Whether you spend a lot of time at the shooting range or go hunting every other weekend, your repeated exposure to high volume gunshots can result in a significant loss of hearing. Using an ear protection device can help you retain your hearing and give you a keen tactical advantage. However, the wide range of devices used to muffle and filter sound can be downright confusing.
Read along to get the rundown on the differences between muffs, plugs, passive, and electric options. Plus, explore the different features that will enhance your shooting experience while protecting one of your most vital assets.
What options do I have for shooting ear protection?
There are many different types of earmuffs and earplugs designed to limit a shooter's exposure to potentially harmful sounds. Whether you're looking for coverage for hunting or the shooting range, you'll find that there is no shortage of options when it comes to protecting your ears.
Why should you use ear protection for shooting?
Loud gunshots expose shooters to potentially harmful levels of sound. Ear protection can reduce the audible volume of a gunshot while maintaining the clarity of low-level sounds such as voices. Ear protection can also protect the ear from damage from pushback or other gun-related mishaps.
What is dB and how does high dB damage the ear?
Decibels (dB) are the unit of measurement for volume. Exposure to a dB rating of 85 can cause irreversible damage to your hearing. When you consider that most conversations are around 60 dB, it is evident that everyday life can be far louder than we can handle. That being said, the sound of a gunshot is on a whole other level.
Guns and dB
The American Speech-Language Hearing Association specifies that people who use firearms are far more likely to develop hearing loss than those who don't. In fact, they may struggle to hear high-frequency sounds or even specific letters. Oftentimes, repeated use of guns results in a partial (single ear) hearing loss. It can even result in permanent ringing (tinnitus) in the ears.
How does ear protection for shooting work?
Ear protection creates a protective barrier between the fragile nerve ending in the ear canal and the deafening sounds of a fired weapon. Extended exposure to sounds that are just 85 dB or more can damage your eardrum receptors. Therefore, when you consider the fact that, depending on the weapon, most guns reach a volume of 140 to 190 dB when fired within close range of a shooter's ears, absence or lack of adequate hearing protection is completely out of the question.
The Best Ear Protection for Shooting reduces the volume and impact of sound. While passive (static) hearing protection devices reduce the dB rating of noise, electric devices filter out loud sounds while clearly transmitting the quiet ones. Noise reduction is implemented to preserve a person's hearing.
Noise Reduction Rating (NRR)
In the United States, all hearing protection devices require a Noise Reduction Rating. These ratings range between zero and 33 dB.
Remember, a NRR represents the number of decibels a hearing protection device reduces noise by under optimal conditions. For example, if your particular gun caliber puts out an average of 150 dB when shot, then earmuffs with a 30 dB NRR will reduce that sound to 120 dB. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends you limit your exposure to 15 minutes of 100 dB sound a day. Anything greater could result in hearing loss or pain.
Noise Reduction in Lab vs. Reality
Now remember the rating is the highest possible reduction which have been measured in a lab. When shooting at a shooting range or hunting you will absolutely not have these optimal figures like in a laboratory and you therefore need a different way to calculate the actual noise reduction rate.
The printed NRR will be close to impossible to achieve - calculate around 50% of that under normal conditions.
Double hearing protection
When possible we at Tactical Sergeant believe it's good to double the hearing protection, meaning both using earplugs and ear muffs at the same time.
Especially when shooting indoors this is a must but in general it should be applied as often as possible.
For the noise reduction this will not mean that you will double the amount of deducted dB but as a rule of thumb it will deduct around additional 5 dB which can help a lot.
Use double hearing protection (muff + plugs) whenever possible and expect additional 5dB of deduction.
In general be very carefully with NRR many variables will have impact on the actual Noise Reduction Rate.
As a rule of thumb go with high quality Hearing Protection and double when ever possible, then you get best possible protection.
How does ear protection reduce noise
In situations where noise reduction is impractical, external hearing protection devices, such as earmuffs or earplugs, are imperative. Not only do they protect individuals from hazardous sounds, they improve safety and communication. From electrically enhanced earmuffs to inexpensive disposable foam plugs, hearing protection devices (HPDs) are one item hunters and shooting experts should never leave the house without.
