Check out my article describing how to protect your hearing while hunting and shooting.
A good sense of hearing is very important during day to day living, as well as while hunting and shooting. However, your hearing is also very vulnerable to damage from extremely loud noises, which makes hunters and shooters especially prone to hearing loss. It is extremely important that you take appropriate steps to protect your hearing when you are exposed to noisy environments. Luckily, this task is much easier than many people assume. Keep reading, and I’ll demonstrate a few of the methods of hunting hearing protection available today to protect your hearing while hunting and shooting.
Unfortunately, noise induced hearing loss is permanent. Though hearing aids can sometimes improve the quality of life of those with hearing loss, they are extremely expensive and are not nearly as good as normal hearing.
Any noise louder than 85 decibels can cause hearing loss, and if the noise is loud enough, the damage can be immediate. For reference, a gunshot blast is about 130-180 decibels (give or take, depending on the load). Additionally, some firearms produce a pressure wave strong enough cause hearing loss by damaging the bones behind the ear, even if the ear canal is protected by an ear plug. This is especially common for people shooting indoors or in close proximity to others shooting shotguns or rifles with muzzle breaks (such as waterfowl hunters or hunting guides).
Foam Ear Plugs
Regular, foam ear plugs are the simplest and cheapest form of hunting hearing protection and there are lots of choices on the market. Among these, you can purchase a pack of 20 Howard Leight ear plugs. With an advertised Noise Reduction Rating of 33, they provide decent protection for your hearing.
Foam ear plugs have several advantages: they are cheap, small, and versatile. Unfortunately, they do have a number of drawbacks. Probably the biggest disadvantage is that they only protect the ear canal, leaving the sensitive bones outside the ear unprotected. In extremely loud environments, this can still lead to damage to your hearing.
Another problem is that ear plugs are often worn incorrectly. When users do not insert them deeply enough into the ear canal (which can be difficult for people with small ears), they do not provide the advertised level of protection.
Finally, regular ear plugs dampen all noise (not just loud noises). Though this may not be a problem for most shooters, this can make foam ear plugs impractical for users who need to hear sounds from the environment around them (such as hunters or competition shooters). For this reason, I don’t recommend traditional foam ear plugs for use as hunting ear protection unless you don’t have anything else available.
Impulse Ear Plugs
Impulse ear plugs are a significant step up from traditional ear plugs, but still go for a reasonable price. I’ve got a pair of Peltor Combat Plugs that I used in Iraq and Afghanistan that work very well. These plugs are reversible: the yellow end provides noise activated protection against impulse noise (like gunfire) and the grey end provides passive protection for constant noise (like heavy machinery). While they’re not specifically designed as hunting ear protection, they will absolutely work in that role.
The big advantage to these ear plugs is that when used in the noise activated mode, they still allow the user to hear ambient noise relatively well, but protect against gunfire and explosions. That is why they are issued to Soldiers in combat zones. This also makes them good choices for hunters who want to protect their hearing, but still need to hear the much of the noise present in the environment around them.
While they are a good product, impulse ear plugs do not provide a very high level of protection overall (Noise Reduction Rating of 22 for passive protection, slightly less for noise activated protection). For this reason, I don’t recommend using them by themselves to protect against extremely loud noises, such as indoor shooting ranges or short barreled rifles. However, they are a pretty good choice for hunting hearing protection for a hunter on a budget.
For more serious shooters, using some type ear muffs is the way to go. There are literally dozens of different models out there to choose from, but Peltor makes a pretty nice set that’s reasonably priced and has a Noise Reduction Rating of 30.
Ear muffs are a serious step up from ear plugs and do a much better job of protecting your hearing when around loud noises. Not only are they usually easy and simple to properly use (thus avoiding a major pitfall of ear plugs), but they also protect the delicate bones behind the eardrum (which ear plugs don’t do). They may also be combined with ear plugs for extra protection in extremely loud environments.
