Here are the best choices for hunting ear protection that hunters can use to safeguard their hearing.
I think we can all agree that we’d love to keep our sense of hearing for our entire life. After all, I’m sure you know someone who has a tough time hearing and can barely carry on a conversation. There are many different things that can damage your ears, but if you do a lot of hunting with firearms, there’s one simple thing you can do to avoid hearing loss and make sure you don’t have to wear hearing aids later in life: wear hunting ear protection.
Any noise louder than 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss. I cannot state this strongly enough: if it is loud enough, a single gunshot can cause immediate hearing damage. For reference, a gunshot is about 130-180 decibels (give or take).
While noise induced hearing loss is permanent, the good news is that it’s also preventable.
However, you should keep in mind that 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). While ear plugs are certainly better than nothing, ear muffs are actually the most effective shooting and hunting ear protection you can wear.
So, to avoid permanent damage to your hearing, 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 and there are a lot more good quality options for hearing protection while hunting than there used to be.
In this post, I’m going go over some of the best hunting ear protection products that you should be wearing afield to safeguard your hearing.
Note: some of the links below are affiliate links. This means I will earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase. This helps support the blog and allows me to continue to create free content that’s useful to hunters like yourself. Thanks for your support.
Plain old foam ear plugs are the simplest and cheapest way to protect your hearing while hunting. Foam ear plugs have several advantages: they are cheap, small, and versatile.
There are a number of inexpensive hunting ear plugs out there to choose from. Among others, you can purchase a pack of 20 Howard Leight ear plugs. With an advertised Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of 30, they provide decent protection for your hearing.
Ear plugs in general are also nice for hunters because they are less likely to interefere with your stock weld on a rifle or shotgun.
Unfortunately, hunting ear plugs 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 foam plugs are a cheap and moderately effective form of hunting 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.
Buy your own set of foam ear plugs here.
Impulse ear plugs are a significant step up in capability when compared to traditional ear plugs, but still go for a reasonable price. I’ve got a set of Impulse Ear 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).
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 allow the user to hear ambient noise relatively well while still providing protection 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 hunting ear plugs.
While they are a good product, impulse ear plugs do not provide a very high level of protection overall (Noise Reduction Rating of 25 for passive protection, slightly less for noise activated protection). With that in mind they aren’t the best form of hunting 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.
Buy your own set of impulse ear plugs here.
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 or hunting 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.
Buy your own set of traditional ear muffs here.
For those that want to spend a little more money for a significant increase in performance in a set of hunting ear protection, you should really consider a set of over-the-head electronic ear muffs. 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. Since they provide hearing enhancement, this makes them ideal choices for hunting ear muffs.
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 Quinault bear hunt 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 ear 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 as hunting ear muffs, especially considering that they only cost a little more than a traditional pair of ear muffs.
These two ear muffs are by far the best value choices for hunting ear protection. The Impact Sport muffs also made cut for my 2018 holiday gift recommendations. To see what other stuff is on the list, check out the following article:
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. Etymotic Gunsport Pro electronic ear plugs are one really good choice. The same goes for Walker’s Game Ears. Like electronic ear muffs, they block loud noises and amplify all other sounds. However, since they are similar in size to old school hearing aids (or even smaller in the case of the Gunsport Pro), they are much smaller and more portable than electronic ear muffs.
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). On the other hand, 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 on multiple hunting trips.
Both the Walker’s Game Ears and Etymotic Gunsport Pro are great choices for hunting ear plugs. Once I got them adjusted properly, they were comfortable to wear for hours at a time (even when wearing shooting glasses or headgear) and did a good job of amplifying and blocking the proper noises. While they are very good choices for hearing protection 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 the best hunting ear protection choices 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 hunting ear protection many years from now.