Appropriate hearing protection is a must for hunters and shooters of all ages, although it's usually the last thing on a shooter or hunter's mind. I know from experience because I use to think the same way, until I discovered some early afternoon hearing loss in my early thirties. Being that most of the early hearing loss was in my left ear and I shoot right handed; much of the loss can most likely be attributed to all the hunting and shooting I did as a child and teenager without the use of suitable hearing protection. That served as a wake-up call for me, so now I go to great lengths to assure that my hearing is appropriately protected when I shoot or hunt.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology (AAO), exposure to noise at or above the 80 to 85 decibels (dB) range can produce injury to the ear. The damage itself comes about when the loud noise injures the sensitive nerve endings in the inner ear. The louder the noise or longer the exposure to the sound, the more harm occurs.
Now that the importance of hearing protection for shooters has been demonstrated, let's talk about selecting the best style of hearing protection for your needs. Since not all types of hearing protection are equal, I'd recommend basis your buying decision on a combination of facts and price. I would not automatically go for the least expensive or cheapest solution as some of the less costs types of hearing protection may only offer minimal protection.
Most people would think buying some kind of hearing protection would be pretty easy, but there are a number of different types of hearing protection available along with various levels of protection. The focus of this article is to provide some basic information on the various types of hearing protection, along with some recommendations.
For the most part, hearing protection for shooting sports can broken down into a few different categories: passive ear plugs, passive hearing protection, and electronic hearing protection.
Let's take a moment to review each one of these different types of hearing protection in detail:
Passive Ear Plugs – These are basically soft plugs that are typically made from plastic or some type of foam based material. These plugs are inserted into the ear opening and they help to dampen any high volume sound that the ear is exposed to. They are known as "passive" because these plugs do not utilize any electronic devices that damper noises. Ear plugs are by far the less expensive form of hearing protection, but do they actually work effectively? The sound is muffled a bit, but can still be quite loud. When I was younger, I can recall using ear plugs of this type when dove hunting; and I can still recall how bad my ears rang after a day day of hunting. I'm sure the plugs helped out some, but they really did not protect my ears as well as they should have been protected.
Passive Hearing Protection – This style usually is comprised of ear muffs that have a cup which covers the entire ear. The muffs are usually connected by a headband or headpiece of some type. Like the passive ear plugs, this style will not have the electronic sound reducing device. The ear muff style design is nice as the cup has a seal that protects the ear ear from the noise versus the ear plugs which only partially protect the ear canal itself. Most ear muff models have the ability to be adjusted, although some of the less expensive ear muff models may not have this feature. Unfortunately, ear muffs of this nature dampen all sound, so the wearer can not hear anyone talking or any other significant sounds.
Electronic Hearing Protection – This design contains an ear muff style and incorporates it with electronic technology that reduces the noise down to a level that is not harmful to the human ear. The entire sound dampening process takes place faster than the blink of an eye as the suppressed sound is transmitted to the wearer almost instantly. The best feature of electronic hearing protection is the power to hear everything that is going on around you while you are shooting. In many situations, such as on the range, during training, or while hunting; this can be a great benefit. Of course, due to the technology needed, electronic hearing protection tends to be the most expensive all the hearing protection devices. Several of the higher end electronic models may have other enhancements such as a separate volume adjustment for each side of the ear muffs, enhanced adjustability, a battery saver feature to conserve battery use, and ambient sound magnification. The ambient sound enhancement is a great benefit for hunters as it augments noise to a level that is far greater than the naked ear can hear. At the same time, the augmented sound is instantly dampened when a shot is fired.
So how do you select which model to buy? Evaluate your specific needs and match that up to the best choice above. Personally, I would not advocate the basic passive ear plugs. Far superior to no hearing protection at all, they offer only minimal protection. If you only shoot now and again or do not have the demand for the additional capacity of an electronic model, basic passive ear muffs will most likely work just fine. If you are a regular shooter or hunter, the electronic models can be a outstanding investment with all their added features. I changed from passive headphones to an electronic model years ago, and I've never once regretted it. At the end of the day, the decision really comes down to your own personal preferences and needs.