Thursday, August 6, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now - A Reader Requested Re-Post

You know your social life is lacking when you meet up with a guy and he says "Did you bring protection?" and you know he's talking about eyes and ear.

I sometimes have to go weeks between shooting due to my schedule, work on the property or tending to my parents, but when I do go, I usually meet my friends at the local LEO range or at one of the Fish and Game or Conservation ranges. Most ranges won't allow shooters out unless they have both eye and ear protection, but I've encountered several shooters outdoors in the field, chasing birds or game, that wear nothing to protect against the dB's of shotgun blast.

The sound of gunfire is the most hazardous non-occupational noise to which adults are exposed and can be a cause of noise induced hearing loss. The damage happens to the microscopic hair cells found inside the cochlea. These cells respond to mechanical sound vibrations by sending an electrical signal to the auditory nerve. Different groups of hair cells are responsible for different frequencies (rate of vibrations). The healthy human ear can hear frequencies ranging from 20Hz to 20,000 Hz. Over time, the hair cell's hair-like stereocilia may get damaged or broken. If enough of them are damaged, hearing loss results. The high frequency area of the cochlea is often damaged by loud sound.

Sound pressure is measured in decibels (dB). Like a temperature scale, the decibel scale goes below zero. The average person can hear sounds down to about 0 dB, such as the level of rustling leaves, or someone out in the kitchen trying to sneak that last brownie out of the pan. Conversations run up to as much as 60 dB, still not enough for damage, even if of filibuster quality. If a sound reaches 85 dB (an idling bulldozer) or stronger, it can cause permanent damage to your hearing over time. The following is the peak sound pressure levels of typical pistols (from
What is so insidious about peak levels such as these is that a single shot experienced by an unprotected ear could lead to immediate and permanent hearing loss of some degree, often accompanied by ringing, hissing, or humming in the ears. Just because you might have shot without protection in the past, and without apparent hearing loss, does not mean you might not have damage incur the next time. Exposure to peaks sound pressures can be likened to accidentally dropping that glass Guinness bottle on the tile floor. It might break, and it might not, but you can't bet on that outcome.

Recreational firearm noise has been cited as a primary cause of hearing loss incurred during leisure activity. It is estimated that in the United States, well over 60 million Americans shoot firearms as part of recreational target practice or when hunting various wildlife. The use of firearms while hunting is of special concern because it has been reported that only about 1% of hunters use hearing protection devices. [1]

I'd suggest that even if you aren't a "regular" shooter, you invest in a good piece of hearing protection. Sure, many ranges offer a set free to use or will "rent" you a set for dollar or two charge. But frankly, the starting quality and wear from many heads larger than mine, rendered some so poor that I would have been better served taking my bra off, wrapping it around my head, and stuffing a cup in each ear.

It's not just quality of the dampening of sound, but comfort. Too loose, and you lose a large degree of the hearing protection. Too tight and you'll feel like you spent the morning with your ex spouse, not your favorite weapon. Grabbing a "free" pair at the range is not always the best way to go.

There are a lot of choices in high performance shooting hearing protection devices, many quite lightweight and comfortable. One newer offering is the Howard Leight Sport Earmuff. It's got a noise reduction rating of 22db and is VERY low profile, electronically enhanced it will amplify ambient low level noise (i.e. conversation) while truly muffling more dangerous sound. It is, however, around $60. Not cheap, but reasonable for the quality product you'll get.

Howard Leight has some excellent overall and inexpensive ear protection. The one I carry with me everywhere as a "spare" is the Leightning L3 muff. It's sleekly elegant in design and very economical. The seal is excellent with a slow-recovery soft foam, without sacrificing comfort. The headband is extra long and softly padded, with pivoting cups that fit like a custom headband at a very decent price. With an NRR of 30d dB, one of the highest rated for any earmuff it's my favorite. I noticed the cold that required a jacket but NOT my earmuffs this day. Not all online shooting supply vendors carries them. I found an expensive pair to have on hand as main wear, or spare, through another favorite, Midway USA, who has them for $24.99. This pair is 3 years old and still performs as well as new. That's my own choice. You'll have your favorites. Beretta has a good one for less than $30. And Cabellas always has an assortment of well reviewed ear protection in all price ranges.

You can go high end, spending several hundred dollars, but some of the fancier ones with
four high-frequency directional microphones and two-channel digital circuitry, adjustable frequency tuning to enhance sounds on specific frequencies, 50db amplification, adjustable headsets and muffs with antimicrobial treatment, frankly aren't as well reviewed as the more budget minded ear protection. For $370 I would want it to not just comfortably cancel noise, but take Barkley for a walk and give me a back rub.
One size fits all, well, doesn't. You can find a variety of adjustable muffs for less than $40. One I liked using when I was out of town shooting and borrowed some gear, was the Pro Ears with the Soft ProForm® leather ear seals (forms tightly to your head without binding too tightly) and ProTen® headband, that can be adjusted to fit all head sizes, from youth to overinflated Congressman. These are available in three NRR ratings: 26, 28, and 33.

The bottom line - some kind of hearing protection should always be worn when firing guns. Some will even choose to use dual protection because it reduces the sounds even further for greater protection, and for some, for better shooting as well (since the pulses are lower and the likelihood of flinching is reduced). If I'm shooting a big boomstick at an indoor LEO range, which I've done before, I'll wear both muffs and the washable E.A.R. ULTRA-FIT EAR PLUGS that you can find most places, and often for next to nothing.

I'm not trying to sell you a particular brand, or a particular vendor. I'm simply saying that there are many choices, and like your weapon and holster, you should pick one with good fit, comfort and protection. You may have a chance at that pheasant you missed on another day, but hearing lost in the field can't be regained. It's worth some messed up hair and a few dollars out of your pocket for quality equipment, to protect that.

For remember what the great
Red Green said - "What doesn't kill you, makes you hard of hearing".

(1) Kramer WL, Updike CD. Recreational shooters and their use of hearing protection. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association; November 1991; Seattle, Wash.


  1. I've always worn my "ear muffs" when doing anything noisy, from shooting, to grinding out the ports in a cylinder head with a die grinder, and when I couldn't, I used some foam ear plugs. The insidious thing is that *continuous* noise, even under the "loud" point, can cause hearing damage. I've always known this, but now I've experienced it from my current employer. The company's baseline hearing test I took when I hired in there has seen a distinct loss of my hearing ability.
    I'm thankful it's annoying more than debilitating, but it's happened.
    I'm also thankful for the active hearing protectors I wear at the range, or otherwise I wouldn't be able to hear the range commands at the training classes I take.

  2. "I would have been better served taking my bra off, wrapping it around my head..."

    Great... now I have the theme song to Weird Science stuck in my head.

    I always wear my muffs at the range, but they're pretty crappy. Thanks for taking the time to be specific in your suggestions. I've been wanting to upgrade but there's so much variety and price difference - it's been hard to know where to start. I'm gonna use your post as a starting point and pick up some better ones.

  3. Good advice that's reinforced when I try to carry on a conversation with some of my more "chronologically advanced" shooting friends.

    I'm thankful that my previous experience with noisy equipment and shooting without ear protection hasn't affected my hearing.

  4. Col. Jeff Cooper often remarked, in his column, that if he'd known he was gonna live so long, he'd have taken better care of his ears.

    Hear, hear.

    I currently have Leight L2F muffs (non-electronic) which work well for me.

  5. I've always had good luck with Peltor, both passive and active.

  6. That's because you have the points of the bra pointing the wrong way! And I totally agree. Shot the old Colt 45acp, once, without protection. Not good. Ears rang for a few. But, years later, I can still hear an F-15 fly over the house!

  7. I have the Howard Leight R-01526 Impact Sport Electronic Earmuffs and they run $45 - $50 depending on where you get them. The have a 22 NRR and a 4 hour shut off (which is really nice for saving your batteries). These work really well on the range and just took them prairie dog hunting this year - great for locating them as there is a microphone on each side. I would buy these again - great for the price.

  8. That wasn't Red Greene, that was Edgar K.B. Montrose. KABOOM!

  9. I didn't start wearing muffs until I started shooting IDPA matches. Our stages were set up indoors. Before that all my shooting was in the open outdoors. Being indoors made a real difference.

    Once while in the Spring Nationals in Columbia, MO, one stage had us shooting from inside a car body. Our pistol was placed on the car seat next to the driver's position. At the beep a mover started towards the car from the passenger's side. The shooter would then pickup the pistol and fire at the target across the width of the car.

    This wasn't some shot up hulk with no doors or windows. It was a junker donated by a range member.

    I had the usual head-band muffs with maybe 20-24db protection. When I fired inside of that car, IT WAS LOUD. Even through my muffs. After the match, I ordered a new electronic pair of muffs from Dillon. They work much better.

