Proper ear protection is a range essential for gun owners. I remember wearing my first pair of earmuffs as a young junior competitor, they seemed enormous, almost doubling the width of my small head. I didn’t care for the way they made me resemble a bug, but they protected my hearing.
Fast forward a few decades, and now there are so many options! From simple foam earplugs to electronic Bluetooth muffs, let’s break down the different types and benefits to help you find what might work best for you.
To start, let’s understand how hearing protection is rated. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has established standards for hearing protection to reduce the amount of noise entering the ears. Noise Reduction Ratings (NRR) are measured in decibels (dB) and can help you choose appropriate ear pro. The higher the NRR, the more protection. When worn properly, foam earplugs can provide up to 31 NRR. For earmuffs, it ranges from 21 to 34 NRR. If you’re shooting rimfire or with a suppressor, you won’t need as high of an NRR capability. Compare that to shooting in an indoor range where it’s much louder, I recommend doubling up on hearing protection with in-ear and over-ear.
The most inexpensive ear pro options are passive hearing protection. Foam or plastic earplugs and non-electronic muffs are great budget choices. There are even a variety of color and size selections. I always keep a few spare sets of foam earplugs in my range bag just in case.
When selecting ear protection, size matters. Foam plugs expand to fit ear canals, but for electronic and some plastic earplugs, a variety of sizes makes for not only a more comfortable experience but also better protection. One of my favorite features of my Caldwell E-Max Shadows is the number of different tip sizes that are included. With my smaller ear canals, this makes for a much more comfortable fit and is a feature I greatly appreciate.
When it comes to earmuffs, the thicker the muff, the more protection. Those big muffs I wore as a kid offered more than 30db of protection! The downside was that I couldn’t shoot rifles or shotguns with them. The large muffs prevented me from mounting my face to the stock to get behind the sights effectively. Slimmer or low-profile muffs make shooting with a long gun easier.
Ear pro has come a long way since then; electronic hearing protection has taken ear pro to a whole new level. Tiny microphones built into muffs or plugs amplify low-level sounds while blocking out loud sounds. This makes it easy to have a conversation on the range without removing your ear protection or needing to shout. Electronic hearing protection also allows hunters to enjoy their surroundings but also protect their hearing too. Available in both earmuffs and plugs, there are even options to choose wired cords or go completely wireless.
With so many options, it can be hard to choose which way to go. First, determine how much protection you’ll need based on your firearm and where you’ll be shooting. Next decide whether you prefer earmuffs, earplugs, or both. After that, explore features based on your shooting needs and preferences. Whether it’s color, size, profile, or electronic options, you can find the best ear pro for you.