With hunting season fast upon us, taking a few extra safety precautions afield and on the range can pay big dividends later in life. Eye and ear injuries are an unfortunate possibility when dealing with firearms and ammunition, and the outdoor environment.
Beyond the immediate exposure to firearms, and airborne debris from targets, even limbs from overhanging branches can cause eye injury while at the range or in the field. The wise shooter spends the time and money to protect their hearing and sight, and no time is better than now to get into such a habit.
Each fall, as duck season rolls around, I find myself in a blind somewhere, anticipating a flight of mallards, wood ducks or blacks. I am ultra-cautious, to be sure that none of my skin is showing, to avoid flaring the ducks. I either wear camo makeup, or drape a camouflage scarf over my face to cut the shine. My hunting partner wears prescription glasses, a trait that I thought would frighten the ducks, for sure. I wouldn't even think of wearing glasses in the blind. That was until I kept getting unburned powder in my eyes.
I've shot a pump shotgun for many years, and I got so proficient that I can work the action and fire as quickly as any semi-auto hunter. However, what kept occurring was that bits of unburned powder were becoming airborne as I racked my slide back, and they were drifting back into my eyes. If you think that would throw off your concentration, you're right! I had to stop and fish around in my eye for the culprit, usually when a flock of ducks was ready to land. It wasn't until I decided to wear eye protection that my problem was solved. Not only did I not get powder in my eyes, I protected my eyes in case something else went wrong.
Ken Allen, Associate Editor of The Maine Sportsman, once told me a shocking story of what can go wrong when hunting with a shotgun. It seems that he was out after grouse one fall day, and was quite wrapped up in the hunt. A bird erupted skyward after being flushed by his dog and he instinctively swung on it and fired. Unfortunately, a small tree was directly in front of his shot string, and a pellet ricocheted off the tree and into his eye. Lucky for him, he didn't incur any permanent damage. With the thick cover we have to contend with in many locations, this could have easily happened to any of us, and it illustrates the point that eye protection is not limited to any one form of bird hunting.
Anyone who does any trap or skeet shooting knows well the need for eye protection while on the stand. Today, most ranges require shooters and nearby spectators to wear eye protection and many ranges require ear protection, as well.
Eye protection shouldn't be limited to shooting sports either, anyone who reloads ammunition knows this credo. When you are working with primers and gunpowder, you should always have your safety glasses on. If you look on the bench of a safety-conscious reloader, you'll most likely see a set of glasses nearby.
While eye injuries seem to be more common among shooters, studies have indicated that many recreational shooters have some degree of hearing loss associated with their sport. There are two types of noise-induced hearing loss that commonly afflict hunters and shooters. First, there is the gradual loss of hearing that results from prolonged exposure to loud noise.
Talk to any seasoned duck hunter that spent their fall days in a duck blind, and they'll probably tell you that they aren't able to hear the duck's whistling wings as well as they used to. Second, there is hearing loss that results from a single, highly intense noise, usually more than 90 decibels. Most gunfire exceeds 130 decibels, and some magnum loads top that level. If you've ever sat in a pit blind while hunting geese and your next-door neighbor touches off a volley from his 10-gauge, you'll know what a high-decibel sound is like.
Hunters and shooters alike need to be cautious of the damage their guns can cause and not only protect their ears on the range, but in the field as well. Several companies now manufacture tiny devices that resemble hearing aids and prevent loud noises from reaching the ear, while effectively amplifying environmental noise. Wouldn't it be great to hear a grouse scuffle about before he takes flight, or that thumping noise your dog makes when hot on a scent trail? With any of the new "in-your-ear" hearing protectors, this is a definite possibility, even for those whose hearing has shown signs of decay.
For more information on hearing protection products, click here.
For more information on shooting glasses, click here