Hearing Protection- The Great Debate

In gun circles there are a great many debates.   These confusing debates can lead one to question oneself: “is my choice right or wrong?  Do I need to change?”  Opinions abound, should I only wear white after Memorial Day?  Or does that only apply to snow states?   Should my toenail polish match my fingernails?  Basically, it’s opinion: yours, mine, hers, and ours.    Rely on experts and experience of friends – and Remember – folks are giving their opinions, based on what works for them:  their opinion.  And you know what they say – Opinions are like noses, everyone has one.  Two sides of the same coin takes one of the discussions that seem to lead to volatile conversations and looks at all sides.

The question on the table today is Hearing Protection.   Which are better?  Plugs, Muffs or custom molded? Join us and I hope I don’t dive too deep into the data,  but with hearing ratings, some of it is necessary for understanding what choice you are making.

Question:   What do y’all use for your ear protection? I hate my pink “Mickey Mouse Ears” and the custom molds that I had done don’t work. Looking for a relatively inexpensive way to hear but mute the gun fire.   Are muffs better or are plugs?

Answer:  There are three types of hearing protection that are commonly used on the range;  ear plugs, ear muffs and custom fit ear molds.   There are advantages and disadvantages of each that involve personal preference, hair style, jewelry, glasses etc.  Trial and error once your gain an understanding of what you are selecting is the best way to find what works for you.

First,  let’s discuss the primary reason for wearing hearing protection – noise reduction.   Noise is measured in decibels,   hearting protection is measured in NRR – noise reduction rating.  They do not subtract one from another in easily understood math – instead it is a somewhat convoluted calculation.   The easy thing to know is that the higher the NRR rating, the more protection you are receiving.

Sound / Noise over a prolonged period can cause hearing damage, and any singular extremely loud sound can cause immediate damage (and ear pain).   The goal of hearing protection is to minimize the potential.     Have you ever gotten into your car of a morning, and thought WOW – I have to turn that radio down.   Over the course of a day of being subjected to a variety of noises, our hearing gets dulled and thus you find yourself  turning up the TV or the Radio in the evening.  Hearing protection is hearing preservation.

In searching for information on gun fire, decibels and hearing protection, there are several good reference websites that I dug up.   They are listed below and are good if you want to start to do additional research.

The successful use of ear plugs is dependent upon them being inserted correctly.  If you look at someone and can see more than ½ of their earplugs – they are not inserted properly and should be removed and re-inserted.  It is important that the plugs be rolled to the smallest tube you can prior to inserting them into your ears, and also important to hold your finger over them and in place while they re-inflate.   Then and only then can they do the job they are designed to do.

Custom molded plugs offer a medium level of protection and ease the concerns about inserting them correctly because they are custom molded to your ears.

Critical to ear muffs success in use is getting them seated over your ears, fully enveloping and cupping your ears inside the muff.   Dangly earrings are the enemy here – not only do they cut into your head, but they also hold the muffs away from your head and prevent the seal that is necessary for sound blockage.

While the lowering of the decibel level by 10 points does not seem like much, it is.   With every 10 decibels – it changes the noise level by a multiple of 10.   Just think of it like this…   40 decibels is 1000 units,   50 decibels is 10,000 units,  60 decibels is 100,000 units.    Dropping your noise level by a multiple of 10 counts.

The chart below describes a comparison of general noises that we all recognize and  the second chart offers firearms that cover the gamut of calibers.   Website research offers a generalized firearms  level at 140 dB, yet the specifics of the most common firearms do not fall that low in the noise categories.

The choice of plugs, muffs or custom molded plugs is a personal preference.   It doesn’t matter which one you select, but please do not elect to forgo hearing protection.  Always wear your safety gear.    Enjoy and SAFE shooting.

Chart 1:   General noises & their levels


150 dB = Rock Concerts at Peak
140 dB = Firearms, Air-Raid Siren, Jet Engine
130 dB = Jackhammer
120 dB = Jet Plane Take-off, Amplified Music

Extremely loud:

110 dB = Machinery, Model Airplanes
100 dB = Snowmobile, Chain saw

90 dB = Lawnmower, Shop Tools, Truck Traffic

Very loud:

80 dB = Alarm Clock, Busy Street
70 dB = Vacuum Cleaner
60 dB = Conversation, Dishwasher


50 dB = Moderate Rainfall
40 dB = Quiet room


30 dB = Whisper, Quiet Library


Chart 2: Firearms decibel levels


164 dB = .357 Magnum Handgun

161 dB =  12 Gauge Shotgun – 18” barrel

159 dB = 9mm Handgun

158 dB = .30-06 Rifle with 24” barrel

157 dB = .45 ACP Handgun

156 dB =  .30-30 Rifle with 20” barrel

.308 Rifle with 24” barrel

.38 special Handgun

155 dB =  .223 Rifle with 18” barrel

151 dB =  12 Gauge Shotgun  with 28” barrel


Data gathered from the fx354-q80ollowing websites: