Listen to this advice – your ears will thank you.
If you participate in shooting sports, you might believe that all forms of hearing protection provide adequate defense against noise-induced hearing loss. Once the “ears” go on, it’s easy to simply assume that hearing is adequately protected.
The truth is that most people simply don’t give enough thought to hearing protection. Just because one particular model or style is comfortable or convenient doesn’t mean it provides adequate defense against hearing loss in any given shooting application. The sound-attenuating performance of today’s diverse hearing protection options varies significantly, as do individual shooting environments and the amount of noise produced by the firearms we use.
Here are some of the types of hearing protection to choose from:
Foam earplugs: These are the most commonly used form of hearing protection because they are inexpensive and provide a high noise reduction rating—up to When inserted properly, they completely seal the ear canal, while the cellular composition of the foam creates tiny airspaces which fracture and re-fracture sound waves.
Passive earmuffs: This affordable choice fits over the ears and form a barrier to shield the ears from sound. Today’s passive earmuffs use carefully engineered materials and designs to fracture and re-fracture sound waves, resulting in higher NRRs than were possible with earlier passive earmuff designs.
Electronic earmuffs: These are more expensive, but offer unique benefits. They allow users to hear surrounding sounds at normal or even louder-than-normal levels, which is extremely helpful for conducting conversation or receiving range commands. When a dangerously loud sound over 82dB is detected, the circuitry compresses the sound to the speakers inside the earcups until the noise returns to a safe level.
Regardless of the type of hearing protection selected, here are two primary considerations to make when purchasing hearing protection:
Noise Reduction Rating: Noise doubles every 3dB, so a high-powered rifle that produces a peak of 158dB is 600 percent louder than a .22 caliber rifle that produces 140dB. Shooters should make hearing-protection decisions accordingly. The safest choice is to select a product with a high Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). The higher the number, the better the product protects.
Fit: It is critical to ensure that hearing protection fits properly, especially for kids or others new to shooting sports. For earmuffs, padded headband and the ability to adjust earcups helps provide a very comfortable fit on a wide range of shooters, including youth, women and others with smaller heads. For foam earplugs, they must be rolled and compressed between the fingers before inserting them deeply into the ears. To perform properly, they must be flush and fully expanded, deep inside the ear canal.
Whatever your experience level in the shooting sports, it’s never too late to start giving more thought to your hearing protection.