Do I Really Need Ear Protection For Shooting

Do I Really Need Ear Protection For Shooting

Why Wearing Ear Protection is So Important When Shooting

As a firearms professional with years of experience in the field, I often encounter shooters who question the necessity of ear protection during shooting sessions. It’s a common misconception that only loud noises, such as explosions or jet engines, can cause hearing damage. However, the truth is that repeated exposure to gunfire can have a significant impact on our hearing health. In this blog post, we’ll aim to provide valuable insights and information about the importance of wearing ear protection while shooting. Let’s dive in!

Understanding the Risks of Unprotected Shooting

Shooting AR-15 with ear protection

This is a subject I understand all too well; in my early twenties, I spent a lot of time outdoors shooting and rarely wore ear protection. Ultimately it cost me hearing loss that, in 35 years, has never improved. My left ear hears a little better than half as well as my right. When someone stands on my left side and talks to me, I often say, “What?”. My family knows better than to stand on my left, but to people that don’t

know me as well, I am confident; it gets annoying. To make things worse, I never realized how much I count on watching people’s lips that talk softly or are on my left side until Covid hit. When things started to get back to normal, but food services workers were still wearing masks, it was a real pain in the ass to understand the ones that spoke softly and had a mask on.

When engaging in shooting activities, it’s essential to understand the potential risks associated with not using ear protection. Here are some key points to consider:

  • The Intensity of Gunfire: Firearms produce high-intensity sounds, often exceeding 140 decibels (dB) or more. Exposure to such intense noise, even briefly, can cause immediate and long-term damage to our hearing.
  • Cumulative Effect: Shooting sessions, especially for avid shooters or professionals, can lead to repeated exposure to loud gunfire. Over time, the cumulative effect of these exposures can contribute to gradual hearing loss and other auditory issues.
  • Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL): Prolonged exposure to loud noises can result in NIHL, a type of hearing loss caused by damage to the delicate hair cells in our inner ear. Once these cells are damaged, they cannot regenerate, leading to permanent hearing loss.

When Does Hearing Damage Occur

Hearing damage can occur when the sound levels reach or exceed certain thresholds that can cause physical harm to the delicate structures of the inner ear. The two primary factors contributing to hearing damage are the intensity of the sound, measured in decibels (dB), and the duration of exposure.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established

Hearing damage test

permissible exposure limits for noise in the workplace. According to OSHA, exposure to noise levels above 85 dB for an extended period can damage hearing. The higher the sound level, the shorter the safe exposure time. For instance, exposure to 100 dB is considered safe for only 15 minutes without hearing protection.

Gunshots are extremely loud and can exceed 140 dB or more, depending on the firearm and ammunition. To put this into perspective, the normal conversation typically measures around 60 dB, and even prolonged exposure to sounds above 85 dB can be harmful.

Shooting Can Cause Immediate and Permanent Damage

The intensity of a gunshot sound is capable of causing immediate and permanent hearing damage. A single gunshot, especially without hearing protection, can cause severe ear trauma, resulting in permanent hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Shooting at the range

It’s important to note that repeated exposure to any loud sound, including gunshots, can also lead to cumulative hearing damage over time, even if the individual shots are not intense enough to cause immediate harm. This is why consistent use of hearing protection is important when shooting firearms.

In summary, hearing damage can occur when sound levels exceed certain thresholds, and gunshots typically produce sound levels well above those thresholds. Protecting your ears with appropriate hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs, is essential to prevent hearing damage when exposed to loud noises like gunshots.

Benefits of Using Ear Protection

Wearing ear protection while shooting offers numerous advantages beyond safeguarding our hearing. Let’s explore the benefits:

  • Preventing Hearing Damage: The primary purpose of ear protection is to minimize the impact of loud noises on our ears. By reducing the intensity of gunfire, proper ear protection helps preserve our hearing health and prevent potential hearing loss.
  • Improved Concentration: Gunshots can distract and disorient, affecting our focus and accuracy. Wearing ear protection reduces noise distractions, allowing shooters to concentrate better and achieve optimal performance.
  • Increased Safety: A loud gunshot can startle a shooter, leading to unintentional and potentially dangerous actions. Ear protection helps maintain composure and promotes safe firearm handling by attenuating the noise.

