Ear Plugs

Dear Technoid,

I need advice concerning hearing protection. I shoot clay targets regularly and also hunt. I have used the foam ear plugs and now use ear muffs. I am not happy with the ear muffs as they are hot and sometimes get in the way. I would like to try the in-ear type electronic protection. I see them advertised at the big stores. There seems to be many brands and the price seems quite high. Before I would spent that kind of money,I would like to be assured they are going to work and also last several years.


Dear Peter,

I’ve tried just about everything and keep going back to foam plugs. Of course, ear muffs are the best for noise protection, but in warm weather they are a pain. In cold weather they are very nice indeed.

I’ve had one really good and expensive set of fitted digital electronic ear plugs. The electronic part is great in that it permits you to hear normally, or even extra normally. But these earplugs have two problems:

1) they are very expensive, just like the hearing aids they partially emulate, and

2) if they aren’t properly fitted, or if they no longer fit after a period of time and/or ear change, they don’t block sound as well as the cheap foam plugs.

My electronic plugs did not fit well and were basically useless as a noise barrier- a very expensive useless noise barrier. The digital enhancement part was great though. Still, with standard foam plugs, I can hear and converse well enough for my purposes.

Remember, with the electronic plugs, the first and most important job of the plugs is to stop noise. All the digital enhancement stuff is just gingerbread if they don’t do their primary job. The electronic plugs are hard molded and, once set, can’t further adapt to the ear. If the ear changes over time, the plugs can’t change with it. Foam plugs adapt perfectly each and every time.

Obviously, there are lots of people out there who are blissfully happy with their electronic ear plugs. I just wasn’t one of them. I’m also not entirely sure that I want to be able to hear a pin drop when I’m shooting. Imagine setting up for a presentation and hearing someone behind you whisper to his pal, “Geez, look at that guy. What a klutz. He doesn’t have a clue.”

One thing that you might try as an experiment is to get a set of relatively inexpensive inert molded plugs made for you. There are usually a few vendors at any of the big shoots. These plugs have no electronics, but they will give you a good feel for what the electronic plugs will do to eliminate noise and what they will feel like. Compare the molded plugs to your foam plugs and draw your own conclusion.

As an aside, for grouse hunting, when it is vital to hear the flush of the bird, I use cheap Sonic rubber plugs with the little metal valve inside. I can hear quite well with these and they do offer some slight noise barrier, though nothing near that of pure foam plugs. I’m quick to admit that properly fitting and functioning digital ear plugs would be a delight in most hunting situations.

Remember too, the above is just one person’s opinion. Everyone’s hearing is different. The only thing that’s absolutely sure is that if you don’t wear decent hearing protection, you won’t be able to hear your wife when she asks you to do some chore. We wouldn’t want that, now would we?

Best regards,
Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid

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2 Responses to Ear Plugs

  1. Mark Edwards says:

    The digital in-the-ear plugs ARE a joy for almost all hunting scenarios, other than duck/goose, since the plugs want to “compress” your duck calling (even “good” calling 🙂 ) and you are pretty much toast if you happen to drop a plug in the water. Trust me on that one.


  2. Tom S says:

    2 years ago I just got into shooting and at the same time lightening struck a tree right next to my house. The thunder blew my one ear out. I’m left with a hypersensitivity to any (even normal) loud noises. It will set off tinnitus and an ache. Needless to say I didn’t want to give up clay sports so I experimented/bought various plugs, ear muffs, etc. The best bang for the buck if you have normal hearing are these ear muffs at only $24: 3M Peltor Optime 105 Behind-the-Head Earmuff with Neckband. They block the blast better than top name shooting muffs. I tried a fairly expensive top name brand with the electronics but wound up keeping the sound off permanently. The beauty of the 3M’s is that they can be worn UNDER any hat.
    I actually shoot with the ear muffs plus self molded ear plugs because of the hypersensitivity. I cannot shoot without both on but I can still hear normal conversations close by. Again the best bang for the buck and best blast reduction came from Radians® Custom-Fit Plugs at $19.99 from any of the big box outdoor stores. You don’t need to pay someone to do it either. They give you so much putty that you can actually get 3 plugs out of it. The important thing with any ear plug is to lubricate it before inserting to get an air tight fit. I have to use one in the bad ear everyday when I go out in public or when my wife starts in on me. I see guys at the range lubricate them with saliva but you can get a real funky ear fungus from that. I use a 50/50 combo of rubbing alcohol and vinegar which the ENT doctor recommended.


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