By Brad Fitzpatrick

Noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL, is a condition commonly associated with advanced age, but according to a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 16 percent of children and teens ages 12 to 19 have experienced some loss of hearing. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders states that continuous exposure to loud sounds like music and machinery can cause permanent damage to your hearing, but even one exposure to an “impulse” sound can cause permanent hearing loss. Hearing loss begins at 85 decibels (the measurement of sound intensity), roughly the equivalent heavy city traffic, and the longer you are exposed to the sound the more likely you are to damage the intricate structures of the inner ear. Gunshots produce sound levels that are roughly 140 decibels, so it is critically important to protect your ears when hunting or shooting.

Hearing loss from noise exposure is permanent, so prevention is critical. There are a variety of different options when it comes to hearing protection, but be sure that you always have some form of hearing protection available when you shoot. This also applies to hunting, too—firearms produce just as much noise in the field as they do on the range, so it’s critical to protect yourself when you’re in the field.

The good news is that there are a number of options when it comes to protecting your ears. Hearing protection comes with an ANSI rating in decibels, and this number corresponds to the reduction in noise. For instance, some disposable ear plugs have an ANSI rating of 29 dB, which is a measure of decibel reduction. Here is a list of five popular options to help prevent hearing loss while you are shooting or hunting.



Disposable ear plugs are soft and can be molded to fit your ear canal, and generally they are thrown away after use. To be effective, these plugs need to be properly inserted into your ear canal, but the advantage to disposable plugs is that they are cheap and lightweight, so you should have a few pairs in your hunting or shooting vest.


Reusable ear plugs are usually made of soft rubber and have baffles that help reduce noise. They are inserted directly into the ear canal, and these baffles help reduce noise to protect the structures inside your ear. Reusable plugs are more expensive than disposable plugs, but they can be washed and reused so you won’t have to repurchase them. Most Reusable plugs come with a strap so they can be taken out and draped around your neck when not shooting. There are also ear plugs that can be specifically molded to fit your ear.


 There are a variety of electronic devices that help cancel out loud noise, and the good thing is that these items also allow you to hear normal tones (like speaking) or even enhance your hearing, which is a benefit while hunting. Electronic hearing protection is available in muffs, ear inserts or behind-the-ear models. Some of these units are expensive, and custom earpieces can cost over $2,000, but there are cheaper options like electronic muffs that cost far less.


Muffs are larger and bulkier than earplugs, but they are easy to use and provide a high level of hearing protection. Muffs are popular with rifle and handgun shooters, but the exterior cups can interfere when shooting competitive shotgun. Mechanical muffs, which don’t rely on electronic noise reduction, reduce all sounds, so communication can be difficult. But muffs are one of the easiest and most affordable ways to protect your hearing.


Hearing protection bands can be as simple as earplugs connected by a plastic headpiece to more advanced sound chamber designs like the Otis Technologies Ear Shield. The simpler protective band designs perform just like standard earplugs, but the Ear Shield actually redirects sound away from the ear and allows you to talk in a normal voice. Bands are lighter and smaller than muffs, they fold up for storage in a backpack or shooting bag, and they are affordable.