One of the drawbacks to ear muffs is that they are awkward to wear with headgear. This is a non-starter for people (like Soldiers) that must wear a helmet. Additionally, some people do not like to wear ear muffs when shooting rifles and shotguns because they sometimes get in the way.
Finally, they are not the best choices for hunting ear protection precisely because they are so good at blocking out all levels of noise, which is not ideal when in the woods trying to find game. One option is to not wear any hearing protection for the majority of the hunt and then put on a set of ear muffs right before taking a shot, but this is not always practical.
Electronic Ear Muffs
For those that want to spend a little more money for a significant increase in performance in a set of hunting hearing protection, Howard Leight makes a couple sets of excellent electronic earmuffs (the Impact Sport above and the Impact Pro). They are more expensive than ear plugs or regular ear muffs, but they are still pretty reasonably priced and provide excellent performance by blocking loud noises and amplifying all other sounds. So, not only will they protect your hearing, but they actually improve it as well.
This makes them useful both at the range and when hunting. At the range, this allows the shooter to protect their hearing while still being able hold a normal conversation with another person. While hunting, this allows the user to hear all the little sounds he or she needs to hear, like the snap of a twig made by an approaching deer. Additionally, since they are ear muffs, they also provide protection to the bones of hearing.
Some people do not like to use ear muffs when shooting a rifle or shotgun because the get in the way. Personally, I have not had this problem with the Howard Leight Impact Sport muffs, and I use them for all of my shooting and hunting. It was these exact ear muffs that I was wearing on my successful bear hunt in Georgia several years ago. I don’t have any personal experience with the Impact Pro, but they also have a good reputation as high quality hunting hearing protection.
My biggest complaint with the Howard Leight Impact ear muffs is that they only have a noise reduction rating of 22. This does not bother me much when hunting or shooting outside. However, this can be mitigated when in especially loud environments (like an indoor shooting range) by wearing ear plugs in addition to the muffs. The noise amplifying characteristics of the muffs still provide normal, or slightly enhanced hearing for the user even when wearing ear plugs. The Howard Leight Impact Pro has a noise reduction rating of 30, which makes them a better choice for hearing protection in really loud environments.
In either case, I consider them well worth the money, especially considering that they only cost a little more than a traditional pair of ear muffs.
Electronic Ear Plugs
For those that want the performance of electronic ear muffs in a smaller package, there are several different types of electronic ear plugs on the market today that are very good choices for use as hunting ear protection. There are several different versions of the Walker’s Game Ears. Like electronic ear muffs, they block loud noises and amplify all other sounds. However, they are much smaller and more portable than electronic ear muffs. Additionally, some versions have the added bonus of allowing the user to tune the ear plugs to focus on amplifying specific frequencies.
Since they are ear plugs, they do not protect the outside of your ears. As a result, they are designed more for hunters than for shooters (though they may be used for both). However, they have the advantage of not getting in the way of a rifle or shotgun and they can be worn with any headgear.
I recently purchased a pair of Walker’s HD Pro Elite plugs and I’ve used them pretty successfully this hunting season. They are specifically designed to be used as hunting hearing protection and they work pretty well. Once I got them adjusted properly, they were very comfortable for wearing for hours at a time and did a good job of amplifying and blocking the proper noises.
However, they electronic ear plugs have two significant drawbacks: their cost (they are by far the most expensive option for protecting your hearing while hunting) and the fact that they do not protect the bones of hearing. The price is a bit steep for a casual hunter or shooter. They are well worth the money for a serious hunter who will frequently use them and take advantage of their awesome features.
I hope that you’ve found this article on how to protect your hearing while hunting and shooting both helpful and informative. As long as you take the right precautions, it is possible preserve your sense of hearing despite exposure to extremely noisy environments. Trust me, this is a precaution that you will absolutely appreciate taking down the road.
Enjoy this article on how to protect your hearing while hunting and shooting? Please share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.
Featured Image Courtesy of Wikimedia