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Tinnitus apart, despite using ear protection, many shooters still suffer a significant loss of hearing, particularly at the high end of the sound scale. Keeping your ear defenders or plugs on at all times during shooting will reduce the risk of damaging your hearing or worse, suffering from tinnitus. The great majority of my shooting is pigeon over decoys, and a reduction in range would mean getting the quarry to come in close.
You could be showing signs of the dreaded tinnitus and failure to use ear protection when shooting means that you are at a risk of suffering from this debilitating condition. After studying the facts and figures regarding cause and effect, what it all boils down to for those of us who shoot, is that noise and recoil are the obvious causes and unless you use some form of hearing protection, your ears are subjected to far too many decibels each time you use a shotgun or rifle. Following a busy shooting day, I began to experience an unpleasant ringing in my ears, accompanied by a strange sensation of light-headedness, mild nausea and sometimes an annoying headache. I’ve tried everything, but with no known cure it’s something you gradually learn to live with. By the time January pheasants came along it was back to the 12-bore using 2in cartridges, which worked well for a couple of seasons until a few sub-standard loads destroyed my confidence in using them.
Right from mid-November, two or three days a week were spent on various bits of oilseed rape.
A session with Ed’s 20-bore seemed no better, and in the end I decided to go the whole hog by downsizing to a 28.
As with any new gun, the first few shots brought mixed results, but a week later an opportunity came along to really give it a try. The effect can be anything from a brief, mildly annoying, high-pitched whistle or buzz, to a really serious long-term condition that causes pain, discomfort, dizziness – and even disorientation. On bad days it often continued throughout the evening, but after a good sleep usually faded away until the next busy session with the gun. Noticeably louder than normal, eventually the ringing kicked off all the usual symptoms, but at a higher level than before and, most unusually, I was ready to call it a day long before the pigeons did. Brick wall partitions between the ranges rebounded echoes, rattling around in my head until I was almost floating. Heavier load, sub-sonic cartridges were tried, but found to be very slow, and I eventually settled to using normal, though fast, light loads, far more successfully for many years. Everything I tried was far louder, had noticeably more recoil, and was – at the time – far less effective than lead.


Combined with a busy game and wildfowl season, it all added up to a fantastic amount of shooting.
Using around half a 12-bore load, hopefully the adverse effects would be cut significantly. Starting just before midday, I managed to clock up over 300 birds during a great afternoon’s decoying. Around other people, I’m reasonably okay in one-to-one conversations, but in a crowded pub or at a noisy shoot dinner, I can only nod, smile, agree with everyone and hope for the best. My concentration suffered badly, and it was only a few years before I gave up serious clayshooting to return to falconry. Things have developed since then, but recoil itself is a bigger part of the tinnitus problem than most people realise, and getting hit hard when you’re already feeling low soon gets the head spinning. Teaming up with shooting buddy, Ed, my score was 17 days well over 100, plus two double centuries from one area alone.
Granted, the pigeons were most co-operative – it was ones and twos all the time – but it taught me that with straight shooting, the little small-bore could still get the job done.
Communal speech is virtually impossible to decipher, with only an odd word or two picked out from what is usually a background murmur. Besides a lifelong passion for decoying pigeons, game and wildfowl shooting, and lamping forays for rabbits during the summer months, I was quite heavily into competition skeet and sporting clays. Flinching becomes a normal reaction when taking a shot, which is far from helpful when fluency, smoothness and confidence are required to shoot at your best. It all added up to quite a lot of shooting, though at the time few Guns wore ear protection, even at clay shoots. During the latter days, I’d just about had enough, but with several combined days of 300-400 plus, it was hard to walk away from. Better still, though, such a session with a 12-bore would have brought severe repercussions, after firing the best part of 400 shots almost non-stop, hardly any side-effects were noticeable!



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