Did you know that the majority of various caliber firearms fire at 140dB or higher? At 140dB, hearing protection is not an option; it’s a requirement to prevent permanent long term damage.
To give you a little perspective, at 140dB, your throat and vocal cords will resonate with the sound. At just 145dB your vision will blur from your eyeballs vibrating! If it’s loud enough to make you vibrate, it’s loud enough to cause hearing loss.
Ear protection is one of the most important items you should have with you when you’re shooting firearms. That’s not to say that all hearing protection is created equal. You have a variety of options to choose from so we’ve put together this beginner’s guide to selecting the best ear protection for shooting to ensure safe and happy shooting for many years to come.
Earmuffs or Earplugs?
The two most basic forms of ear protection for shooting are Earmuffs or Earplugs. Many people don’t like the idea of the earplugs and having to insert them into the ear but there are also those that feel that the earmuffs for shooting and hunting are large and bulky and then there are some that wear both simultaneously.
Which is the best ear protection for shooting? Well there are pros and cons of each but it’s more important to choose the style that’s most comfortable for you because at the end of the day if it’s not comfortable, you’re just not going to use it.
If you’re looking for basic but effective ear protection while hunting or at the shooting range, check out these uncorded disposable foam earplugs. They come in a case of 200 pairs and have an NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) of 32dB. This would lower the 140dB sound from the gun muzzle down to 108dB, which is about the sound level of a standard car stereo at maximum level.
For the occasional shooter, these will keep your ears protected with a minimal investment. Since the earplugs are disposable, you never have to worry about keeping up with a single pair of earmuffs, simply throw them away and grab a fresh pair every time you hit up the shooting range or go hunting. Obviously, these earplugs are also not as bulky as your traditional earmuffs, but do not give you the features of electronic earmuffs such as noise cancellation and ambient sound amplification.
The Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs are another popular option for hunting and shooting range ear protection. The benefit of these is that the earplugs can be formed to fit the exact shape of your ear simply by heating up the thermoplastic custom molds by boiling them in water.
After allowing the mold to cool a bit, just shape them to your ear and you’re ready to go! If you don’t get the fit right the first time, no problem! Just heat them back up and re-mold them again and again. By having a custom molded earplug you can ensure that they never hurt, never fall out and still provide top notch noise reduction.
The NRR for the Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs is 31dB, just slightly less than the Liberty DuraPlug Uncorded Disposable Foam Earplugs. However, these only come with one pair of the thermoplastic molds, one pair of medium foam tips and three sets of triple ribbed tips – small, medium and large. The foam tips offer you a few different options for the inner ear so you can find one that’s most comfortable for you.
If the standard foam earplug just isn’t comfortable but you don’t really want to wear the bulky earmuffs either, this might be just what you’re looking for.
If you happen to be one of those that prefer to wear both earplugs and earmuffs at the same time, then you should check out these little gems. These earplugs offer a low profile design to fit fully into your ear while being able to wear earmuff hearing protection over them. They also include optional extender nubs for easy ear insertion and removal.
Like the Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs, these do come in just a single pair but they do come with a very nice Black Bullet Case made of aluminum and is also waterproof. The Black Bullet Case conveniently attaches to your keychain to make sure they never get lost or forgotten at home.
The Black Bullet Noise Cancelling Earplugs have an NRR of 21dB which is the lowest of all the shooting range earplugs listed here. This lower NRR is why it’s recommended to use these in conjunction with earmuffs at indoor shooting ranges, however, these can do a good job of noise reduction and hearing protection even as a standalone product. The NRR of these earplugs is more like most earmuff protection products at around 21 or 22dB NRR.
If you’re looking to go a little more hi-tech, this is one of the most popular choices for electronic ear protection. These earmuffs feature built-in directional microphones that will actively listen and amplify ambient sounds and voices (useful for range commands) up to 4 times (max 82dB) while instantly blocking all sound above 82dB. These are great for improved communication on the shooting range and more natural listening.
In addition to the 82dB max amplification level, these earmuffs also include patented Air Flow Control technology for optimal noise reduction across all frequencies.
The Impact Sport Electronic Earmuffs have an NRR of 22dB and includes a 3.5mm AUX input jack and connection cord for plugging in your own iPod, MP3 player, smartphone or even a scanner if you like. Two AAA batteries (included) are all that’s required with an automatic 4 hour shutoff feature to increase battery life to about 350 hours.
These earmuffs also have low profile earcups allowing plenty of stock clearance, an adjustable headband to ensure a secure fit and a compact folding design for convenient storage. Another great feature of the Impact Sport Sound Amplification Electronic Earmuff is the snap-in ear cushions. The ear cushions make for easy maintenance and replacement and extend their performance.
Another highly rated product in the earmuff category is the Peltor Sport Tactical 100 Electronic Hearing Protector (TAC100). While not technically designated as “noise cancelling” earmuffs, they do feature proprietary 3M technology that reduces loud gunshot noise while amplifying low-level sounds such as ambient sounds and voices.
The Adaptive Frequency Response feature will reduce background noise for clearer conversations and the Variable Suppression Time feature will reduce echo in indoor shooting ranges.
Like the Howard Leight Impact Sport Electronic Earmuffs w/ Sound Amplification, these earmuffs also include a 3.5mm jack for hooking up your iPhone, smartphone or other audio device and offer a 22dB NRR but the Peltor does have a few subtle differences that may give it the slight edge.
For one, the Peltor seems to have a faster “boot up” time though this is barely noticeable. Another difference between the two is how they reduce noise in an indoor shooting range environment. The Howard’s uses clipping to limit sound which can be a bit slow to return to normal hearing whereas the Peltor uses compression which seems to make them resume to normal or enhanced hearing a little bit faster.