How to Protect Your Hearing While Shooting and Hunting 

May 3, 2024 0

Hearing is a vital sense, especially for hunters who rely on it to stay alert in the wilderness, track and identify game, and enjoy the sounds of nature. Without precaution, the loud noises produced by firearms can cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). NIHL is a serious and common condition among recreational and professional shooters. In this guide, we examine the risks of NIHL associated with firearms and provide expert tips on how to protect your hearing while shooting and hunting.   

Why Hearing Protection Matters When Using Firearms

Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common forms of hearing loss. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 26 million adults in the U.S. have permanent hearing damage caused by exposure to loud noise.

Firearms Decibel Levels 

Even though the sound of a gunshot is brief, it is incredibly loud. For reference, a music concert can reach between 100-115 decibels (dB) of sound intensity, which can cause hearing damage in less than 2 minutes.

Smaller firearms typically start at 140 dB, and larger, big-bore rifles used for hunting big game can generate even louder noise, often exceeding 175 dB.  These noise levels can instantly cause permanent hearing loss without proper hearing protection.

Hearing Protection Tips While Shooting or Hunting

Man wearing custom molded ear plugs for hearing protection while firing shotgun at outdoor shooting range

Hearing loss caused by gunfire is permanent and usually preventable. Here are some simple, yet highly effective tips to protect your hearing while shooting or hunting so you can continue to enjoy these activities while ensuring your auditory health and safety.   

Always Wear Hearing Protection

Arguably the most critical step to protect your hearing while using firearms is to wear proper hearing protection. Choosing the right earplugs and earmuffs and wearing them properly can greatly reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss. 

Give Your Ears a Break 

Even when wearing proper hearing protection, it’s important to give your ears some time to recover from exposure to loud noises like gunfire. Stepping away from the noise for a few minutes reduces the stress on your ears and allows your auditory system to rest, minimizing the risk of potential damage. 

Choose Your Firearms Strategically

When it comes to protecting your hearing, focus on factors related to the gunfire itself that can impact your ears.  For instance, larger calibers generally produce a louder bang. Choosing a firearm with a smaller caliber, especially for target practice, can reduce your overall noise exposure.

Additionally, shorter barrels on firearms tend to create a louder muzzle blast compared to longer ones. If noise reduction is a concern, consider a firearm with a longer barrel. 

Shoot in Safe and Open Areas  

Open areas with minimal obstacles like walls or buildings allow the sound of gunfire to dissipate more quickly. This means the sound that reaches your ears is softer compared to a confined space like an indoor shooting range.  Keep in mind that even in an open field, the noise level is more damaging when you’re close to the point of impact.

Regardless of the environment you’re in, it’s essential to only shoot in designated areas and always wear hearing protection while using firearms. 

Choosing the Right Hearing Protection for Shooting and Hunting 

A young women wearing hunting camouflage and NRR hearing protection ear muffs while hunting and shooting

Hearing protection devices (HPDs) are critical for protecting your ears in proximity to firearms. Without proper precautions, even a single unprotected shot can cause permanent hearing damage. Wearing the right hearing protection is crucial, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. Here are some key factors to weigh when making your selection: 

Noise Reduction Rating (NRR)

an example of a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) label looks like as found on noise hearing protection devices

A Noise Reduction Rating is the number displayed on hearing protection products. This number indicates the maximum number of decibels (dB) a protection device can reduce the intensity of sounds. Products with higher NRRs offer greater noise reduction and protection.  

For shooting and hunting, a minimum NRR of 25 dB is recommended. For maximum protection, especially at busy shooting ranges, consider opting for ear protection with an NRR of 30 dB or higher. In some situations, it’s also advisable to double up on ear protection like wearing earmuffs and earplugs at the same time. 

Types of Hearing Protection 

When it comes to safeguarding your hearing on the shooting range or in the field, hearing protection devices should always be considered a standard part of your safety gear. There are many different types of HPDs to choose from, and each one varies in effectiveness for specific activities. 


Disposable foam earplugs are inexpensive, readily available, and when worn properly, offer an average NRR of 22-33 dB. Custom-molded earplugs offer a truly personalized fit that helps ensure maximum comfort and noise reduction. 


Earmuffs encompass the entire outer ear, creating a barrier that reduces noise levels, offering an NRR of 20-30 dB. When choosing the right earmuffs for your needs, consider the NRR, fit, and compatibility with your other gear like safety glasses or hats.  

Electronic HPDs

Both earplugs and earmuffs can be electronic. These higher-tech options combine the noise-blocking capabilities of traditional ear protection with electronic features. Electronic HPDs can amplify softer sounds like animal noises and suppress louder sounds like gunfire. This helps protect your hearing without sacrificing your focus or ability to safely enjoy the sport.

Best Hearing Protection Devices for Hunting 

Electronic HPDs offer the best overall protection for hunting. When worn correctly, they can effectively protect your ears, automatically suppress loud sounds like gunfire, and amplify sounds like animal calls.

Best Hearing Protection Devices for the Shooting Range 

When using a firearm at an indoor or outdoor shooting range, the best hearing protection option is wearing earmuffs over earplugs. At a shooting range, blocking out as much sound as possible is usually the most suitable route to protecting your hearing. This is especially true in an indoor shooting range since the sound won’t be able to dissipate as well in an enclosed space. 

Best Hearing Protection for Target Shooting 

While earmuffs over earplugs offer excellent hearing protection, when target shooting, this can limit your ability to hear surrounding noises and maintain situational awareness. For activities like target shooting or skeet shooting where mobility and awareness are important, custom-molded earplugs can be a great hearing protection option. 

Stay Active and Healthy – Get a Hearing Check-Up  

Protecting your hearing while shooting and hunting is essential to preserve your hearing health for years to come. By taking proactive measures like always wearing hearing protection and scheduling regular hearing exams, you can greatly minimize the risk of noise-induced hearing loss. 

Don’t wait until it’s too late – schedule a hearing consultation at an Audibel clinic near you today. 

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