It’s sometimes easy to forget how important it is to protect our ears. For the novice shooter, one might think that there’s a loud bang, and the worst that could happen is a ringing in your ear for a minute or two. This type of thinking is very dangerous and could lead to permanent hearing damage.
The vibrations of a gunshot actually kill tiny hairs found deep inside your ear that are vital to hearing. Once damaged (and this damage is cumulative), this can lead to high-pitched ringing or an irritating humming noise that will literally last forever. This permanent damage can be caused in just a few seconds if the proper ear protection isn’t worn. HEARsmart estimates that approximately 1 in 4 Australians will suffer from some degree of hearing loss by the year 2050–much of which could have been prevented.
Why ear protection is so important and how loud is ‘loud’?
Volume is measured in decibels (dBa). For reference, the average volume of a conversation is around 60-70 decibels. According to HEARsmart, once volume reaches decibels over 86, things start to become dangerous for our sensitive ears. Once over 120 decibels, ears can only tolerate just a few seconds at this volume, and anything over 140 decibels is simply not safe at all.
So, what about the average gunshot? You might be surprised to learn that almost all firearms will give off a volume of more than 150dBa–louder than a jet taking off just 200 feet away. This is why wearing proper ear protection is absolutely crucial to the health of your ears and hearing. And just because you’re indoors, doesn’t mean it’s any safer. In fact, the need for protection at an indoor range is even greater because the sound waves reverberate off the walls for a more intense noise.
Effective choices for ear protection
The type of ear protection you choose to use will depend on what you’re shooting and where you’re shooting. Whether you’re hunting or shooting in a more tactical sense, ear protection should be a vital and uncompromised part of your equipment. Generally, your choices will come down to the following:
- Earplugs/buds (disposable, reusable, custom, electronic)
- Earmuffs (electronic or passive)
- A combination of the two
No matter what form of protection you choose, you should be looking for a minimum noise reduction of 15dBa, but 30dBa reduction is better. You’ll want to look for the NRR–Noise Reduction Rating of each piece of ear protection to determine which one is best for you. This number will tell you the amount of decibels the protection removes from sound. For example, if a set of passive earmuffs has an NRR of 26dBA, they will reduce 26 decibels from the noise it’s blocking.
Let’s delve deeper into each type of ear protection, as well as some different brands and models, to determine which choice is best for you.
Earplugs will fit inside of your ear, forming a seal to the ear opening, blocking sound. They range in sizes and materials–anything from foam to moldable polymers. They can also be disposable or reusable.
- Leight Plugs by Howard Leight: These disposable earplugs are made of low-pressure polyurethane foam. Made by the trusted Howard Leight brands, these one-time use earplugs have a Noise Reduction Rating of 30dBa. Howard Leight offers a variety of other disposable earplugs.
- Walker’s Razor XV by GSM Outdoors: These particular earbuds are high-tech and can last for years. The Razor XV has a neck-worn device with retractable earbuds that can easily be worn for all day shooting, whether hunting or tactical. Given that it sits behind your neck, there is zero interference with your weapon. NRR 31dBA
Passive earmuffs are one of the most common types of shooting ear protection. Using foam and other soundproof materials, they isolate your ear to help protect it from loud volumes. These types of earmuffs basically create a “room within a room” that creates a safe space to prevent damage from loud sounds. Passive earmuffs will block out most sound–offering near-total silence.
- Leightning L3 by Howard Leight: These lightweight earmuffs with adjustable headband have super soft ear cushions for a day at the shooting range. They provided maximum protection with a comfortable fit. The well-known brand offers many other models of passive earmuffs. NRR 30dBA
- Walker’s EXT Range Shooting Folding Muff by GSM Outdoors: Another lightweight option with a compact folding design. These passive earmuffs feature a padded headband for a comfortable fit. NRR 30dBa.
- FNOVA Professional Ear Defenders: Very affordable and super comfortable, this is a great passive earmuff option. Despite the price point, they are extremely effective. The NRR for these particular earmuffs is one of the highest on the market. NRR 36dBa
Electronic earmuffs are also known as noise-canceling earmuffs. They’re similar to passive earmuffs in the fact that they ‘cocoon’ your ears from outside noise. However, they also emit a low-frequency signal that will drown out lower decibels. They will allow in softer sounds, such as someone’s voice or the sound of music, but will protect you from more extreme and intense noises such as a firearm. These are particularly effective while shooting at a gun range or while hunting, you’ll still be able to hear the voices of those around you, but your ears will be protected from the sound of the gun.
- Impact (Pro or Sport) Electronic Shooting Earmuff by Howard Leight: These electronic earmuffs provide comfort and use noise canceling to enhance protection while letting you hear those around you. Built-in directional microphones allow in sound that is below 82dBa, but anything above will be blocked out. Will bring down the noise level of virtually every firearm. NRR 30dBa
- MSA Sordins Supreme Pro X: The gel caps provide all-day comfort and they provide enough room for wearing an additional set of earplugs. They can also attach to ballistic helmets and comms as well. They offer high amplification with natural sound to give you phenomenal protection in noisy environments. NRR 18dBa
- Walker’s XCEL 500BT Digital Electronic Muff by GSM Outdoors: If high-quality and high-tech is what your offer–the XCEL model may be of extreme interest. There are four listening modes, wind noise reduction, and a comfortable headband design for all-day comfort while shooting. This particular model is chock full of bells and whistles. NRR 26
It’s extremely important to research and find the best ear protection for your type of shooting experience; whether it’s recreational or tactical. Spending a bit of time now can save you years of pain in the future. Remember–it only takes a second to cause serious or permanent hearing damage.
Consider what you’re shooting, where you’re shooting, and how long you’re shooting to determine the best ear protection for you.
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