A HPD is a barrier between your eardrums and potential noise. Primitive earplugs muffle and reduce the dB rating of external sounds. Whereas, more sophisticated HPDs filter sounds, reducing the dB rating of harmful noise while providing clear, balanced, and audible transmission of low to moderate volume noises. Whether you're heading out for a weekend hunting trip with friends or are simply looking to prep for your weekly therapy session at the shooting range, it is important to determine whether any audible communication could influence your safety and security.
- Not reliant on electronic parts
- Reliable protection from impulse noises, especially gun shots
- Less volume elevation confusion
- Not reliant on a power source
- Cannot hear someone speaking
- Cannot hear important sounds
- Cannot distinuish between different sounds
- dB reduction cannot be adjusted
Electronic hearing protection devices utilize electronic technology to monitor and reduce the volume of harmful sounds. In most cases, they allow users to minimize the effect of loud noises without blocking quiet noise like conversation and soft ambient sound. Electronic HPDs often include extra features, including individual volume controls, adjustable ambient sound microphones, sound-activated compression systems, omnidirectional microphones, and dynamic speakers.
- Noise-activated sound reduction
- Audible and even ehanced low-level sounds
- Instantanious reduction of high dB sounds
- Volume settings
- Dependent on battery or charge
- Potentional to malfunction
- More Expensive
Hearing protection earmuffs feature ear-encompassing foam cups supported by a behind-the-head or over-the-head band. The sound-reducing foam cup is protected by a durable plastic casing. The electronic variety features a similar style that also encompasses an electronic technology. The latter option typically requires batteries.
How do they work
Earmuffs utilize a sound-deading material to shield the ear canal from damaging sounds. They feature an ergonomic design that directs pressure away from the ear canals. They are typically light, soft, and versatile. Compared to most earplugs, muffs are easier to fit and more durable.
Electronic earmuffs look and feel like standard passive earmuffs, but contain innovative technologies that allow you to control your exposure to certain sounds without inhibiting others. They rest against the sides of your head and create a barrier between the ear canal and the outside world. They also serve to protect your ears.
The price of a muff often represents the value and quality of the internal electronic components. Budget models typically feature a simple sound-activated compression system and a microphone or two. Meanwhile, pricier options may contain omnidirectional microphones, binary volume controls, omnidirectional speakers, rechargeable batteries and the possibility to add an external audio device.
We like these Electronic Ear Protection Muffs
Howard Leight electronic earmuffs
MSA Sordin Supreme Pro X
Howard Leight Impact Pro Electronic Earmuff
Passive earmuffs utilize a material sound barrier to muffle loud noises. These HPDs work well but muffle voices and ambient sounds that could inhibit your safety or tactical advantage.
We like these Passive Ear Protection Muffs
Pro For Sho 34dB Shooting Ear Protection
Professional Safety Ear Muffs by Decibel Defense
ClearArmor 141001 Shooters Hearing Protection
- Available in both passive and electric varieties
- Easy to remove
- Ear and hearing protection
- Can be attached to helmet
- Not customizable
Biggest issue people have with muffs are that they are bulky and can be annoying in combination with hats, glasses or even the stock of your gun.
Who should consider ear muffs?
- Marksmen and hunters who want to maximize their hearing protection.
- For one, they won't need to worry about an earplug falling out.
- What's more, they can be doubled up with earplugs to maximize hearing protection for large guns and indoor shooting ranges.
- They are also easy to put on and take off.
- What's more, they are typically more hygienic than earplugs.
Earplugs are sound-reducing barriers that are inserted directly into the outer ear canal. From foam plugs to custom-fit mouldable plastic, earplugs offer a wide spectrum of NRR ratings and specialty features. Many shooters opt to magnify their hearing protection by wearing disposable foam earplugs under earmuffs. While foam plugs don't offer enough dB reduction on their own, they can help max out the NRR rating of already substantial muffs.
How they work?
Earplugs do just what their name implies. Some are pre-molded while others are made from pliable foam or mouldable polymers. Semi-insert earplugs are inserted into the ear canals but feature a connective band. Earplugs are often more discreet and less constrictive than muffs.
Electronic plugs feature a soft, moldable plug connected to a small electronic component. The component typically features a variety of microphones, speakers, and volume toggles. Custom molds and secure fit systems ensure the plugs will not fall out in the middle of the action.