  10. Outdoors, I use the disposable EAR Classics, but indoors, I wear those AND a set of ear muffs.

  11. Peltor "Combat Arms" double ended earplugs. Advertised as being able to hear range commands, radio traffic, and conversational voices, and in my experience, they work very well indeed. Just the thing for dove hunting or range work. Insert one end for gunfire (they're color coded) and the other end for continuous industrial noises like saws, machinery, grinding. They are passive (no batteries) and have a 22 NRR rating. Been using them for several years now of NRA and CMP high power rifle competition, including all this week at Camp Perry, and I highly recommend them. Available for between $10 and $15 on line. Now, I have not shot any humongous magnum rifles with them, but they work thru 12 ga. magnum turkey loads, which would be good enough for most of us.

  12. Brigid, I'm a happily married man, but I must acknoledge (and I'm sure I'm not the 1st), that you are quite a beautiful and rare woman. How you are single baffles me. I'll remain 'anonynous' to protect the guilty (me).

  13. I'm really curious about those numbers. Obviously dB is a log scale, but a .45 acp should be lower on the scale than a .357 mag. I don't really think of a .45 as loud, and we all know that a .357 develops almost twice the pressure of the .45 (35 vs 21 KPSI).

    At the range I like using electronic muffs over plugs. The inexpensive Caldwell ones are great for this purpose. A lot easier to hear range commands, but better protection than traditional muffs.

    I really like electronic muffs for newbies to the shooting sports, it really reduces their anxiety level when they can hear what's going on.

  14. I will attest to the fact that gun fire will cause hearing loss. So will the continous exposure to lower decibel but higher frequency noises such as radios. Power tools like circular saws, planers etc will also damage the hearing pretty fast although many of us don't muff up when we use them.

    I can hear the sound, but lots of times can't distinguish the words in it...

  15. Sorry for the double post...

    I'd recommend if possible, to keep a pair of the good quality sound enhancing muffs with your home protection gear. Gun fire in the in a small room or car can cause damage possibly up to ruptured ear drums. Being able to better hear those small rustles, bumps and movements at night is a good thing too. Toss on some eye protection as well. Yeah, it might look geeky, but worth it!

  16. You are so right. My friend Bob Brown (from Soldier of Fortune) is nearly deaf from all the gunfire he has heard.

    In the field I usually wear ear plugs no matter what I am shooting.

  17. I use a pair of custom fitted silicon ear plugs for all my noisy gigs - fabricating in my home shop, shooting on the range, and even at work. They ran me about $75, and are still working well after 2 years. I recently tried some cheap import electronic muffs (20$?) and I now am looking for a better fitting pair to use while hunting. Thanks for the suggestions - I will start there!
    (wv: voldb -- appropriate, no?)

  18. I enjoyed the article on hearing protection and am a firm believer in using it. However, I was wondering if you could clarify something for me, if the peak level is 160db and the hearing protection is rated at a NRR of 30db wouldn't that equal a level of 130db which would still incur hearing damage? Personal experience indicates this isn't true but I still haen't figured out the answer.

  19. Thanks for putting this one up. Being that I get enough similar noise at work, I've even go so far as having an older pair of ear defenders hanging from my remarkably loud vacuum cleaner.

    The disposable ones like you linked are great, too.


  20. ... but I've encountered several shooters outdoors in the field, chasing birds or game, that wear nothing to protect against the dB's of shotgun blast.

    And you will almost certainly continue to do so as well.

    Most of my own shooting experience is on a controlled range environment, and I am always careful to use the best hearing protection I can acquire. On those occassions I have found it necessary to shoot in an open field environment (I wouldn't classify what I do out there as "hunting" :)), I've always found it necessary to not wear ear muffs or plugs as so much of the natural environment interaction is predicated on interpreting the sound around you.

    Until technology provides a device that blocks the most damaging elevated sound levels without inhibiting the rest, a certain amount of acceptance of the demands circumstance imposes will continue to be necessary.

  21. Yes, do all you can to preserve your hearing! I am totally deaf in one ear and have over a 65% loss in the other due to a motorcycle accident where I sustained head trauma. Hearing loss is NOT GOOD! Hearng aids don't even come close to natural hearing, not even close!

    Great article, very informative and very important! Thanks and be Blessed!

  22. Great post. I suffer from partial hearing loss from so many years in the machine shop. But once I'm out of the shop for a week or more most of it comes back.

