Hearing protection isn’t even a question these days. If you shoot, you need it. I know a few good men who have chronic tinnitus or hearing loss because they never or hardly ever wore protection.
Hearing damage is generally a progressive injury. You don’t notice it until it is too late. There is nothing “macho” about not protecting your ears, especially when dealing with guns or loud equipment.
So what types of protection should you employ to achieve the most effective noise reduction?
First off, if your ear pro does not have a safety rating, it should say “noise reduction of 22dB” or some number, or “NRR Rating of …”, then don’t waste your money. Unregulated or rip-off ear pro is only ripping you off.
IN EAR FOAM
In-ear foam protection comes in a lot of different levels of decibel reduction. Generally speaking around 30dB is what you can expect. The higher the rating, the more sound reduction. I only use name brand in-ears like 3M. These are professional grade and highly regulated.
Installing in-ear foam can be a little complicated. Simply plugging your ear is not enough. The foam needs to be shrunk to a torpedo shape and inserted at least 50% of the way into your ear. If you can go further, even better.
It should be noted here that in-ear can also damage your inner-ear skin when removed. I have torn the lining of my ear by removing foam that was very dry. If your ears are usually squeaky clean, I find rubbing the foam around my outer-ear before insertion adds lubricant to the foam. It won’t stick to my skin.
I have a pair of custom molded, rubber in-ears. I find these are the best in-ear pro because they not only fit your ear canal perfectly, the dense rubber provides the most dB reduction. That said, simply plugging your ear hole does not reduce ambient dBs from impacting your hearing. Sound also travels through skin, so no matter what you wear, you will still hear gunshots.
Then there are those cheap rubber ear-pro with flanges to fit your ear canal. These are usually terrible at dB reduction because only the thin flanges reduce sound. I stay away from these types of ear pro unless I am
working in the yard with mildly loud equipment.
Over-ear pro is also a good alternative to foam or rubber, but it typically offers less reduction, around 20dB. Of course you can spend hundreds of dollars on ear pro, and there are brands out there that almost compete with good old foam, but as a stand-alone ear pro, they are really only good for mildly loud situations like heavy machinery.
I purchase over-ears with amplification like the Howard Leight model by Honeywell. These will amplify the good ranges like voices and still protect you from the bad ones like gun fire. But even this model only achieves a dB reduction of 22 compared to 3M foam at 29dB. That’s a ~30% increase!
There is nothing more nerve-wracking than shooting at an indoor range. The sound is exponentially louder than outdoor because it has nowhere to go. Ear Pro is not only a requirement indoors, you may find standard protection techniques just don’t do the trick.
When I shoot indoors, I employ in-ear, foam or rubber protection with an over-the-ear headphone as well. It helps if the over-ears have amplification, otherwise you won’t hear anything but gun fire.
Shooting outdoor is a way less harmful situation compared to indoor. That said, I still recommend the highest rated protection you have available and at a minimum: foam or high grade rubber ear plugs.
Double protection like foam or rubber and over-ear is also an even safer alternative outdoor.
RIFLES AND OVER-EARS
Finally, shooting rifles with over-ear pro can be a little tricky. If you shoulder your rifle too low you may find the ear-pro gets in the way of the stock. Try the lowest profile over-ears you can find like the Howard Leight’s. Adjust your stock higher on your shoulder to reduce the angle
of your cheek weld. Don’t allow your ear pro to slip-up, it will lose all of it’s effectiveness.