Every once in a while, you’ll come across someone claiming that they don’t “need” hearing protection when shooting a firearm. No matter their excuse, they are simply wrong.
Gunfire produces noise levels that peak between 140 and 170 decibels. That noise is made even more damaging at indoor ranges, as the ears are exposed to the same noise multiple times as it echoes off of the walls, floor and ceiling.
Put simply, hearing protection is a range day essential.
How Much Noise Is Too Much?
The normal human threshold for pain is around 130db, and hearing loss can occur instantaneously at 120db. Even sounds as low as 78db can cause hearing loss over time.
Noise levels are measured in decibels, which we write “dB”. A gunshot is rated at 149dB and, to compare, the typical office generally has a noise level of 60dB to 65dB at most.
Noises louder than 80 decibels are dangerous and can cause immediate and permanent hearing loss.
When we look at what hearing protection to buy, we need to pay close attention to the product’s Noise Reduction Rating (NRR), which is defined as the maximum number of decibels (dB) that the hearing protector will reduce the sound level when worn.
By law, all hearing protection products have to have an NRR rating. The highest NRR rating you can get is 33 NRR. Products with a 28 to 31 NRR are recommended for indoor shooting.
Types of Hearing Protection
There are two different kinds of hearing protection: earplugs and earmuffs. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) actually recommends using both earplugs and earmuffs together when shooting.
It might come as a surprise to hear that earplugs can actually offer more protection than ear muffs because earplugs fully block the ear canal.
There are quite a few different types of earplugs:
Single-use earplugs are very inexpensive and disposable. They are probably the most commonly found earplugs. Almost everyone has come across these foam-style plugs, which are rolled and compressed before being inserted into the ear canal.
Banded or corded earplugs are best if you move between a noisy place and a non-noisy place, such as between the shooting range and your range’s lobby. Multiple-use earplugs are easier to use because they do not require rolling to fit in your ear.
Molded earplugs are probably the best solution out there. In the past, they had to be custom made by a company and you had to wait for them to be made. In many cases, that is still the case, and the best-molded earplugs can be much more than $100.
They usually come with replaceable filters and are very discreet and comfortable to wear. However, advancements in materials technology have led to the development of inexpensive do-it-yourself molded earplugs.
These kits, such as the Radians custom-molded earplugs, are easy to make yourself at home in less than 30 minutes. They are washable and made from non-toxic and hypo-allergenic silicone. They’re available in many colors, including tan for discreet use.
Earmuffs are found in two flavors: electronic or passive. Electronic earmuffs amplify quieter sounds, allowing you to hear your range master’s commands.
These earmuffs will have integrated microphones and some have independent volume controls along with a noise detection circuit that cuts out amplification when a loud noise occurs and blocks in instead.
Passive earmuffs simply block sound using foam and other materials located inside the ear cup. One thing to look for in your earmuffs is the style of band.
Plastic headbands hold their shape better than a metal band. Metal bands can become stretched over time, leading them to decrease the level of protection. Other earmuffs offer added features, such as a jack to plug in your iPhone.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re shooting indoors or out—whether you’re firing one shot while out hunting or a fusillade while you and your buddies plink away at the range. You need to protect your hearing.
The noise from a single gunshot can cause immediate hearing damage, so take reasonable precautions and protect your hearing.
Do you use earplugs, earmuffs or both? Why? Let us know in the comments below.
Note: This post was originally published in December 2010. It has been updated for formatting, clarity and accuracy.