Take a moment and imagine yourself sitting under an old white oak tree on a foggy spring morning. You have heard the world around you wake up. Owls hooting, crows cawing and whip-poor-wills singing. Now imagine hearing a long beard drum right behind you. I mean a drumming so loud that your heart jumps out of your chest and you are looking so hard through your peripherals that you feel like your eyes are going to pop out of your head. That is easily one of my favorite moments in the woods. The sounds alone are what triggers that response in me every time.
Now take a moment and think about how important sounds really are to your hunt. The grunt of a buck and rustling of leaves the moment before seeing your biggest buck, ducks wings whistling over your head as they make their last circle or the cackle, or a rooster taking flight. Now imagine not being able to hear any of it. There is a long beard gobbling at an owl on the limb and all you hear is silence. Scary thought isn’t it? It’s a thought I have really had to think about lately and truthfully it’s a thought that we should all think.
If you know me, you have heard me say, “Do what?” or “Say that again?” many times. You have probably even asked me a question only to have me answer the question I thought I heard instead of what you actually asked. I have joked about being deaf, but I had not taken it too seriously or given it much thought until recently.
In mid-November, I was in Oklahoma on a duck hunt with Bill Dickinson of Tetra Hearing. Tetra is a noise-canceling earpiece programmed to enhance everything you want to hear while canceling out damaging sounds such as gun shots. He gave me one to wear on the first morning, and I was blown away. I had previously wondered if they would mess with my sense of directional hearing; they did not.
I laid in my layout blind in the dark listening to pintails whistle overhead. I could hear the chatter of gadwalls circling. I heard their wings flapping, I heard water splashing, and I could hear what the people around me were saying. Previously, I do not remember hearing much of that at all. When we raised up on the first group, seven guns around me went off and my ears were protected from the blast. In the past, I had used foam ear buds or headphones from time to time but would always wind up taking them out because…I couldn’t hear. As a result, the guns would go off around me and inevitably further damage my hearing with every trigger pull. With the Tetras, I never took them out the whole morning. I could hear everything going on around me better than I could without them, but I was also protected.
When we got back to camp that day, Bill gave me a quick hearing test. He confirmed that I have significant hearing loss in both ears. On the upside, he was able to explain to my wife that I do not always ignore her. Just sometimes when she asked me to take the trash out. I listened to Bill tell me all about my current hearing loss and what will happen if it continues. Bill told me that moderate hearing damage increases the risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia by 300 percent, yet only one in nine waterfowlers use hearing protection. I had a feeling of sadness set in and I sat there and started thinking back to all the stupid things I have done to hurt my ears. One instance that stood out was a waterfowl hunt I was on a few years ago.
My wife was hunting with several other women friends and I tagged along on their last morning to take some photos. I was sitting in an A-frame blind taking pictures when they had a flock of snow geese come over top. The group unloaded and knocked down several. When the volley was over, I took out my foam earplugs so I could hear what was being said around me. The guide yelled for someone to shoot a crippled bird that had fallen way to my left. Before I saw it coming, the girl sitting to my right raised her gun towards the bird and pulled the trigger. The end of her barrel was very close to my right ear and I instantly felt like I had been punched in the side of my head. I grabbed for my ear and turned my head and about that time she shot again. This time my left ear took the shot. Instantly my ears were ringing and I had a splitting headache. I said some likely unkind words and went and sat very far away her. The girl was not intending to hurt me, but she did make a mistake and shot outside of her lane. If I would have had hearing protection I would have been fine but instead I felt like my ears were bleeding, and I am sure it accounted for a significant portion of my hearing loss. It was a mistake that transpired in a matter of seconds. My open ears combined with her split second decision had that much of an impact on my hearing. I venture to say that many people reading this have experienced something similar.
As a kid, I shot guns a lot and rarely do I have a memory of wearing hearing protection. In fact, I do have memories of people calling me a sissy for holding my ears while they shot. So my question is, what about protecting your hearing is considered un-masculine? Why do men in particular tend to ignore the cause of our hearing loss like it’s no big deal. It is as if we accept that we are all just going to be grumpy deaf old men one day. I remember before that Oklahoma trip I was shooting without earplugs and said, “It’s ok, I’m already deaf.” I did not realize how stupid that statement was.
It is never too late to protect the hearing you have left. There is no doubt in my mind that the hunting/shooting community needs to have a cultural shift when it comes to hearing protection. In the hunting industry, if a publication were to post a picture of a hunter in a tree stand without a safety harness on, the image would likely be pulled. I agree fully with this as I once fell from a tree stand and understand that we need to do everything we can to encourage safe hunting practices. However, that same publication could post an image of two kids shooting their shotguns with no ear protection and no one would bat an eye. Now, falling from a tree stand can certainly kill you and at the very least, it will hurt you. All the damage done happens with in a matter of seconds and can alter the rest of your life. Damage to your ears can happen in one quick accident but often times it happens over the course of years. Each little occurrence adds up and leads to hearing loss that will also negatively alter your life.
As of today, I may still ask you to repeat yourself, but I can still hear that turkey drumming behind me!
I intend to keep it that way for as long as possible, because the thought of not being able to hear a distant gobble scares me to death. So take some time right now to think about all the sounds you cherish. Protect your hearing, protect your kids hearing, and don’t call anyone a sissy!