Hearing loss is a serious risk for shooters. The average gunshot is approximately 140 decibels, and some firearms are so loud a single shot can cause immediate and permanent hearing damage. Thankfully, there are many methods shooters can use to protect our hearing. However, the best shooting ear protection for your shooting needs can sometimes be difficult to pin down.
As with most products, quality and effectiveness vary, so how can a shooter know which ear pro models are worth the investment and which deserve a hard pass? Knowing what to look for will go a long way in helping you decide on the best hearing protection for your shooting needs.
In this article we’re going to walk you through the different types of ear protection, how they work, and what key features to look for. We even share a few of our favorite models to help you narrow down the vast field of options.
Table of Contents
- Why Shooters Need to Protect Their Hearing?
- Understanding NRR
- Types of Ear Protection for Shooters
- Can I Use Noise Cancelling Headphones for Shooting?
- Best Shooting Ear Protection on the Market Reviews
- Best Electronic Hearing Protection
- 1 MSA Sordin Supreme Pro X Premium Electronic Earmuff
- 2 Howard Leight Impact Sport Electronic Shooting Earmuff
- 3 Walker’s Razor Slim Electronic Muffs
- 4 Howard Leight Impact Pro Electronic Shooting Earmuff
- 5 3M Peltor Sport Tactical 500 Smart Electronic Hearing Protector
- Best Passive Hearing Protection
- 6 Decibel Defense Professional Safety Ear Muffs
- 7 3M Peltor Sport Shotgunner II Low-Profile Hearing Protector
- 8 Pro For Sho Shooting Ear Protection
- 9 Decibullz Custom Molded Ear Plugs
- 10 SureFire EP3 Sonic Defenders Filtered Earplugs
- Final Thoughts
Why Shooters Need to Protect Their Hearing?
Intense high-decibel sounds can cause tiny injuries to the basilar membrane and organ of Corti deep inside your ears. As those microscopic inner ear injuries heal, scar tissue forms, which can cause still more damage to these sensitive organs. Over time, cumulative noise exposure can cause extensive and irreversible damage to your inner ear, resulting in major hearing loss.
NRR stands for Noise Reduction Rating. This is a rating specified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is typically measured in decibels. NRR is an indicator of how effective your ear protection is at reducing noise levels.
When you wear your ear pro (either for hunting or target shooting at the range), the noise your ears are exposed to is equal to the total decibel level minus the NRR of your headset, muffs, or plugs.
For example, that 140-decibel gunshot is reduced to a less damaging 116 decibels when you wear ear protection with an NRR of 24. The higher the NRR, the more protection your ear pro provides.
Types of Ear Protection for Shooters
Ear protection for shooters generally falls into two categories - electronic headsets and passive ear protection (which includes ear muffs and ear plugs).
Headsets and muffs can be big and bulky, and may get in the way when you’re shooting, especially if you’re using a long gun. Earplugs, on the other hand, fit directly in your ear where they won’t interfere with your shooting form.
Can I Use Noise Cancelling Headphones for Shooting?
While technically you can, you probably shouldn’t.
Noise cancelling headphones work well for filtering out continuous ambient noise that is softer than the loudest sound the headphones make. Gunfire is loud. Much louder than any ambient background noise. While noise cancelling headphones may muffle the sound of a gunshot, they won’t be as effective as proper hearing protection.
Best Shooting Ear Protection on the Market Reviews
Not sure where to start? Here are some of the best rated ear pro models on the market today.
Best Electronic Hearing Protection
1 MSA Sordin Supreme Pro X Premium Electronic Earmuff
Need a headset that allows you to communicate with your shooting buddies while protecting your ears from loud gunshots? The MSA Sordin Supreme Pro X is perfect for the job. These electronic earmuffs conform to international military specs, create excellent digital sound reproduction, and are incredibly durable.
These high-quality earmuffs compress peak sounds to 82 decibels while also amplifying quieter noises up to four times. This allows for optimal situational hearing without distracting background noise. The headset also includes an aux input port so you can easily connect an external radio. This makes this headset perfect for tactical applications.
Sordin Supreme Pro X muffs are built to withstand rugged conditions. With moving parts made from steel, a durable leather headband, and waterproofed electrical components, this ear pro can handle just about anything a shooter can dish out.
2 Howard Leight Impact Sport Electronic Shooting Earmuff
These super comfortable, lightweight electronic shooting muffs feature built-in directional microphones that work to amplify range commands and other ambient sounds. While you can easily carry on a conversation with your shooting buddies while wearing these, the device automatically shuts off amplification when sounds reach 82 decibels. It also has a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 22.
Howard Leight muffs are made with low profile ear cups that offer plenty of stock clearance, so you can comfortably shoot your rifle or shotgun. They also provide ample noise reduction, so they work quite well at the indoor shooting range or with a high caliber pistol.
If that’s not enough to love, you can get all these features for a price tag under $100.
3 Walker’s Razor Slim Electronic Muffs
These ultra-low profile electronic muffs are compact, lightweight, and incredibly comfortable. However, Walker made sure that they didn’t sacrifice hearing protection or amplification properties for size and comfort.
