Guns are very loud, and a gunshot can damage your hearing, especially if you shoot a gun often. It is essential to have good hearing protection while shooting. Knowing which type of ear protection is best for different types of shooting will keep those ear drums in service well into old age.
While any hearing protection is better than nothing, the best type of hearing protection for shooting is a well-sealed set of earplugs. These are generally inexpensive and effective, though they may be disposable. Earmuffs can be used multiple times but aren’t always as effective as earplugs. Electronic sets can let safe sounds pass through while they suppress loud gunshots.
Each type of hearing protection has its pros and cons. You need to know what these are to make an informed decision about which hearing protection to use.
Types of Hearing Protection for Shooting
There are several types of hearing protection that you can use while shooting. You’ll need to choose the best option for you, depending on your situation.
Disposable earplugs are the least expensive type of hearing protection for shooting. You can buy a package of 100 pairs of basic foamies for $10-$12.
Earplugs typically have a higher Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) than other types of ear protection. Largely because they can form an excellent seal by molding to your ear. This means that they are better at blocking out sound. So, not only are they inexpensive, but they are extremely effective.
There are downsides to using earplugs. Disposable earplugs are only supposed to be used once, then thrown away. Using earplugs often results in a lot of waste, which is bad for the environment. If you go shooting a lot, you will probably buy a lot of earplugs, and the waste and cost may add up.
Earplugs are also not very comfortable. You are essentially jamming a piece of foam into your ear. They can start to make the inside of your ears hurt after a while. Earplugs are also ineffective when used by people with irregularly shaped ears or ear canals.
You can solve these problems by purchasing custom earplugs. These earplugs are designed specifically for you, which means they are more comfortable and can work with irregular ears. They are also designed to last longer than disposable earplugs. The downside is that they cost between $100 and $200.
If you don’t go shooting often, it might be better to stick with disposable earplugs. Otherwise, custom earplugs are a pretty good investment.
A major drawback of earplugs if you want to wear ear protection while hunting is that earplugs not only block out gunshots, but also every other sound in the woods. This will severely diminish your ability to spot and stalk game.
In this situation, you might want to invest in some electronic earplugs with noise isolation technology. I wore some ear buds from AXIL during turkey season and found them to be a great compromise between protection when I’m fixing to shoot, and hearing what’s going on around me.
Use this link to get a big discount on the AXIL GS Extreme 2.0 ear buds that I like.
Another option for hearing protection is earmuffs. The benefit they have over earplugs is that they are easy to use. You just fit them snugly over your ears to cover them completely. You don’t have to stick anything into your ear canal, and you are less likely to damage your ears by misusing them.
They are more expensive than disposable earplugs, but they are designed to be used multiple times. If you plan on going shooting often, you will probably spend more on disposable earplugs than on one pair of basic earmuffs. They are also less expensive than custom earplugs and have the same benefits.
There are a few big downsides to earmuffs, though. Earmuffs do not have an NRR as high as earplugs, so they are not quite as effective at blocking out noise. Though most would agree that they are sufficient for recreational shooting and hunting purposes.
They are larger and need more storage space. It’s harder to slip them into your pocket and bring them along, but I just keep mine in my range bag.
Earmuffs can also get very warm. This is great when you’re out shooting in the winter when it is cold, but they can make your ears too hot if the weather is warm. In this case I’d revert back to earplugs or my nice set of electronic shooting ear buds.
It is also hard to wear earmuffs with glasses. Eye protection is also important when you are shooting, and the way that earmuffs cover your ears and are built makes it hard to wear protective glasses since the ear pieces can disrupt the seal of the muff around your ear. It’s best to use shooting glasses that have very thin temples so as to minimize the impact on your ear protection.
Electronic Ear Protection
The final type of hearing protection is electronic earmuffs. This is my preference for the range, plinking, or shooting for fun out in the desert.
Electronic earmuffs not only keep loud sounds from damaging your ears, but they also let quieter sounds from the environment in, sometimes even amplifying them.
Being able to hear is a good thing in hunting, though it ought to take a back seat to protecting your ears, at least when you go to take a shot. Electronic earmuffs allow you to hear what is going on around you without letting gunshots damage your ears.
The electronic aspect of the earmuffs does not protect your ears from sounds in the normal and safe audible range. The earmuff part of them is what protects your ears. The electronics just allow you to hear despite the earmuffs.
Because the earmuffs are what protect your ears, electronic earmuffs are not any more effective at blocking out noise than regular earmuffs. That means they will not offer as much protection as earplugs, and they come with all the same pros and cons as earmuffs. They simply give you the bonus of being able to hear other sounds better.
Many also incorporate Bluetooth so you can connect them to your phone to listen to music or take calls. I have the some AXIL muffs that I like to wear at the range. They are slimmer than most and they provide the protection I need. But what I like most is that I can connect them to my phone and listen to a podcast if I’m solo, or I can carry on a conversation if I’m with my kids. And that’s without taking them off all the time. I like them way more than my basic Cabela’s muffs I’ve been using for years.
For a big discount on the AXIL TRACKR BLU earmuffs that I recommend, use this link to purchase.
Electronic earmuffs are the most expensive option. Cheaper and less effective models can be as low as $30, but the most expensive and long-lasting electronic earmuffs can cost up to $300.
How Many Decibels of Protection Do You Need for Shooting?
Ear protection is measured with Noise Reduction Rate (NRR). The NRR number is the maximum number of decibels that the ear protection will stop if the ear protection is used correctly.
You must purchase hearing protection with an NRR of 22 or greater. Make sure to check the NRR of the ear protection you have or are buying to make sure that it will protect you well enough.
Can You Use Headphones for Ear Protection When Shooting?
Noise-canceling headphones can be used for ear protection when shooting. However, they are not designed to protect your hearing and have no NRR number, so it may be hard to tell whether they will be able to protect you well enough. They typically don’t create a firm seal around your ear canal as earplugs or muffs would.
While headphones are probably better than nothing when shooting, it’s better to use a different type of ear protection that is made for use when shooting a gun.
Are Earplugs or Earmuffs Better for Shooting?
The very best hearing protection is the one you will use consistently! So choose one that is comfortable and convenient and that you will use every time you go shooting.
Overall, earplugs are usually the better choice for ear protection while shooting. They are more effective at blocking out sound than earmuffs. They also allow you to wear eye protection more easily.
However, if you have small ear canals or earmuffs are more comfortable, wear those! Earmuffs are also usually the best for children, as earplugs fall out or are annoying to most kids.
You can purchase custom earplugs if you will be shooting frequently. There are even custom electronic ear protection options. Although they will cost more than earmuffs, they will offer more protection, keep your ears cool, and be more comfortable.
Other protective gear must-haves: