Guns

Hearing Protection Away From the Range

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No reader here who is a frequent user of guns needs to be lectured on the importance of protective gear when behind a gun. Even those devil-may-care types who eschew eye-pro do not pretend to be so hard as to not need hearing protection, especially when around rifles or at any indoor range.

The noise of a gunshot ranges from very loud to ear-shatteringly, painfully loud. Any unprotected exposure to gunfire is probably going to hurt, and will also likely cause hearing damage. You don’t get your hearing back when it’s gone, so shelve the tough-guy act and bag those ears, even if you are just taking a shot or two.



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But ear-pro is a needed piece of equipment beyond the range, and not just something to keep handy to don in a hurry on the off-hand chance a firefight breaks out in your neighborhood. Protective gear to muffle or deaden sound has several uses beyond just saving your eardrums, and is worth keeping handy with the rest of your supplies and perhaps even in your BOB or Go-Bag.

In this article we’ll explore a few situations where it would pay to have hearing protection handy away from the range.

Why Do I Need Ear-Pro?

As I stated above, your hearing is a pretty fragile thing, and should be protected from damage cause once it’s gone, it’s gone. Any peak or sustained level of noise above a certain decibel threshold will cause, or start to cause, hearing damage. Gunfire is one of the most common culprits, as are loud engines of all kinds, industrial noise, concerts, sirens and the like.

Eve sounds that may not be loud enough to be painful or cause significant peak damage to hearing can over time and with enough exposure result in degradation of hearing. This condition is sometimes called industrial deafness, owing to it being common in long time workers in factory, mill and foundry environments. Ask any range rat who works a busy public line how their hearing is after a few years; even “double-bagged” with plugs and high-quality muffs, most will suffer some loss of hearing.

Loss of hearing has a significant impact on your quality of life, even relationships: you don’t want to be the guy or gal always repeating “Huh?” or “Say again,” like I do. Any hearing damage can also lead to tinnitus, essentially that high-pitched bell-like or squealing whine we have all experienced on occasion. Imagine that happening all the time. Tinnitus sucks. You don’t want it.

The moral is even though you may not be anticipating harm from a loud environment, you might not be able to foresee all ends and so you should have ear-pro handy. Furthermore, there are other reasons and situations to don ear-pro besides protecting against damaging noises. We’ll discuss them below.

What Are Some Other Times You Might Use Ear-Pro?

Simply put any time you will be around sustained loud noise, want to focus or drown out background noise to get some quality shut-eye. Less exciting than gunfire but still damagingly loud sounds would be, say, a running chainsaw, certain generators, or doing a bunch of banging and hammering. Before you jump to conclusions about “muh situational awareness!” stop right there: you are totally, totally correct.  There are times when the loss or reduction of your hearing via ear-pro is a bad idea. But there are also times where it makes sense.

If you have others in your group and are perhaps sleeping in shifts or just setting a watch, you might employ ear plugs or even muffs to help you rest, safe in the knowledge that someone is watching over you. Similarly if you just need to tune out the sirens, screams, banging, booming and crashing ear plugs will let you do that.

There are other tricky things we can do with certain types of ear-pro to reduce its impact on our situational awareness when we use them, and I’ll get into that when I talk about types of hearing protection. Otherwise, be smart. If reduction of your hearing could be a security risk you must weigh that against how damaging the ambient sound levels are or how badly you need to do whatever it is that got you to don them in the first place.

Types of Hearing Protection

Ear-pro is broadly available in two types, plugs and muffs, which each of those having several sub-types. Both have pros and cons, some are better for certain tasks than the other, and everyone has a favorite type. Ear plugs can be worn under ear muffs, sometimes called “double-bagging” to increase reduction even further.

Generally, plugs will offer better sound attenuation than muffs if they fit properly. Attenuation measures in decibels, or dB, reduced as perceived at the eardrum. On the ear-pro package, a higher number means more reduction, and ergo a “quieter” experience behind the muffs or plugs. Some plugs and muffs are designed with minimal reduction in mind to allow some sounds to remain perceptible.

Like most things, choose the right type for the right job, and there is a strong possibility you may need both. Below is a quick overview of the types of ear-pro you might consider for your purposes.

Muffs, standard

Pros: Typically good attenuation, easy to put on and take off. Even high performance models are affordable. Available with variety of fits to suit most tasks, and can even be integrated into helmets.

Cons: Bulky, bulbous cups and headband vulnerable to being knocked or snagged off head depending on situation, sealing over stems of glasses can cause agonizing headaches in some.

ear muffs

Muffs, electronic w/ dampening

Pros: Typically good attenuation, easy to put on and take off. External mics pickup sounds below cutoff threshold and transmit them to ear using speakers inside cups, allowing close to normal or even superhuman hearing. Good units can be integrated into personal radios for communications.

