In the world of shooting sports, choosing the right hearing protection is usually something done on the way out of the shop, after buying ammo, targets, and other shooting supplies.
Selecting the best protection for your hearing should be at the top of your list as soon as you decide you want to take up shooting as a hobby.
The first area of hearing protection for the new shooter is the insertable earplug. These are found in every gunshop on the counter. They are very inexpensive, easy to use, and work well for short shooting sessions. If you choose to use these as your primary hearing protection, buy a full box and keep them in every range bag and box, so you never forget.
The 3M soft foam earplugs are easy to use and provide immediate hearing protection. They are rated to 33 dB noise reduction and can be worn inside ear muff type hearing protection for increased protection.
The advantages, they are inexpensive. They fit almost anyone's ear canal size, from small children to adults. They are comfortable over the short term. They store well and are easy to put into the ear by rolling them up and inserting. Once you've taught someone how to use them, usually they don't forget.
They are bright yellow so that you can see them during safety checks.
Prepackaged in packs of 2, so they are grab and go.
Disadvantages. You always have to remember them. You can carry a pair in the small bag they are packaged in a shirt pocket or range bag, but high heat can make them stick together if you leave them in a car or shed.
The next step up is usually the inexpensive ear muff type.
These Mpow's are an improvement over the insertable earplug
Most people think of this type when they are ready to move up from the foam insertable. However, these and most like it are only rated for 28 dB reduction, so pairing them with insertable foam plugs is a good idea for crowded ranges.
ANSI S3.19 & CE EN352-1 CERTIFIED-some ranges require the protection you choose to be certified for liability reasons. Lawyers and insurance companies rule the world, and we all have to live with it.
They fold for storage and adjust to fit almost any sized head. For smaller shooters, you'll want to try fitment before getting on the range.
After a shooter gains experience, they realize the over the head muffs have some disadvantages.
The majority of them are a pain to wear with a hat. If you prefer a boonie style hat with a full brim around the hat, you have to roll the brim on the sides to fit the muffs over the hat.
What I have found to be easier as daily use hearing protection is a custom-molded earplug.
My favorite for my shirt pocket and duty belt case. The Decibullz.
These are underrated and underutilized in the shooting community. I have no idea why. They are not expensive; they are effortless to fit your ear.
Heat them by dropping them in hot water, not boiling. The hot water tap at the office water cooler works fine for this. Once the polymer is warm, you insert and mold to your ear opening. They are almost foolproof.
They have a pocket case and fit small belt pouches, so you are not searching the range bag or car for ear pro. They are also very helpful in high noise construction or factory floors. Some range officers need to be educated about their noise reduction, which, when properly fitted, are ANSI certified to 166 dB.
The noise filter allows ambient noise to enter the ear, so conversations are not muted, but the damaging levels of noise are abated. They require no batteries, so you don't have to pack specialized batteries in the range gear bag.
This is a move up to serious hearing protection. The average shooter/ LE officer doesn't realize how damaging loud noise impulses can be. And very quickly causing permanent damage.
From here, the progression is for the Electronic muff.
I have a Rubbermaid tub full of broken electronic muffs. They average a year to 18 months of use and usually fall apart at the worst possible times, which is why I have DECIBULLZ earplugs attached to me at all times. When you have so many broken pairs of muffs, you start doing the math and see where a high-quality set of range/tactical muffs becomes worth the cost.
Spend the money; you will eventually and more. I added up the cost over ten years, and the MSA Sordin come out far cheaper in the long run.
These are rebuildable, with replaceable ear cups and foam inserts. They use an AAA battery, and the batteries have their own compartment in each earpiece with is threaded and accessible without taking the muffs apart. The battery door is easy to open and close, and not too small for those with large hands.
The over the head strap is made to fit inside a tactical helmet. They also work well under a hat or hard hat for use on a construction site or areas where head protection is mandatory. There is an accessory jack, for a radio connection or what I use it for, an MP3 player. Yes, they work well running the lawnmower or power saw at home as well as on the range.
Some models come in hunter orange, and with LED lights for use at night. I've seen hunters wearing these in the field, where the noise enhancement helps to locate animals and other hunters.
Volume and power buttons are large enough to feel under light gloves, and the different sized buttons are self-explanatory after the first use.
The automatic shut off keeps your batteries from running down if you forget to turn them off, or if they get turned on in your gear bag. The factory manual says they have a life of 450 hours per set of batteries.
In real-world use, I've had mine for three years. I use them weekly, and I've swapped the batteries once just before a class when I knew I would be very active. I doubt I needed to, but it never hurts to be proactive.
I am hard of hearing, especially my left side. I am on ranges a lot, I have no problems hearing commands from range officers, and other shooters even when heavy rifles are being used. New shooters or people who will use hearing protection often would be better served to buy these over multiple purchases of lower cost muffs. Long term savings and the rebuildable functions are the reason I spent my money on these.
Hearing protection should be purchased as mandatory safety gear, and in layers, so you always have some measure of protection available. Either on the job site or range, your hearing is irreplaceable. Always have options to protect it.
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Prices accurate at time of writing