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Turning deaf ear to hearing protection bad idea

By Bryan Hendricks

This article was published May 31, 2014 at 4:02 a.m.

I remember the gunshots that permanently damaged my hearing.

It was in 1985, in a patch of woods west of Lake Maumelle while target shooting with longtime friends Brent Fitzpatrick and Jay Sweeney.

We had a sawed-off 12-gauge single-shot scattergun and a Ruger Mk.-II semiautomatic .22 pistol. The shotgun was loud, but every shot from that pistol felt like somebody jammed an ice pick in my ears. Nobody thought about wearing hearing protection back then, and after that day my hearing was never the same. Years of rock concerts at Barton Coliseum in the late 1970s and early 1980s certainly didn't help.

Jonathan Stanley, 14, of Highland, suffered a similar experience recently, minus the concerts. Jonathan is the son of Rev. Mike Stanley, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Highland. He's an ardent turkey hunter, as are all of the Stanley boys. His sharp, young ears were an asset to his older companions who also came of age in the pre-protection era.

"In recent years, having him with me is like having a set of super ears to help locate gobbling turkeys or a deer sneaking along a trail," Mike said.

In April, Jonathan hunted with his mentor Phillip Pickett, an Arkansas State Police officer.

"After their hunt that morning, Phillip told me that Jonathan was confused on where the gobbles were coming from," Mike said. "Phillip has long suffered from hearing loss, and for as long as we've hunted together he's had trouble coursing the birds without some help. Jon has often helped him figure out where the birds were, but now he is in the same boat as Phillip."

Mike said he suspected Jon's problems were associated with a sinus infection, and that his hearing would improve when the sinus infection abated. It did not.

"It really dawned on me that he had a serious problem when I left him to work a gobbler on his own," Mike said. "I hadn't struck anything after half an hour of fruitless calling, so I went back to find Jon. He was about 150 yards from where I'd left him. He told me he was moving towards the gobbler to get a better set. I told him, 'Son, you're not moving to that bird, you're moving directly away from him.'

"He looked confused and told me he thought he was going to him. I knew then something was definitely wrong."

Mike said they killed that gobbler about 30 minutes later, but he left the woods knowing Jon needed a hearing test. The following week, a doctor said Jon has suffered a great deal of permanent deafness in his left ear from acute acoustic trauma, Mike said.

"We always wear hearing protection when shooting, except when in the field," Mike said. "The doctor said this trauma can be caused by a single event, such as a gunshot, if conditions are just right. The apparent initial problem occurred, we believe, when he shot his brother-in-law's AR-15 a single time without hearing protection."

After that session, Jon experienced an incessant ringing in his ear. During turkey season, Jon shot at several turkeys, and was beside Mike when he shot once.

"This all exacerbated the existing problem," Mike said.

Mike said the doctor recommended giving up shooting entirely to protect the hearing in Jon's good ear. Jon wouldn't hear of it.

"He said, 'It's just a challenge I'll have to deal with, Dad,'" Mike said.

"It's a sobering wake-up call, and something I hope we can use to stress to others the importance of hearing protection," Mike said. "If our experience can help prevent someone else's loss, it's worth sharing. You write a lot about guns and shooting, and always stress the importance of wearing hearing protection. Keep it up. I'd hate for another person, especially a youngster, to go through this experience."

The following week, Jonathan killed his first turkeys of the season while wearing his new hearing protection in the field. They were in Kansas, where Mike preached a family conference in Junction City, Kan. The pastor at the host church took them hunting at Fort Riley.

"Jonathan killed two long-spurs back-to-back in about a five-second span," Mike said. "It certainly put a big smile on my face to see it work for him."

Sports on 05/31/2014

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