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Ear Protection. What's all the noise about?

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Hey everyone. Here's a little writeup that I feel is overdue based on a few discussions I have been having with shooters:

Ear protection. A very important detail that most shooters overlook, especially in their beginning stages (and when they get complacent later on too!)

If you are teaching your kids to shoot - it is even MORE important to ensure their hearing is protected. Damaging your kids hearing because you are either lazy, don't care or any other factor is reckless and dangerous.

Just ask an experienced and deaf shooter and they'll tell you how important it is to protect your hearing now, rather than taking it for granted.

There are many types out there, but they really break down to the following: in ear, and over the ear. The 'in the ear' ones can be simple foam or expanding latex plugs that you squish or roll up and stuff into your ear canal, to a silicone type that you mold by hand and mush into your ear canal. There are more complex (and expensive) molded ones that a technician molds to your own ear and they can out in a baffle or cutoff device to buffer the sound or cut the decibel (dB) level to a more comfortable level.

Over the ear (commonly called ear muffs or ear phones) protection comes in many differing forms, types, levels, and configurations. The strap can go over your hear, behind your head, or under your chin (yeah, THERE's a bad ass look for the range!)

The over the ear types can be the inert type or the active type. The inter type just deadens any sound from entering your ears. The active type, or electronic, will do the same but they also have microphones that will allow you to hear normal sounds but the circutry in the until will shut off when it senses a sound level over a preset limit, thus reverting back to the inert type of muffs.

Which option or model is best for you? Just like selecting a handgun, it's a choice that may involve a few factors other than a single one. Comfort is a big one. Price can affect your choice. One of the most important factors should be the NRR factor or Noise Reduction Rating. The NRR is the number or factor of decibels that the protection reduces the sound by. Anything close to 30 is great. 20 is too low. Think of it this way. A normal conversation is about 60db. A lawnmower is around 90db. A car horn (a real car, not one of those teeny tiny squeaky toy cars) is about 110db. Gunshots are usually around 140 or 155db. That's outdoors. Think of being on an indoor range. The noise could be magnified a bit. (closer to the 155 level).

So, the NRR rating is fairly important and I would start by selecting your choice of in ear or over the ear and then look at the NRR factor. Or swap that around. Either way, those two details are going to be the most important ones to decide.

Pros and cons?

Dead or inert muffs:
- The dead earmuffs work great but if you are on a range or in a class, you will have to pop one of the cups off to hear instructions to shat with someone. Usually, that is the perfect time for someone to pop off a shot too!

- They will allow you to hear what's going on around you. And cut off loud noise. The drawback? Any good ones will start about 45 bucks. The cheaper ones are, well, cheap.

In the ear foam/silicone:
- Rollup foamies or silicone ones are very inexpensive and have a great NRR, usually 26 or more. They are semi reusable but not a lot of repeat use is suggested as you can get earwax buildup that will just be jammed further into your ear canal. Yep, I speak from experience. Keep your ears clean if you use the foamie rollup ones.

- In the ear molded:
These may cost you about 80-140.00 depending on manufacturer and options. Do the research. They'll require a couple trips to the provider as well. One to do the 'pour' and one to do the final fit.
- In the ear Baffled or ported:
These have a little tube or port in them to allow sound to travel in but they also will dissipate the sound by a special design of the tube to limit the higher frequency or dB sounds. I've seen a few but not many. I know of some shooters that swear by them.

Something to consider: On average, the 'in the ear' types will seem to have a high NRR but in reality, they are only preventing the sound waves from entering the ear canal only. That's better than a finger or nothing, but there's more to consider. Even though you may prevent the sound from entering your ear, there is still something called 'bone conduction' that will happen. This can also cause hearing damage as the bones in the jaw and the skull surrounding your ear will still transmit the vibration to the inner workings of the ear.

What do we at RPD, LLC recommend? Electronic or active earmuffs when on any range. When on an indoor range for any length of time, use some of the foamie rollup ones too. There are many types and styles but from what we have found, the Impact Sport ones are economical, fairly comfortable, and have a good NRR. Peltor makes a 6s and 7s unit that works well too. Personally, I have two sets of MSA from Sordin. They are good for NRR, comfort (if you get the gel cups) and the electronics are solid and waterproof. As an instructor, I use mine all the time and in every weather. I've burned out many sets and these have held up very well. The downside? Cost. The MSA's are about 230.00 where the Howard Leights are about 50 and the Peltors are around 60-70.00.

Where do you get them? Any good gun store or even one of those sporting good stores. Don't just grab one off the shelf though. Try before you buy! Bring your eye protection along. Try the earmuffs on with your eye protection too. See where the gaps are. It should feel like all the sound just went away. If you hear a high frequency noise that does not sound like the usual tinnitus (ringing) in your ear, then there's a gap somewhere. If you usually wear a hat when shooting, try the muffs with the hat too. Any leakage that you cannot fix is bad. Look for the cushions or cups that are thicker and softer as they will seal better.

Before you walk onto a range or enter an indoor range, put your eye and ear protection on. In most places, it's a rule. On every range, it's a good idea.

Spend the money on the good gear. You'll appreciate it more later!
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  1. Michael Loos's Avatar
    I bought some ear muffs at harbor freight for $6.00 and a rating reduction of 25db. They have a set for $9.99 that has a reduction rating of 37db. Me? I find the 25db to be plenty, though I only shoot once every two or three weeks. If I was able to spend more time there, I would probably invest in better muffs. Thanks for the info...