The average gun shot can measure between 140 and 150 decibels and it is warned any noise above 85 decibels can begin to harm your hearing.
A while back there was an article in the NY Times about the causes of hearing loss. The article discussed how everyday noise is causing damage to our ears, including 12-15% of elementary aged children already with permanent damage. Proper hearing protection can be a hard thing to get right for shooters on the range or during a hunt, so lets talk about what you need to look for and why it is important!
Ear protection is essential when you are on the range, indoors or out. Some shooters falsely assume, “I should practice shooting without hearing protection so I know what it will be like in a real-life self-defense situation,” and our response is NO! Even just one exposure to gunfire can be cause permanent damage and in the moment of crisis your body will take over with an auditory exclusion, but you are still going to suffer later. There is no need to cause yourself pain while trying to hone your marksmanship skills, or enjoying a day of hunting.
Hearing protection comes in many shapes, sizes, colors and materials. One size does not fit all and proper fit is critical to provide you with the protection you need on the range. Typically, a woman’s head and ear canals are smaller and thankfully there are now ear plugs designed and appropriately sized. You may also notice that there are different options for youth, as the size of their ear canal and head is different from adult women.
- Soft Ear Plugs are made of disposable foam or plastic. We call them “squishes” because you have to squish them into your ear and then they expand into place. For some people these are difficult to use, again this goes back to the shape and size of your ear canal.
- Custom ear plugs are extremely popular and last for several years. They can be upgraded to have filters and electronic noise reducers. The best part is you can choose your colors and really add a touch to style to your hearing protection.
- Over the ear muffs, connected by a headband cover the entire ear and the temporal area of the skull creating a seal against your head. Muffs are ideal because sound waves are absorbed through the temporal bone, which means it is possible to suffer minor damage if you are just using plugs.
- Electronic over the ear muffs offer all the same protection and adds a bonus! As it reduces the noise level down it allows you hear everything going on around you like conversations, range commands etc. When a shot is fired it electronically dampens the higher noise.
- The Double Dip. Yep some people like to wear a double layer of ear protection using a soft disposable plug with their muffs.
Things to consider when choosing muffs:
The wider or fatter the ear muff provides greater protection as they have greater “space” for the sound to be diffused. The down side to this style of muff is they are hard to use with long guns as they are less comfortable and get in the way of a good mount on your cheek bone, plus the fact they are less attractive. Thinner profiled muffs are more comfortable when shooting long guns as they get in the way. Because it is a thinner profile it is recommend to find the highest NRR rating you can.
What is Noise Reduction Rating (NRR)?
NRR, or Noise Reduction Rating, is a guideline that indicates the amount of potential protection a hearing protection device will give in a noisy environment. NRR is the decibel (dB) reduction provided by hearing protection based on laboratory test data. NRR rating extends 0 to 33 decibels. The higher the NRR the greater the noise level is reduced. You will see the rating on the product packaging, and also might notice it is associated with the price of the product.
Even though a higher NRR is intended to indicate greater noise reduction, NRR can be affected by protector size, fit and condition, as well as appropriate use. A realistic estimate of protection can be obtained by reducing the labeled NRR by 50%, for example: Environmental noise level = 92dB NRR = 26dB, which reduced by 50% becomes 13dB Level of noise entering the ear is 92dB – 13dB = 79dB
Decibels from different types of firearms compared to a normal conversation at 60 db:
- .38 Revolver 150 dB
- 9mm 160 dB
- .45 Semi-Automatic 165 dB
- .357 Revolver 160 dB
- 12 Gauge Shotgun 155 dB
- .22 Rifle 145 dB
More Than Just NRR
Don’t automatically assume the product with the highest NRR is the best choice for you. Over-protection can leave shooters with the inability to hear any sound whatsoever and may force them to remove their hearing protection when time want to speak or hear an instructor, range command, etc. Removing your hearing protection while at the range will dramatically affect your true NRR of your hearing protection of choice. Remember, the best hearing protection is hearing protection that gets worn!
Don’t Be Caught Unprepared
Keep your primary set of custom ear plugs that stay in your car, along with your range glasses. You may be at the range for different reasons and the same range bag may not always go with you.
If you have one dedicated range bag, then your eye and ear protection should be stored in that bag. It is also a good idea to keep extra sets of disposable squishes and/or muffs in your bag. It’s a great idea to have extra squishes in your car for the “just in case” moments or for when a friend needs to borrow some. They can be helpful in everyday moments, such as protecting your or your loved one’s hearing from the loud vacuum at the car wash.
If you encounter a real-life situation where you fire your gun, 99.9% of the time you will not have time to put on any kind of hearing protection. With that said there are people who have a set of electronic ear muffs on the night stand. With any self-defense plan you have, practicing and building muscle memory is extremely important so it will not cost you precious time.
Reference for NRR: .pdf