Cons: Bulky, bulbous cups and headband vulnerable to being knocked or snagged off head. Distortion and tinny sound over speakers is common. Requires batteries to function. Quality varies wildly, and good units can be very expensive.

ear plugs

Plugs, disposeable “Foamies”

Pros: Very cheap. Surprisingly good attenuation. Most models weigh almost nothing, and are very compact. Good supplement under muffs. Not likely to be knocked off.

Cons: Fiddly to put in ear canal. Repeated use degrades them quickly. Low durability.

Plugs, fitted

Pros: Good compromise between cost and performance. Low profile. Some models feature tiny valves that can be opened to allow more sound to ear, at expense of attenuation. Typically durable. Good supplement under muffs.

Cons: Finding ideal brand for good fit can be tedious. Notorious for breaking seal when wet or sweaty.

Plugs, electronic w/ dampening

Pros: Typically good attenuation, often provide excellent hearing amplification increasing awareness.

Cons: Often very expensive. Require tiny, hard-to-find batteries or recharge dock. Don’t work great under muffs.

Considerations and Tips

If you are willing to spring for them, electronic ear muffs are one of the best investments you can make for preserving your hearing and situational awareness when guns are going off. This includes gunfights. High-end units will let you retain a sense of orientation as to where the sounds are originating from while simultaneously cutting off automatically when gun fire erupts. In milder times, they will let you hear conversation and other sounds normally while you keep the muffs in place doing their jobs.

Whatever muffs you choose, if you plan on shooting long guns it really pays to check for interference from the stock when you have a cheek weld on your rifle or shotgun. A bad fit can break the seal on your muffs, and perhaps interfere with sighting entirely. Some “shooter cut” muffs will alleviate this issue. Also keep in mind that larger bulkier muffs are more vulnerable to being snagged or knocked off during rigorous activity.

Plugs should be a dedicated part of your BOB regardless of whether or not you carry muffs. You never know when you might need them, and their tiny form factor and negligible weight mean you can carry a couple pairs anywhere. If you are around really loud noise, like gunfire inside a building, you can put muffs on over your plugs to make the experience tolerable.

As mentioned above, the type of plugs that feature a valve in the stem (Surefire EP series is a great example) will take the edge off handgun fire, maybe a rifle shot or two, and deaden background noise while still letting you hear generally. These can be a great all purpose earplug for sleeping and other tasks as well.

Conclusion

Protecting your hearing is important on and off the range, and too many prepared folks forget or omit ear-pro in their otherwise sound planning. Don’t be on one of them. Muffs and earplugs both have a place in your stockpile, and the right models can even confer a tactical advantage. Be sure to include them in your preparedness plan.



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About Charles Yor

Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.
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3 thoughts on “Hearing Protection Away From the Range

  1. I started shooting at age 8, nearly 60 years ago and my hearing is still as good as ever; but, I do have friends my age or even a bit younger that have poor hearing and often wear hearing aids. Eye and ear protection is essential and I was not only taught that as a kid, I have taught it in all of my classes, for nearly 30 years. I think at least a few of my nearly deaf friends had their loss from working in loud industrial environments or listening to music that was loud enough to be literally deafening.
    When you state:

    Cons: Bulky, bulbous cups and headband vulnerable to being knocked or snagged off head. Distortion and tinny sound over speakers is common. Requires batteries to function. Quality varies wildly, and good units can be very expensive.

    I have to somewhat disagree as I carry several pairs of foam ear plugs in my EDC and wear active muffs when hunting, especially deer. My first pair of active muffs purchased back in the 1990’s were Peltor and cost around $160.00; but, were essential when running a range, especially with new shooters, where you need to hear even that nearly silent , Oops!!!
    Active muffs of similar quality are now available for $20.00 or less and having several pairs in different configurations is a good idea. Keep in mind also that, active muffs require batteries, so having spares on hand is also essential.
    The various configurations can have the bulbous cups which are usually the least expensive ones, in the $15-18 range and generally used only for handguns. The more slim models run between $20-30 and are very handy for long guns. As for the tinny sound, I’ve not experienced that, even with the less expensive muffs. I have several pair of these with extra batteries in my range bag for use by me and my students, some of which show up with no hearing protection.
    https://www.sportsmansguide.com/product/index/guide-gear-stereo-hearing-protection-earmuffs?a=359175

    We owe most of the inexpensive active muffs to the bird watchers, who use them to listen for that weak and rare call of the birds they are trying to see. In my case, I can often hear deer breaking through brush, long before I can see them with these amplified muffs; but, the circuitry shuts off the amplifiers instantaneously when a firearm of any type is discharged. In my case for deer that could be a .410 bore shotgun, a .50 caliber muzzleloader, or a .357 magnum handgun, all of which have their own distinctive reports, and all of which are easily suppressed with the active muffs. While I used to teach in an indoor range, I haven’t done that in a long time; but, even in an outdoor setting, hearing & eye protection is essential.
    When you opened with:

    No reader here who is a frequent user of guns needs to be lectured on the importance of protective gear when behind a gun. Even those devil-may-care types who eschew eye-pro do not pretend to be so hard as to not need hearing protection, especially when around rifles or at any indoor range.

