Here are a few ways to protect your hearing while hunting and shooting.
To avoid hearing damage, it is important that you wear appropriate ear protection when shooting or when exposed to other noisy environments. Luckily, this task is much easier than many people assume. Here are a few different types 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 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 particularly true for people shooting indoors or those exposed to repeated shots from shotguns or rifles (such as waterfowl hunters or hunting guides). So, while ear plugs are certainly better than nothing, ear muffs are actually the most effective shooting ear protection you can wear.
Foam Ear Plugs
Plain old foam ear plugs are the simplest and cheapest way to protect your hearing while hunting 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 30, 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 they are a cheap and moderately effective form of shooting ear protection, foam ear plugs aren’t the most practical forms of hearing protection for users who need to hear sounds from the environment around them (such as hunters or competition shooters). For this reason, traditional foam ear plugs aren’t a great way to protect your hearing while hunting, though they will work in a pinch.
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 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.
Since impulse ear plugs allow you to hear the much of the noise present in the environment around you, this also makes them good choices for protecting your hearing while hunting. 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, they aren’t the best form of shooting ear protection if you’ll be spending a lot of time at an indoor shooting range or shooting short barreled rifles. However, they are a pretty good choice for protecting your hearing while hunting if you’re 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 26. Ear muffs are a serious step up from ear plugs in terms of providing hearing protection 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, which makes them an incredibly effective form of shooting ear protection. 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, traditional ear muffs 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 pictured above and the Impact Pro pictured below). They are slightly 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, electronic ear muffs protect the hearing of the shooter, but still allow him or her to 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 virtually all of my shooting and hunting trips. For instance, I was wearing these exact ear muffs 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 Sport 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, but they are a little larger and bulkier than the Impact Sport. In either case, I consider both the Impact Sport and the Impact Pro to be well worth the money, especially considering that they only cost a little more than a traditional pair of ear muffs.
These ear muffs are by far the best value choices for protecting your hearing while hunting and they are outstanding choices for shooting ear protection.
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 comfortable to wear for hours at a time and did a good job of amplifying and blocking the proper noises. While they are very good choices for protecting your hearing while hunting, 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 but 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 noisy environments. Trust me, you will be glad that you wore proper shooting ear protection many years from now.
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