    Hearing protection for shooting is mandatory. Most of my shooting is currently indoors.

    drjim's advice for wearing "ear muffs" when doing anything noisy is very good advise.

    I do give good back rubs.

    See Ya

  23. Being stone deaf in my left ear and having only about 35% hearing in my right i wear both plugs and ear muffs to protect my hearing, i have shot for over 40 years and the damage to my right ear is from that even though i have always used ear protection, over here in the UK back when i started shooting the army did not use hearing protection, now you will get put on a charge if you are caught on a range without.

  24. Unfortunately as a kid I used to do a LOT of shooting and we NEVER used hearing protection now in my late 40's I have significant hearing loss.

    Of course nothing like hindsight to make you more concious of needing to protect what you have left. Thanks for the reminder Brigid.

  25. Very essential piece of equipment - I wish I had payed more attention when I was much younger. Magnum handguns have caused some tinnitus in my older years, will likely have trouble hearing my grand children's laughter, which is said to be some f the best sounds you will ever hear.

  26. Surefire earplugs under a set of Peltor 30dB muffs for me generally.

    Now my good friend here, got himself a set of Sordins...Ooh...VERY COMFY! Very pricey too... :(


  27. My dad's been pretty strict about my brother and I using hearing protection becuase he's lost high frequencies from lots of unprotected shooting when he's younger. Also, it's a lot more fun and comfortable to shoot without the loud CRACK painfully hitting your ears. One problem I have is that when I use a rifle, the stock pushes the ear protector up so the seal gets broken and it doesn't help :(

  28. I'd be interested to know what the peak Db of .357SIG is.

    My 1st range trip ever I used range-supplied orange earplugs. They would not fit snugly in my ears.

    I had ringing, humming, and pain in both ears for days afterwards, not to mention a wicked headache. I couldn't imagine shooting a large caliber rifle without ears on.

  29. Started using Peltor 6S because they fit under a helmet. Bought them for younger son (as part of his deployment gear) & Bride for her upcoming TR class. These have served us very well and I got them for about $60 per pair by shopping around.
    Scamming the GI "foamies" by the fistful whenever the occasion arose has also helped protect what is left of my hearing (sometimes cotton was available on the ranges of my youth and sometimes it wasn't, though rock n' roll bears some of the blame as well). The foamies are washable too if you just leave them in your shirt pocket when you do laundry.
    Interestingly, while we've seen SO much benefit from everybody (usually) wearing eye pro in combat but ear pro isn't near as prevalent.

  30. Years of farm machinery, shop tools, job site noise, lots of shooting, and the odd absorption of sporadic, but well deserved spousal verbal assault have definitely affected my hearing. I've always been careful about using foam earplugs and over the ear mufflers, but i'm still impaired. Certain frequencies. I CANNOT hear the little click, click, click of the turn siganl reminding me that I have to manually shut it off after a casual lane change. Much to the chagrin of the less impaired individuals riding with me. "CAN YOU HEAR THAT? SHUT THAT OFF!" Nice post Brigid. In the short time I've been following your blog I'm very impressed with the breadth of your knowledge and depth of your passion. steve

  31. Love the new Barney pic and the "protection" advice. So glad you're sharing with the rest of us - it's like visiting an old friend, or someone I'd want as a friend.

  32. Thank you so very much for sharing your wonderful writing, recepies, advice, and poetry. Something really rough happened out of the blue tonight, coming here and reading some of your sharings has helped the ache and even put a smile on my face.

  33. Brigid,

    Professional hazard. The first thing a Physicist does is look at the numbers.

    Besides, you need to protect your hearing so you can hear my new album, which is now carried over at CDBaby. You wanted to know when it was available.


    PS I certainly hope this commend does not show up 12 times, java acting seriously weird.

  34. I was in the artillery and my hearing wasn't too bad, actually very good, 105 mm Howitzers, then I became a Drill Sergeant, wore my approved hearing protection and in three years of rifle ranges with M16s, I lost my high frequency stuff. The sound is still out there, Earl just can't hear it, which means that I have selective hearing with the females of the species, miss many of the bird calls and won't get the best use of high fidelity sound systems.

  35. I think a social life that starts off like that can only lead to good things...;-)

    These Caldwell muffs have worked well for me. Not a bad price for electronics and the slim profile.

  36. Oh nice order!!! Do you want buy Peltor Headsets order on cheap price please join >>buypeltortactical


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