Razor Slim Muffs deliver an impressive noise reduction rating (NRR) of 23 decibels and have a 0.02 second response time. They also feature omni-directional microphones and full dynamic range HD speakers to provide the clearest audio performance possible.
These muffs also have a soft padded headband, so you can wear them all day long without getting a headache. They also feature a compact folding design that makes them easy to transport in the field or tuck in your range bag.
4 Howard Leight Impact Pro Electronic Shooting Earmuff
We love Howard Leight ear pro so much we had to include more than one model on this list. Like the Impact Sport earmuffs, Impact Pro muffs amplify range commands and other ambient sounds to a safe 82 decibels. However, the Pro model takes noise protection up a notch by offering 30 decibels of protection.
Impact Pro earmuffs feature a deluxe padded headband with easy height adjustability so you always get the perfect fit. While these muffs provide extra protection over the Impact Sport model, they are significantly more bulky. These are best suited for handgun shooting, as the size of the muffs could interfere with achieving a proper cheek weld.
5 3M Peltor Sport Tactical 500 Smart Electronic Hearing Protector
Ideal for both indoor and outdoor shooting, these electronic ear muffs from 3M Peltor offer a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 26 decibels.
This high-tech ear pro also has a clear voice tracking feature that looks for voices among ambient noise, filtering speech so you can better understand range commands and conversations.
Another awesome high-tech feature is the device’s Dynamic Suppression Time. This feature measures the energy in gunshot noise and automatically sets suppression time to reduce uncomfortable echoes.
What really sets this model apart from other electronic models on our list is the Bluetooth connectivity. With these 3M Peltor muffs, you can connect your smartphone to stream music or make phone calls without ever having to remove your ear pro.
Best Passive Hearing Protection
6 Decibel Defense Professional Safety Ear Muffs
With an NRR of 37 decibels, these professional grade safety muffs from Decibel Defense have one of the highest noise reduction ratings in the industry.
Not only do these muffs offer major hearing protection, they also get a five-star rating for comfort. They are designed with an adjustable padded headband and comfortably padded ear cells. These features make these muffs easy to wear all day long. They also come in a larger size to fit shooters with big heads, and they come in a rainbow of colors.
With a price tag well under $50, these safety ear muffs definitely offer some serious value for the money.
7 3M Peltor Sport Shotgunner II Low-Profile Hearing Protector
These muffs from 3M Peltor are some of the slimmest on our list. They also feature a special cut-away cup design, so they won’t interfere with your cheek weld. Despite their slim, compact, lightweight design, 3M Peltor Shotgunner II muffs offer an NRR of 24 decibels.
The muffs are made with soft, padded rings that produce an effective seal while still remaining comfortable for extended shooting sessions. They also fold up for easy storage when not in use, so they won’t take up much space in your range bag.
8 Pro For Sho Shooting Ear Protection
Although Pro for Sho definitely isn’t one of the big brand names in the shooting world, their industrial grade ear muffs are some of the best on the market. They have an impressive noise reduction rating of 34 decibels. We certainly didn’t expect to find a budget priced option with that kind of NRR, but here they are.
These muffs are also comfortable, lightweight, and surprisingly durable. They feature a fully adjustable padded headband with just the right amount of elasticity for a perfectly comfortable fit.
Pro For Sho ear pro is also conveniently collapsible, so you can easily stow them in the corner of your gear bag.
9 Decibullz Custom Molded Ear Plugs
If protective ear muffs aren’t exactly your cup of tea, you may want to give these molded ear plugs from Decibullz a try. Made from cutting-edge thermoplastic, Decibullz quickly mold to fit the exact shape of your ear. This creates a perfect fit that is surprisingly comfortable, provides superior noise reduction (they have an NRR of 31 decibels), and keeps your ear pro from ever falling out.
These plugs actually rely on natural pressure points inside your ear to keep them comfortably in place. You could literally hang upside down from a tree, tumble down a mountain, or turn somersaults across the gun range, and these ear plugs will stay right in your ears where they belong.
The plugs are easily re-moldable, so if they get tossed in the laundry along with your favorite tactical pants, you can simply remold them to fit your ears. Since these ear plugs will fit literally any ear, they are a favorite of women shooters who sometimes have trouble finding ear pro that fits properly.
10 SureFire EP3 Sonic Defenders Filtered Earplugs
These reusable earplugs have a noise reduction rating of 24 decibels. They feature soft, adjustable double-flanged stems that seal off the ear canal to protect you from dangerous inner ear damage.
EP3 Sonic Defenders feature patented EarLock retention rings. These rings use seven separate points of contact inside your ear to lock the plugs in place. These things are guaranteed not to fall out, even during vigorous activity. The retention rings also ensure the earpieces fit the same way every single time you wear them.
EP3 Sonic Defenders have a minimalist, low-profile design that won’t get in the way of your helmet, mask, or hat. You can also use these plugs as supplemental protection under a standard set of protective ear muffs. The thin design keeps your Sonic Defenders out of the way of your primary ear pro, so you can wear both comfortably, even for extended periods.
We love to shoot, but playing it safe in the field and on the range is an absolute necessity. Like most things in the world of shooting, there is no single perfect way to protect your ears from internal damage. Ultimately, the best shooting ear protection is what feels most comfortable to you while adequately protecting your hearing, so you can continue in the sport for the long haul.