    I agree; but, being reminded now and then is not a bad idea, and outdoors with a large bore handgun can be worse than a rifle, since the muzzle blast and potentially the expanding cylinder gap gas are much closer to the face and ears.

  2. I am one of those who have hearing issues from loud noises, most particularly jet noise and firearms. Police and ambulance sirens have also contributed.

    I spent a lot of years around guns and jets in the military, and guns and sirens as a police officer. My hearing sucks and I do have hearing aids which help a lot. In fact, the VA just issued me a new set that will stream my cell phone via Bluetooth. Very handy.

    Anyone with any amount of firearms experience knows about the need for hearing pro, but in certain occupations, putting on the muffs or plugs is not practical until the shooting is over. Sirens are more of a hearing issue than most people think. Try fighting with some dirtball immediately in front of a scout car with a 100-watt siren blaring away because you didn’t have time to shut it off before bailing out to grab the bad guy. Then two or three more scout cars pull up and their sirens stay on too. Of course, driving along with the siren on doesn’t help, even though the sound is attenuated somewhat by the roof. Same things with ambulances (I was a paramedic too), though we normally had time to shut the siren off when on-scene. I usually had a headache after such close police siren exposure.

    Recently, I went to an indoor range to shoot my HK-91 (a 7.62mm battle rifle). I wore muffs and planned to double-bag, but I didn’t have any more plugs in my range bag. Instead of shelling out a buck to buy some from the range, I just went ahead and shot with muffs only. That was three weeks ago and I am still having issues. Yes, it is getting better, but very slowly. My range bag is resupplied with plugs now, but that is closing the barn door after the horses got out.

    Non-gun use of hearing pro is needed when using lawn mowers of any kind, gas powered lawn tools, some drills, and when taking your kid to a rock concert (I never did that, but the one rock concert I did go to once, I wished I wore ear pro. Alice Cooper is very loud).

    1. Zulu 3-6,

      Anyone with any amount of firearms experience knows about the need for hearing pro, but in certain occupations, putting on the muffs or plugs is not practical until the shooting is over.

      Along with occupations I would also add certain activities such as hunting specific critters. When hunting deer I’m generally sitting in a blind and waiting so the active muffs not only help me hear noises around me, they can also help keep my ears warm on a cold November or December morning, LOL. I also normally hunt deer with a handgun, so the muzzle is that much closer to my head and ears. When shooting while on the move such as wing shooting pheasants or slow walking or canoeing for squirrels I generally didn’t wear any hearing protection; but, in this case you are out of doors and are usually only taking a single shot with a rifle or shotgun.

      Recently, I went to an indoor range to shoot my HK-91 (a 7.62mm battle rifle). I wore muffs and planned to double-bag, but I didn’t have any more plugs in my range bag. Instead of shelling out a buck to buy some from the range, I just went ahead and shot with muffs only.

      Back in the 1990’s I ran classes a few times per month on an indoor range, and one of the other instructors showed me a trick you can use if you need to double plug and are out of the foam plugs. An empty 9mm case, carefully inserted into the ear, primer end first, actually works quite well, and in that class we always had a ton of empty 9mm brass around, since most students back then, used that cartridge.

      Non-gun use of hearing pro is needed when using lawn mowers of any kind, gas powered lawn tools, some drills, and when taking your kid to a rock concert (I never did that, but the one rock concert I did go to once, I wished I wore ear pro. Alice Cooper is very loud).

      I never used hearing protection when mowing lawns with a push mower (trimming) or a lawn tractor with a deck; but, I just asked the DW, who still hasn’t let me mow much with the new ZT mower about it, and she actually said she could use muffs; but, had forgotten about the active muffs I have on hand. We mow several hundred feet of frontage along a 2-lane highway, and she didn’t want to be hearing impaired while mowing the strips along the highway. She will now be wearing muffs the next time she mows the lawn.
      Back when we heated exclusively with wood, I cut and split a ton of it with a gasoline powered chainsaw (Stihl 028) and always wore both hearing and eye protection. Mostly I use electric now; but, still use the eye protection.
      I haven’t been to a lot of concerts; but, back in 2008 my DD was encouraged to enter into the local Marion Popcorn festival pageant and on her first and only time she was crowned Miss Popcorn Queen 2008. There were gifts and scholarships that came with the title and we also got back stage access to an outdoor concert by Phil Vassar. I ended up back at an angle behind that stage and the speakers, because standing in front of the speakers was absolutely deafening to the point that I almost felt internal organs moving from the bass. In college and since then, most of my musical performances were mostly folk music and some country, played on acoustical instruments, like non amplified guitar, banjos, and hammer dulcimers.
      I find that music much kinder to both the mind and the ears.
      And thanks for the mention about mowing. I hadn’t thought about it and it turns out she is amenable to it.

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