There are several factors to be considered in selecting the proper hearing protection.
Among these are:
- Type of firearms used for the majority of the shooting
- Current level of hearing loss, if any
- Ear and ear canal size
- Previous experience with hearing protection products
Let’s discuss these individual factors one by one. First, what are you shooting? Is the majority of your range time spent with a handgun? If so, then ear muffs that clamp over the ear are easily used, provide a good level of protection, and can be comfortable to use. If you are primarily shooting a rifle or shotgun, then ear muffs may not be ideal. Mounting the rifle or shotgun may dislodge the ear muffs off the ear. It may be impossible to use properly the sights on a rifle while using ear muffs.
Next, we will explore this issue of current hearing loss. If you have been exposed in the past to heavy machinery, shooting (obviously), aircraft, or construction site work, you have no doubt suffered some amount of hearing loss. Whether this is true for you or not, you are probably interested in protecting the hearing that you currently have. In that case, the experts tell us that a combination of ear plugs and ear muffs provide the top level of hearing protection at a reasonable price. You have to make the decision if this is something you wish to pursue. This form of hearing protection can be relatively uncomfortable, leaving you with a “plugged up” feeling.
Ears come in all sizes and shapes. Therefore, ear canals also come in all shapes and sizes. This alone can have a large impact on your ability to use ear plugs, and whether or not ear muffs are your only option. Before coming to the conclusion that your ear canal is too small for an ear plug, try inserting them using the following techniques: First, roll the ear plug into a very small diameter. Second, before inserting the ear plug, gently tug on your ear from behind, lifting it up and back at the same time. This is best accomplished by reaching with the opposite arm up and over the top of your head to grasp your ear while inserting the tightly rolled ear plug with the other hand. You should be able to get the ear plug into even the tiniest adult ear canals with this method. Children can be another matter entirely. Always be careful not to push the ear plug in too far- if you feel any pain at all, back out a bit. You don’t want to damage your eardrum while trying to protect it.
What experiences have you had with hearing protection products? Do you already know what you like? Are you willing to try something else? New products are appearing almost daily in this market, and trying something new might lead to a real breakthrough in your realm of hearing protection. Most of us could use an improvement in this area, whether it is something lighter, more comfortable, more effective, or just new. The days of stuffing some cotton in our ears should be long behind us, although there are shooters who still do this. In their opinion, this has always worked for them, and they see no reason to change. A hearing test might be quite surprising to them.
Budget; this is always a concern, isn’t it? Not many shooters have an unlimited budget for hearing protection. It is much easier to justify $700 for a new rifle than it is to imagine spending $400 on ear protection. Why? It’s simple, we see a new gun as a tool which is much more useful (fun) than new hearing protection. After all, who goes into the office with a photo of their new ear muffs and brags to the guys about how great they are? Let’s look at some numbers, shall we? A pair of foam ear plugs will lighten your wallet by about $2 or $3 at most. Some suppliers offer ear plugs by the gross, although you certainly don’t need 1000 ear plugs taking up space in your garage. The airlines have dispensers full of ear plugs mounted on the walls, handy for everyone to walk by, turn a crank, and receive two ear plugs. Ear muffs are a different story. Ear muffs can run anywhere from $16 retail to around $400, or perhaps even more. Only you can determine what is best for you, using these guidelines, performing your own research, and finding the best value for your hard earned cash.
Ear muffs typically carry a higher level of protection than do ear plugs. This is known as a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR), and is expressed in the sound measurement unit of decibels (db). Most ear plugs carry a NRR of 23-33 db, while ear muffs tend to run a bit higher, with a NRR of 30-40.