We never think about not wearing our earmuffs or earplugs when we go to the shooting range, but often we don’t think about our ear health when we’re hunting. Having primarily hunted with a bow until last year and have not shot a gun without protection for a long time, when I went on my antelope hunt, grabbing ear protection didn’t enter my mind until I took the shot and my ears wouldn’t stop ringing.
This was a mistake I won’t make again.
After that, I started a quest for comfortable hunting hearing protection that I could wear for long periods and wouldn’t make my ears hurt. After much trial and error, I have 2 different types that I now use regularly. They are the Peltor Tactical 100 and SureFire EP7 Sonic Defender.
According to the CDC, when we hear a very loud noise it can damage the hairs in our inner ears which can cause hearing loss. Sound is measured in decibels (dB), and hearing loss can start to occur when we hear a loud noise for a long time at 70 dB (about the sound of a washing machine) or noise in the range of 120 dB (fire siren) quickly can cause immediate damage. Gunshots average between 120 and 180 dB each. This means that just one gunshot could give you permanent hearing damage.
Hearing protection has a variety of ratings called the noise reduction rating (NRR). According to OSHA, you take the noise you are subject to minus the NRR with a conversion factor of 7. So, if I was shooting my .22 at 119 dB the calculations with my favorite 2 types of hearing protection would be as follows:
Peltor Tactical 100
119- (22-7) = 104 dB
Surefire EP7 Sonic Defender
119-(26-7) = 100 dB
This moves them from damaging levels to those that are just loud so you can safely have more exposure. I use my Peltor earmuffs at the range and often during duck season. I keep a pair of the SureFire earplugs in all my hunting bags and an extra pair in my car. I like the SureFire ones for extended wear as they have an extra plug that you can open to hear and quickly close when animals are coming in.
One advantage of wearing the earmuffs over earplugs is that they protect your outer ear bones as well as your inner ear bones. I never noticed a large difference until a recent trip to Argentina where we were shooting hundreds of shells an hour and the earmuffs were necessary.
Protecting your ears when you are out with firearms is just as important when hunting as when at the practice range. One shot can leave you with permanent damage, so do not forget your protection.