What’s the best ear protection for shooting? Well, we covered electronic hearing protection recently but let’s expand a bit more on what you need hearing protection to do.
The short version is that you want the greatest degree of hearing protection possible that also fits the kind of shooting you do. Before I show you a few examples, let’s talk about Noise Reduction Rating as well as the noise caused by gunshots and what that means for your ears.
Hearing damage occurs if you’re exposed to a certain noise level for a long enough time period. Hearing damage occurs instantly above a certain noise threshold as well.
I’m not a doctor and I’m not an audiologist. I will be dealing in the Reader’s Digest version here; feel free to fill in the details in the comments section.
Essentially, any noise level below 85 decibels (dB or dBA) is considered safe. Prolonged and repeated exposure for a long enough time period will induce hearing damage. That period gets shorter the greater the noise level. Exposure to noise levels of 120 dB for more than a few hours will damage your hearing.
Noise levels above 140 dB causes instant damage to your hearing. Not much, but it does. The more it happens, the more damage you incur. The typical gunshot produces around 160 dB. In other words, any shooting without hearing protection damages your hearing. Maybe only a tiny amount, but it is happening.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about Noise Reduction Rating. Now, NRR does not take the number of decibels off the top. So, if you have an NRR of 20, it doesn’t attenuate a 160 db noise down to 140. Instead, the actual reduction in noise is calculated in the following way:
So, if your hearing protection has an NRR of 25, it works like this: 25-7 = 18/2 = 9. Therefore, a 25 NRR reduces noise by 9 dB. A 160 dB gunshot will therefore be attenuated to 151 dB, which still damages your hearing.
Double protection is a good idea. Combining ear muffs and plugs is a best practice for repeat exposure to noise levels above 100 dB. This adds about another 5 dB of attenuation.
The highest rating for hearing protection is an NRR of 34. For those not wanting to blow cash on electronic hearing protection, standard muffs and plugs with an NRR of 34 can be easily found, which – if used properly together – can reduce the noise of a 160 dB gunshot or other loud noises to 140 dB.
Electronic hearing protection attenuates any noise above 82 dB, but doesn’t completely eliminate the potential for hearing damage. It does a bit, but a best practice is to combine electronic muffs with ear plugs for the utmost in hearing protection.
What are some good brands to look for? Here are a few.
Howard Leight, part of the Honeywell family of companies, makes analog and electronic hearing protection. These are popular with shooters. Their electronic muffs are good budget electronic hearing protection, with the Impact Sport models being the best-suited for shooting. You’ll see a lot of these at the range. Their passive ear muffs and plugs are decent, but don’t offer any models with an NRR over 30.
3M Peltor is another good brand. Again, their electronic hearing protection is popular, but they have passive hearing protection as well. Look for their Optime and X5 passive muffs, as they offer the most in passive protection with NRR of 30 or more.
Walkers is also another popular brand with shooters. Active and passive muffs and earbuds are available, with the Razor and Silencer lines being popular.
What should you look for in ear protection for shooting?
A balance of factors. Regardless of anything else, you need the greatest amount of hearing protection possible. For earmuffs, an adjustable padded headband is a good feature, as are low-profile ear cups so you can use them with a stock. Foldable helps, for easy storage, but isn’t strictly necessary, and having an input jack (or even Bluetooth) for an MP3 player is a nice touch.
After that, you need to pick the right kind of hearing protection for you. That depends on what kind of shooting you do on a regular basis.
If you do your shooting on a more formal range and/or if you compete, you also need to be able to hear commands from a range officer. If you hunt, they need to be able to pick up ambient sounds and water-resistant models are definitely recommended. Look for electronic models with directional microphones and sound amplification, or passive models with sound valves.
In-ear protection, popular for hunters and for tactical use, should be moldable so you can get the proper fit in the ear canal. Passive models with sound valves are good for hitting the duck blind, and active models – so long as they can withstand outdoor use – are good too.
What makes and models of hearing protection have you had experience with? Is there a good make and model you recommend? Sound off in the comments!