Rule number eight of the NRA firearms safety guide is “Wear eye and ear protection as appropriate.” My daughter was shooting at YHEC practice last week when her electronic ear muffs broke. She was shooting shotgun and .22 so hearing protection was a must. Shooting a gun without proper hearing protection can cause life-long damage to your ear(s). Now we needed to look for other options in hearing protection for our young shooter.
Millions of people own firearms, and many do not use proper hearing protection. The purpose of hearing protection is to dampen sound over a specified number of decibels (dB) so the inner ear is not damaged. According to the Dangerous Decibels program a sound that reaches 85 dB or stronger can cause permanent hearing damage. A gunshot gives 140-190 dB, depending on the weapon, and will cause immediate damage to a shooter or spectator’s inner ear.
There are many forms of hearing protection. Prices for the various types can range from dollars to hundreds of dollars. You should choose which will be appropriate based on not only price but protection needs. An avid competition shooter will desire a different form of protection than a one-time spectator.
Forms of hearing protection:
Earplugs – Basic earplugs are available in disposable foam style or molded, reusable forms. This type of ear protection blocks out a small amount of sound. Many foam disposable plugs are listed to
block out 32 dB of sound and reusable molded plugs are listed at 28 dB.
Earplugs need to be installed properly for best performance but may jar loose during activity. Compress the tip of the earplug and roll it between your fingers. Next, insert the plug into the ear. Hold it there as the foam expands sealing the canal opening. A foam earplug alone may not be sufficient when shooting a high caliber rifle or rifle with a muzzle break.
Shooting muffs – Shooting muffs are a form of hearing protection that resembles the large headphones kids used in the 80’s. The headband may adjust to fit a variety of shooters. If you have a small child, there are models available to fit him/her, or others with smaller heads.
The cups on a shooting muff will have leather or plastic pads attached. Look for a muff that fits well and doesn’t have gaps between the muff and the shooter’s head. The pads may be filled with materials that are self-forming. A good seal is important in blocking out external noise. Look for one that is soft and contours around your ears as well as safety glasses and earrings. With a proper fit earmuff, a shooter can expect to get between 20 and 35dB.
Earplugs with muffs – A muff alone may not be sufficient when shooting a high caliber rifle with muzzle break. Earplugs combined with muffs will be sufficient to block out high decibel sounds. One downfall to this combination is it may block out too much sound. When you are shooting, it is important to hear direction at the shooting line. The muff/ear plug combination is fine when complete awareness is not required.
Electronic shooting muffs – Electronic shooting muffs are a standard muff, as described above, but have speakers in them. The electronics in the muff will suppress shot noise while allowing the shooter to hear commands, animals and basic conversations, even when shots are fired. The speaker in the muff amplifies weak sounds, while at the same time blocking out loud, harmful noise
Custom molded electronic – Shooting muffs, electronic or otherwise, may be hot or bulky to wear in competition or while hunting. A custom molded electronic form of hearing protection will reduce bulk, sweat and headaches that a muff can sometimes cause. There are several companies that offer custom fit earplugs with electronics in them. The electronics available vary, but one that offers wind-blocking capability would be best. This will allow you to hear basic conversations, animals or other sounds clearly.
The custom molded, electronic hearing protection is compact, easy to carry and will sit comfortably in your ear. With modern technology, a shooter can wear hearing protection that is lightweight and water resistant.
There are an assortment of features available within the forms of hearing protection available. My personal preference is an electronic device that will dampen the sound of a high power rifle shot, while allowing me to hear common conversation and background noise.
Some forms of electronics block the sound of gunshot and all other noise leaving the shooter, or spectator, in momentary silence. This can primarily be a problem if you are at a range where multiple people are simultaneously firing rounds.
It is important for the shooter or spectator to research the method and confirm that it will suit their needs for protecting their hearing. When it comes to protecting your hearing, my recommendation is that you buy the best model you can afford.
Written by Mia Anstine