Most hunters know basic safety precautions. After all, hunter safety courses are widely available, not to mention required, in many states before you can get a hunting license. Yet, even armed with this information, many hunters still don’t consider it necessary to use hearing protection while hunting.
Safety is critical to preserving the integrity of outdoor sports. All outdoor enthusiasts should use proper ear protection when hunting. The decibel levels of firearms are high enough to cause temporary and permanent hearing loss.
Let’s examine past and current trends, the physical damage that occurs when you don’t wear ear protection, and what you can do to preserve your hearing while enjoying the sport you love.
Do Most Hunters Wear Ear Protection?
Unfortunately, many hunters don’t wear ear protection.
A common argument is that they may miss out on hearing a deer approach. Some hunters worry that they will be too loud due to not hearing themselves and inadvertently scare an animal off. Others argue that it’s only one shot, so there is no point in bothering to put in earplugs.
As you’ll see, there are solutions to all of these arguments.
Personally, I only recently started wearing hearing protection while hunting. I didn’t like the idea of muffs while out in the field because I want to hear what’s going on around me. But this turkey season I got a set of AXIL GS Extreme 2.0 ear buds (affiliate link, FYI) which you see in the photo at the top.
These have certainly changed the way I see (and hear) things while hunting. They are electronic and let the ambient sounds through while blocking out the loud sounds. The foam piece you stick in your ear is like a foam ear plug, so the seal is tight and your ears are well protected. But they’re not cumbersome to wear.
Do I wear them all the time in the field? No. But I don’t hesitate to wear these once I set up against a tree and anticipate a shot opportunity.
Why Should Hunters Wear Ear Protection?
Understandably, you are concerned about not detecting an animal because you had earplugs in, and thus missing out on a shot. It is also reasonable to assume you will miss out on hearing some things that are happening if you wear ear protection when hunting.
However, advances in hearing protection technology mean that you can have the best of both worlds.
You can now protect yourself against the sudden blast of a gun (which can easily damage your hearing) without missing out on what is happening around you. Whether that is a deer entering your sights or the call of a turkey off in the distance, you will still be able to hear them now and, hopefully, for many years to come.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for hunters who choose to forgo hearing protection while hunting.
How Do Loud Noises Cause Hearing Loss?
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, noises over 140 dB can cause permanent hearing loss. Since virtually all hunting firearms exceed this threshold, it only makes sense that firearm users are more likely to experience hearing loss in their lifetimes than those who don’t use firearms.
Hearing is primarily controlled by nerve impulses generated by tiny hairs deep inside the ear. Loud noises damage these hairs. Short-term exposure to extremely loud noises and long-term exposure to moderately loud noises can result in immediate and irreversible damage.
Modern hearing protection reduces the decibel level of sounds the ear receives to protect the delicate system inside the ear canal. The effectiveness of ear protection is measured using the Noise Reduction Rating system. The higher a device’s NRR rating, the more protection it offers.
How Do Hunters Protect Their Ears?
Many hunters don’t realize the importance of using appropriate ear protection when hunting. However, it is becoming more common to see hunters — especially younger generations — wearing ear protection.
What Are the Most Common Types of Hearing Protection?
Hearing protection while hunting can range from simple to high-tech. For example, many hunters use cotton balls or foam earplugs to muffle the sound of a firearm, while others look for more specialized electronic equipment. Consider these options which are gaining popularity among hunters:
Most shooters are familiar with foam earplugs. They are a widespread form of hearing protection and are cheap and readily available. While “foamies” may be the most straightforward answer to the question “Do you need earplugs while hunting?” they may not be the best choice for most hunters.
They block out background noise and sudden loud sounds, bringing many hunters’ fears about ear protection to fruition. For most hunters, foam earplugs should be used at the range when you are sighting in your guns.
Custom Molded Earplugs
Molded earplugs are a definite step up from ready-formed earplugs. They are designed to fit inside the ear canal, so you get customized protection.
Most materials also allow low-level noise through while filtering out loud sounds, such as the crack of your hunting rifle. Expect to pay $50 and up for custom plugs. Also, remember that you’ll need to replace them every couple of years as your ears grow.
Electronic ear protection may be your best bet if you want to hear what is going on around you but still use hearing protection while hunting.
These devices resemble hearing aids and are designed to pick up low sounds like your hunting buddies whispering or a deer approaching the stand while filtering out loud noises like gunfire.
This will be your most expensive option, with some custom models selling for $1,000 or more.
If the idea of putting something inside your ear canal doesn’t sit right with you, earmuffs may be a better option for ear protection when hunting. You can pick up a basic pair of safety muffs at any sporting goods store and be ready to go.
Many hunters wear them around their neck and only put them over their ears when setting up for a shot.
There are also electronic versions of earmuffs. These are generally equipped with microphones to pick up environmental sounds, yet they block sudden loud sounds. Electronic muffs may be a great choice if you are hunting in a group or want to hear movement around your hunting blind.
Which Type of Hearing Protection Should I Choose?
Now that you know the most common options for hearing protection while hunting, you’ll need to decide which one best meets your needs. The choice will depend on several factors, including how much hunting you do, whether you go alone or in a group, and what type of animal you go after.
For example, you’d definitely want hearing protection on a bird hunt where you expect to fire dozens (or more) of shots in a short period. But you may opt to skip it if you only plan on taking a single rifle shot at a deer.
Consider the following factors when deciding on appropriate protection:
- The types of animals you hunt and how much you need to hear around you
- Whether you hunt alone or in a group
- The type of firearm you use to hunt
- The Noise Reduction Rating of prospective hearing protection
Do You Need Ear Protection When Hunting?
The short answer here is yes, you do need to use ear protection when hunting. Your mother would almost certainly agree!
However, you’ll definitely see a lot (maybe most) new and old hunters skipping this crucial safety precaution.
Whatever your concern about wearing ear protection when hunting, I promise you that it can be overcome. No hunting shot is worth losing your hearing over. So find an ear protection option that works for you and save your hearing so you can successfully hunt another day.
If you’re into DIY: How To Make Homemade Ear Plugs for Shooting