Types of Ear Protection Options

Various types of ear protection are available, each with advantages and suitability for different shooting scenarios. Here are some common options:

  • Earplugs: Earplugs are small, portable, and inserted directly into the ear canal. They offer effective noise reduction and can be disposable or reusable. Some earplugs are designed to provide specific noise reduction ratings (NRR) to indicate their level of effectiveness.
  • Earmuffs: Earmuffs are protective headgear that covers the entire ear. They create a physical barrier between your ears and the loud sounds. Earmuffs often provide higher NRR ratings than earplugs and can be adjustable for a comfortable fit.
  • Electronic Hearing Protection: These advanced devices offer hearing protection and situational awareness. Electronic earmuffs or earplugs use microphones and speakers to amplify low-level sounds, allowing you to hear conversations or range commands while still providing protection from loud noises.

My Favorite Shooting Ear Protection

I have easily tried dozens of ear protection products over the years, and I still have many, but if I had to narrow it down to one product that is my favorite, I would have to go with the GS Extreme 2.0 by AXIL.

Shooting AR-15 with AXIL GS Extreme 2.0 EAR PROTECTION

The AXIL GS Extreme 2.0 is a high-quality electronic hearing protection device that reduces noise and enhances situational awareness for shooters and outdoor enthusiasts. With its advanced technology, the GS Extreme 2.0 offers a noise reduction rating (NRR) of up to 31 decibels, helping to protect the user’s hearing from the harmful

effects of loud gunshots and other loud noises. The device features dual omnidirectional microphones that amplify ambient sounds, allowing the wearer to maintain awareness of their surroundings while benefiting from noise reduction of the shot. It also has adjustable volume control, ensuring customizable sound amplification for optimal hearing experience. The GS Extreme 2.0 is lightweight, comfortable to wear, and built with durable materials, making it suitable for extended use in various shooting and outdoor activities. It also is a Bluetooth earbud if you want to play music. I could go on and on about them, but we also have an upcoming GS Extreme 2.0 review covering everything.

Is a Firearm Suppressor Enough To Save Your Ears

A firearm suppressor, a silencer, can help reduce the noise a firearm produces when discharged. While it does not completely eliminate the sound, it can significantly reduce the decibel level and mitigate the risk of immediate hearing damage. However, it’s important to note that even with a suppressor, firearms can still produce a loud noise that may cause hearing damage if proper precautions are not taken.

silenced rifle

The effectiveness of a firearm suppressor depends on various factors, including the specific suppressor design. The type of firearm being used, and the ammunition being fired. A suppressor can generally lower the noise level by about 20 to 35 decibels, significantly reducing the risk of hearing damage. However, firearms will still produce a sound level above the threshold for hearing damage.


As a firearms professional, I cannot stress enough the importance of wearing ear protection during shooting activities. Unprotected exposure to loud gunfire can lead to irreversible hearing damage and impact your overall shooting performance. By using appropriate ear protection options like earplugs, earmuffs, or electronic hearing protection, you safeguard your hearing and enhance your concentration, safety, and shooting experience. Remember, protecting your hearing should be integral to every shooter’s routine. Stay safe, protect your ears, and enjoy your time on the range or field.


How do I choose the right ear protection for shooting?

Consider factors like noise reduction rating (NRR), comfort, fit, and the specific shooting environment. Consult with experts or try different options to find the one that suits your needs.

Can I use regular headphones or earmuffs instead of specialized ear protection?

Regular headphones or earmuffs may not provide sufficient noise reduction for shooting. It’s crucial to use specialized ear protection designed explicitly for shooting activities. They are specifically engineered to attenuate the high-intensity sounds generated by firearms, ensuring optimal protection for your hearing.

How often should I replace my ear protection?

The lifespan of ear protection can vary depending on factors such as frequency of use, maintenance, and the specific product. Disposable earplugs should be replaced after each use. While reusable earplugs and earmuffs can last for months or even years with proper care. Check for signs of wear, damage, or loss of effectiveness, and replace them accordingly.

Are there any alternatives to traditional earplugs or earmuffs?

Yes, alternatives are available, such as custom-molded earplugs that offer a personalized fit and optimal noise reduction. Additionally, some shooters may opt for a combination of earplugs and earmuffs for maximum protection in particularly loud shooting environments.

Can ear protection interfere with my ability to hear important sounds on the range?

No, proper ear protection is designed to reduce harmful noise levels while allowing you to hear important sounds. For example, range commands, conversations, or approaching footsteps. Certain electronic hearing protection devices enhance your ability to hear low-level sounds while reducing noise.


  • Michael Hodgdon

    A firearm, shooting, outdoor, and hunting enthusiast for over 35 years. Thank you all for the suggestions on topics you would like to see; we'll keep posting as you keep sending them in. Please comment; we will try to answer all comments quickly.

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