Hearing Ear Protection for Hunters
If the number of hearing protection products on the market today is any indication, shooters are taking their hearing seriously and the next generation of seasoned veterans of the sport will be less likely to suffer the hearing loss common with current and past generations.
There are a staggering variety of products to choose from and deciding which is best for your needs can be confusing. It doesn’t have to be.
You can narrow your choices down considerably by giving some thought to what your needs are and under what conditions you will use the protection, and, if you are like most of us, what your budget allows.
Then you can do some comparison shopping online and at your local gun shop to determine which models offer the best quality and features for the price.
Your hearing is important, so don’t just grab the first or cheapest product you come across. All hearing protection is not created equal.
Earplugs vs. Muffs
The protection afforded by hearing protection is gauged by a numerical Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). Some earplugs are listed with ratings as high as 30 or better, which rivals the ratings of most muffs on the market. That looks good on paper and may be relevant in work environments where noise is constant but it doesn’t pan out at the shooting range during shooting practice or shotgun patterning.
A quality set of earmuffs properly fitted will baffle the blast of a gun better than earplugs. Nonetheless, a good set of plugs beats a poor set of muffs every time. Poor quality muffs often lose their seal over time and leak, which allows more noise into the ear, whereas plugs, being economical and disposable, are regularly replaced and always effective when used correctly.
The advantages quality earmuffs have over plugs are many. Muffs are easily removed when the range goes cold and quickly replaced when fire is resumed. Plugs take more effort to ready and you have to wait a bit for the foam to expand and seal. When you throw electronic earmuffs into the mix, it’s no contest under most shooting conditions. The only advantages left to earplugs are they will fit handily in your pocket and may be more comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
The quality and effectiveness of plugs vary. High-density foam plugs that are large enough to expand and completely seal the ear canal work well and are easy to insert. The size and shape of ear canals vary so you need plugs large enough to completely fill the canal. You should feel some slight pressure on the walls of the ear canal when plugs are fully expanded.
Be cautious of some give-away plugs at ranges and gun shops. These plugs are understandably the cheapest available and you may end up with nothing more than a porous piece of foam bedding in your ear. Inserting foam plugs is easy but some folks still get it wrong and try to press the expanded plug into the ear. This causes them to flatten and not seal properly. Roll the plug between thumb and forefinger to compress it then insert in the ear and allow it ample time to expand before shooting.
So Many Choices
Online catalogs can be a good place to start your search for hearing protection even if you plan to purchase in a store. For example, Midway (www.midwayusa.com) not only lists NRR and other specs for different makes and models but features customer ratings and comments by people who have tried the products. The ability to read hands-on experiences can be invaluable in steering clear of inferior items and determining which products offer real value for money spent. A note of caution, do not rely on only one review but read several and make a reasoned determination as to which seem reliable.
A check of the Midway web site turns up a total of 120 different models of earmuffs ranging in price from about a sawbuck for a low-end set of standard muffs to almost $700.00 for high-tech electronics. A lot of manufacturers in the marketplace means a lot of competition so prices are coming down while features continue to be added. For example, Caldwell now offers a set of electronic muffs for about 40 bucks, sometimes less on sale. Granted, it is a very basic monophonic model but compared to the cost of electronic muffs just a few years ago it is encouraging news for the budget conscious. Other makes with more advanced features are also available at reasonable prices so there is no reason for anyone to risk their hearing for lack of good protection.
Cost has always been the main factor for most as to whether electronic or standard muffs are purchased. No question, electronic muffs are preferred by most shooters but the high price tag has discouraged many. As mentioned, prices are coming down but it’s important to weigh quality against price. This can be tough to do with so many new brands appearing. Again, this is where the experiences and opinions of others, whether from friends, trusted store personnel, or online sources, can be invaluable.
Making a wise choice in electronic muffs can be further impeded due to the seeming reluctance of some manufacturers to list Noise Reduction Ratings for their electronic models. Many only tell you at what decibels the microphones shut off. For instance, they may say a particular model shuts out all sounds above 85 decibels. That’s fine but that is just the noise coming through the microphones. How much noise reaches your ears will depend on how much baffling the muffs have and how secure the seals are. In other words, it will depend on what the NRR is.
Hearing protection is one of the most important purchases a shooter makes so take the time to research your options and do not sacrifice protection to save a few bucks. If you are hesitant to spend part of your shooting money on good hearing protection consider this, should your hearing be significantly damaged a good hearing aid can cost $3,000 or more. Most people with damaged hearing would pay many times that if they could have their hearing restored. You can’t. Hearing loss is permanent.