We like these Electronic Ear Plugs
CENS pro flex
Walker's Razor Silencer Earbud
3M PELTOR TEP-100 Tactical Digital Earplug
Passive earplugs don't offer a high enough NRR to safely reduce the sound of a fired weapon. However, they do offer a convenient means for improving the natural NRR of a pair of dutiful muffs.
We like these Passive Ear Plugs
3M Peltor Combat Arms Earplugs
Decibullz - Custom Molded Earplugs
SureFire EP7 Sonic Defenders Ultra filtered Earplugs
- Can be paired with muffs
- Passive are inexpensive
- Easy to wear with hats and glasses
- Often not a high enough NRR to be worn alone
- Electronic are expensive
- Have to fit well in order to really work
Who should consider ear plugs?
- Shooters who want to double up their protection (We recommend that everybody is doing this)
- People who are annoyed by muffs
Who should consider ear protection for shooting?
Anybody shooting a gun should use ear protection!
What should be considered is:
- Do you need double hearing protection when shooting - at Tactical Sergeant we say yes!
- Could you benefit from the more expensive electronic hearing protection so you can follow instructions at the shooting range or have a conversation when hunting.
- Finally, no exception should be made when considering the reliability, compatibility comfort, and tactical benefits of a protective device.
Don't get overwhelmed by the impressive variety of ear protection devices. Prices range from a less than a dollar for a disposable pair of passive earplugs to thousands of dollars for custom electronic earmuffs. However, you can purchase decent passive earmuffs for under $30 and satisfactory electronic muffs for under $50. Develop a comprehensive list of features you need and a firm budget. Then, hit the ground running.
What are some of the features to look for?
There are several unique features and options that can improve your shooting experience.
Electric muffs and plugs contain microphones that help monitor, filter, and even refine sounds within an acceptable volume. Most offer an instantaneous compression system that suppresses sounds that are higher than 85 dB. Some have just one or two microphones, while others contain multiple omnidirectional high-frequency microphones. More sophisticated systems allow shooters to decipher between nearby conversations and distant noises.
More microphones will give you a better directionality feeling of the sound you hear.
Built-in speakers allow for safe transmittance of sounds. Omnidirectional speakers give shooters a dynamic reading of where a sound originates. This is a huge tactical advantage in the worlds of hunting and defense.
Electronic devices may run off of pairs of AAA batteries or require intermittent charging. Many devices feature automatic shutoffs despite possessing hours of potential runtime. For lengthy missions or overnight hunting treks, easy-access battery compartments and replaceable battery packs are key.
Most devices are made up of a combination of foam, plastic, rubber, and/or metal. Materials should be soft, durable, and easy to clean. Options such as antimicrobial foam aren't necessary but reduce the risk of spreading infection.
Compression ear protection uses instantaneous pressure to reduce a sudden increase in volume. Sound-activated compression systems use electronic technologies to monitor high dB noises and activate an internal change in pressure. The alternative is an active clipping system. Active clipping relies on internal electronic circuitry to momentarily shutoff sound amplification.
Some devices offer individual frequency controls for each ear. Shooters with hearing loss in one ear can use these controls to regulate their auditory perception. Some controls allow you to regulate attenuation in noisy environments. Some controls even offer a way to control external devices, such as two-way radios, phones, and MPR players.
If your budget allows it, consider individual sound control and the possibility to add external devices.
Minor design features can go a long way to improve the functionality of a hearing protection device. For example, bulky, rounded muffs may appear to offer the greatest protection. Nevertheless, slim cups are less likely to interfere with a shot. Meanwhile, some fields require discreet black, flesh-colored, translucent, or camouflaged devices, while others demand bright orange, yellow, or even reflective options.
Be aware that bulky muffs can become an issue
Best Ear Protection for Shooting Hierarchy
Most rifles put out more than 160 dB of sound when fired. This is nearly double the maximum volume that human ears can be exposed to without risking hearing damage. Therefore, it goes without question that shooters wear hearing protection devices whenever firing shots. When shopping for HPDs, opt for plugs or muffs that offer a sufficient NRR for your field, weapon, and unique situation.