Hearing protection, or ear pro, is an essential element of firearms shooting. For competition or self-defense training, the risks are the same: permanent hearing loss.
For the most part, once you lose some aspect of your hearing it is gone forever. Even with modern medical advances, artificial audio enhancements are simply not as good as retaining your natural ability to perceive sound.
General Information on Hearing Protection
If you talk (loudly) to some of the old time shooters, they may tell you that they used cigarette butts or shell cases as “hearing protection.” Simply put – that doesn’t work.
Current hearing protection products are designed by audiologists and engineers to provide excellent noise attenuation. Attenuation, or the reduction in the volume of harmful sounds, can be accomplished in several ways. For example, ammunition may be formulated to produce a lower “blast.” A shooter may opt for adding a sound suppressor to the firearm.
For most people, noise attenuation is accomplished through the wearing of hearing protection.
Kinds of Ear Pro
For the shooting sports, there are two main kinds of hearing protection: muffs and plugs. Within each category, you have standard, or passive, protection and electronic hearing protection.
Muff style ear pro is the headgear that fully covers the ear. Plugs are foam or rubber devices that are inserted into the ear canal to block harmful sound.
Proper Use of Plugs
Plugs can often provide the greatest degree of sound reduction. However, they are often not used correctly. When improperly used, plugs provide only marginal noise attenuation.
Plugs should be inserted deeply into the ear canal so that they block all movement of air through the canal. Far too often, people insert plugs at too shallow a depth. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and you will be best protected.
Getting a Good Muff Fit
Muffs are easy to use and are more likely to be properly used by someone. However, they often are not properly fitted to the head.
The cups of the muffs should completely cover the ears and make a good seal with the skin to limit air movement from the outside.
Muffs can be difficult to work with when one is wearing shooting glasses. Eye protection should be considered a “must,” so make sure you get a pair of muffs that will still make a good seal with the body even though the arms of glasses are in the way.
Possibly the best way to protect yourself from the damaging noise of gunshots is to go for double protection. This is where you use both ear plugs and muffs at the same time.
While the exact amount of noise reduction can be hard to quantify, audiologists have shown in multiple studies that using muffs and plugs together offer the best hearing protection for shooters.
I’ve found it to be a very effective method for reducing the loudness of gunshots. While I recommend the practice for all shooters, it can be especially useful for new shooters and children.
Hearing Protection Reviews
Here are some of the reviews I have done on hearing protection products. As with all of my reviews, I encourage you to leave comments on what you have found to be effective in your own shooting.
- Axil Sport Ear M4 – Ultimately a disappointment, this electronic ear pro looked promising on paper. It proved to be uncomfortable and not very good at attenuating noise.
- Caldwell E-MAX – This is an amazingly inexpensive set of electronic hearing protection. It is not without its flaws, but at less than $30, they are a great choice for many shooters.
- Howard Leight Impact Pro – To date, these are the most effective noise reducing electronic muffs I have found
- Howard Leight Impact Sport – Thin and compact, these are easy to use while shooting rifles. But that comes at the cost of reduced hearing protection.
- ISOtunes – These Bluetooth capable earbuds offer good noise attenuation and excellent sound reproduction. However, you may wish to read my observations about comfort while holding a telephone conversation prior to buying.
- Peltor Sport Tactical 500 – Superb ear pro, the Peltor muffs offer exceptional audio clarity and very good noise reduction.
- SensGuard SG31 – A completely new design, this passive system offers good noise reduction, surprising voice clarity, attractive price and are lightweight to boot.