection. This, despite the fact that gunfire is the most hazardous noise to which any of us can be exposed. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) both specify that workers should not be exposed to any noise exceeding 140 dB peak sound pressure level, for any length of time. How loud are guns?  Check out Table 1 and you’ll see what you probably already know:  Guns are really, really LOUD!  Unprotected exposure to gunfire can cause hearing loss and/or tinnitus (ringing in the ears), sometimes in as little as a single shot.

Table 1.  Peak Sound Pressure Level (SPL) by Regulation and Type of Firearm

OSHA and NIOSH Limit

140 dB


Type of Gun

SPL Range

Revolvers 160 – 170 dB
Pistols 148 – 169 dB
Rifles 141 – 167 dB
Shotguns 149 – 161 dB

Can You Quiet a Gun?

What about the use of silencers? Silencers are more aptly named “suppressors” since they can’t really silence gunfire. For example, rifle suppressors provide 20-35 dB peak reduction (some more, some less).

If you do the math, you’ll see that sometimes a silencer will reduce the blast to below 140 dB (if your gun is at the lower end of SPLs) but other times it’s not enough (if your gun is louder). And how will you know if your gun is one of the louder ones? You won’t.

Measuring gunshot levels requires expensive, complicated, specialized equipment that is best left in the hands of elite researchers who have lots of grant money and are well versed in methods of measurement for blast sounds. I’m all for anything that helps, so if you have a suppressor, please use it! But realize that it probably doesn’t reduce sound enough, and you’ll still need hearing protection, especially if you do a lot of shooting.

But You Have to Hear to Hunt

Those who shoot or hunt regularly without hearing protection are almost certain to develop tinnitus and hearing loss over time. Due to these dangers, hearing protection should always be worn when firing guns. But use of hearing protection raises other issues: what happens if you’re wearing earplugs and you can’t hear the snap of a twig or the rustle of leaves that indicates that the turkey, deer, or bear is nearby? What happens if you can’t hear well enough to locate your hunting dog or other hunters before you shoot? Yes, shooting guns requires hearing protection. But passive earplugs and earmuffs reduce all sounds–even the quiet sounds that hunters need to hear. Hunting safely requires hearing! What to do?


Etymotic logo 1Patty Johnson received her Master’s Degree in Audiology from the University of Iowa and her AuD from Salus University. Her professional experience includes pediatric and educational audiology, industrial hearing conservation, university teaching and private practice. For the past 17 years she has been a research audiologist at Etymotic Research, Inc., where she participates in research, education, technical writing and new product development.

title photo courtesy of Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

1 Comment

  1. A note for anyone who has read this far: if you didn’t catch it up top, there’s more to come! What to do, indeed? Stay tuned.

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