Ear Protection

Hello technoid,

I haven’t visited in awhile and look forward to reviewing you opinions today. However, I did think of a question I would like to pose. I don’t think you have previously addressed it.

My question is this: what would you recommend in terms of ear protection when either shooting sporting clays or hunting. I have found the large exterior headset to be cumbersome whereas the inexpensive foam plugs tend to block noise so well I tend to pull them in and out a lot in order to have a conversation when not shooting. When I looked in the sports store, I found a more expensive set of plugs that go in the ear and are said to permit normal conversation yet protect your ears from the gun blast. However, the decibel protection between that model and the less expensive foam inserts was significant. I don’t remember the specs exactly but if the foam gave you protection of up to 29 db, the expensive inserts may have been something like 9 db. No wonder they allow for normal conversation, they don’t seem to offer nearly the protection.

Also, as far as hunting goes, I like to hunt waterfowl and one of the most enjoyable aspects of that sport is being able to hear the birds. Since my ears are so sensitive, I have to wear plugs whereas my friends do not. I hate to have them in b/c you miss so much of the experience. Any suggestions or recommendation would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you very much.


Dear R,

The maximum hearing protection you can get are the cheap foam plugs AND the largest ear muffs you can find BOTH USED TOGETHER. Anything else is less than optimal.

Next best are the ear muffs alone. Generally, bigger is better and thinner is less effective. Also, the tighter they fit, the better they work. You can lose a lot of sound protection by an ineffective seal at the glasses frame. The electronic ear muffs are quite good, but not as good as the large standard ones. The problem is that most of the electronic ones are built on the smaller ear muff frames and are a bit less efficient due to this. Still, the electronic models allow you to protect your ears and hear normal conversation too. The problem with ear muffs is that many people, especially those with short necks, find that they bang into the gunstock when it is raised. Some people can get around this by improved gun mount. Others are just plain the wrong size.

The best ear plugs that I have found are the cheap foam plugs. Unlike molded plugs, the foam plugs always fit perfectly because they expand to fit every time. Your ear canal changes over time and the molded plugs can’t change with it, resulting in a less then perfect seal as time goes on.

The problem with any kind of plug is that it only protects against sound entering the ear canal. It does not protect against sound entering behind the ear through the thin bones back there. Muffs protect against this.

The molded electronic plugs (around $1500-$1600) work quite well for what they are, but they are still 1) ear plugs not ear muffs and 2) molded not foam.

The Sonic type “valve” plugs work fairly well, but I do not recommend them for constant target shooting. I believe that proper ear muffs are more effective.

I always wear earmuffs when I shoot from a duck blind or goose pit. It is absolutely the worse place possible for ear damage. Think about it. Everyone is shooting 3″ magnums. There may be several shooters only shoulder width apart. If a bird comes to your right and you are on the right, everyone’s muzzle ends up being right in front of your left ear when they turn it loose. If you insist on being able to hear the birds, then his situation calls for the electronic muffs, but muffs it definitely is. Your friends don’t “need” muffs because they are already partly deaf, but they are going to get deafer unless they start using them.

I am a New England grouse hunter. In spite of good dogs, birds often flush to the side, behind or over us. Good hearing is absolutely essential to try to save that split second which means the difference between grouse or cereal for dinner. Ear muffs aren’t practical as they get pulled off by the branches. The Sonic valve-style plug is a pretty good low cost compromise in this type of situation, but the electronic ear plugs would be better. If you hunt a lot, $1600 really isn’t that much to pay to preserve your hearing. They are good for deer hunting too as you can turn up the volume and actually increase your hearing acuity, yet still clip off the damaging noise of the shot.

The db ratings of muffs and plugs can be misleading due to the methods of measuring. That said, more is generally better. Certainly that is so in solid muffs. Measuring db gets trickier when you get to the valve-type plugs.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid
(Often in error, never in doubt.)

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2 Responses to Ear Protection

  1. Kent Newberry says:

    Regarding ear protection,
    I hunt in Mexico and have found that earmuffs work well, however, due to the heat, your ears get hot, they sweat and the earmuffs become unbearable. Just a consideration.


  2. Peter says:

    May I recommend with reservations. 3M-Peltor Tep 100 electronic ear plugs
    Well worth the $300-$400 price
    Regrettably, if required,customer service is less than ideal
    My noise environment is very high, professional pilot (retired) and very serious sporting clays type


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