In my previous post – Shooting and hearing damage – I covered what you could be doing to your ears by not wearing suitable hearing protection. This article is about some of the options available to the shooter and the pros and cons of different systems.
No matter if you are shooting a pistol, bolt action, AR, shotgun, black powder or anything else that goes boom, you need hearing protection and you need to understand your options.
Hearing Protection – anything, is generally, though not always, better than nothing.
If you get to the range, realise you have left your hearing protection at home and decide to put wet, wadded up balls of toilet paper in your ears rather than shooting with nothing? Well – you are still an idiot and now you are an idiot with toilet paper in your ears.1
However, the point being – while something is good, the proper equipment is much, much better. It’s a real danger for selecting something that isn’t actually providing you with the required protection and gaining a false sense of security, only to realise years later that the hearing protection you have been using, well, isn’t protection much at all. Make sure you get the right stuff, and good stuff.
New Zealand – Hearing Protection and Classes.
In New Zealand, hearing protection is required to be tested to and comply with the AS/NZS1270 Standard “Hearing Protectors” – this gives hearing protection a class, or grade – indicating the level of protection it provides – based on peak volume levels – we get –
If you remember from the last article (again, over here) – a gunshot can be considered around 140db. A .338 with a muzzle break? Call it 170db.
So, no question. Class Five is the only option here. Meaning, if your current hearing protection is not rated to class five. You are still damaging your hearing, even while wearing them.
You can read more about the standard and recommendations here – Worksafe Website
So. Class Five it is. But what about Earmuff’s vs. Earplugs?
Earmuffs – easy, large.
I own a pair of the Peltor SportTac’s – they were an early acquisition for me and have served me well – certainly, the active technology in the earmuffs makes communication at the range(s) easy.
One thing I highly, highly recommend with the Peltors, especially if you wear glasses while shooting – get the gel replacement earpads.
Without them, the arms of the glasses will break the seal on the earmuffs, making them less efficient and less comfortable. With the gel muffs, I can happily wear them for hours without my glasses slowly crushing the sides of my head in. Not a nice sensation at all!
However, for rifle shooting, I still struggle with wearing a pair of earmuffs – try as I may, I always seem to end up with the earmuff sitting on the stock. This is particularly problematic with my 700 build – where I have a chest riser and low rings. For the actual setup of eye relief, this is perfect for me, but it means that with every shot I take I get a hollow ringing sound through the earmuffs. I think this is a combination of the contact point and the electronics of the earmuffs. It’s just something that ends up drawing more of my focus to it than I would like – so I generally try to avoid earmuffs while shooting with the rifles, pistol – not an issue.
The other issue you can get with earmuffs, especially with us heading into summer, is heat. There is nothing like an insulated, airtight seal2 around your head to help create heat and sweat. I find that earmuffs can get quite warm – enough that you want to pull them off between strings of fire in order to let the sides of your head breath a bit. This leads to my recent mistake of then forgetting to put them back on again. Especially when you are used to earplugs and just permanently having them in.
Earplugs – small, fiddly, better?
My personal preference is a decent set of earplugs. Why? Because I put them in my ears and generally forget about them. Sure, if I am away from the firing line and having a big conversation I tend to pull them out – but because I have moulded earplugs, that means I simply twist them a little, they stay in my ears, I know they are out and when I head back to the mound/stage I just push them back in.
Unlike the basic foam earplugs, a decent set will selectively filter out noise – not just muffle everything – so a good pair will allow you to leave the plugs in and have a conversation. Sure – maybe not quite as clear as a pair of active earmuffs (though active earplugs do exist) – but enough so you don’t feel the need to remove them in order to hear a conversation.
Also, the earplugs are smaller, don’t interfere with the cheek weld/rifle stock and are cooler and lighter on the head.
The one issue I have had a couple of times, due to their inconspicuousness, is needing to point out to the enquiring range officer that you have hearing protection in.
As I stated in the beginning of the article, any hearing protection is better than none. Unless your are firing a suppressed rifle on private land3 – you need to get some good hearing protection and wear it. Always. Otherwise you will suddenly realise in twenty years, that you are having to ask people to constantly repeat themselves, or even worse, becoming detached from conversations altogether because it is just too hard. Protect them now, prevent the damage in the first place.