One of the largest user groups for hearing protection is sport shooters. They include skeet, trap and target shooters plus hunters. And they range from weekend shooters at the local range, to professional and competitive shooters. What I have found all of these shooters have in common is a similar start. Whether old or young, learning from a family member or a range instructor, universally the first thing taught on day one is gun safety. Part of that training involves learning about personal protective equipment, including safety glasses and hearing protection.
Shooters understand right from the start that hearing protection when shooting prevents hearing loss. This loss can occur instantaneously, with a single shot, or happen gradually over time. I have spoken to many individuals that fall into both camps. Knowing that hearing protection is a necessary piece of equipment, the next step is determining which type of hearing protection to use.
Several factor go into determining which hearing protection is best for you. From a performance perspective, the level of sound reduction is extremely important. And this can vary whether shooting is taking place outdoors, or at an indoor range. They type of gun being used will also determine the protection needed. To help compare various devices, the EPA requires labeling on all hearing protection packaging. This label, called the Noise Reduction Rating, is a single number, in decibels, that helps the consumer determine performance.
The Noise Reduction Rating or NRR, is determined using an ANSI standard for testing. All hearing protection follows the same test procedure, on a number of individuals, across multiple frequencies from high (high pitch) to low (deep low sounds). All of the measurements, averages and standard deviations are compiled and put into a complicated formula that arrives at one number, the NRR. in general, the higher the NRR, the more sound is being reduced.
Another important consideration is comfort. Very obviously, if something is uncomfortable to wear, you won't wear it and if it is comfortable, you will be more likely to use it. Comfort is very subjective and depends entirely on the individual. That is why you see now three forms of hearing protection, ear muffs that cover the outside of the ear, ear plugs that get inserted deep into the ear canal and the SensGard ZEM that seats at the outside of the ear canal.
Once performance and comfort are determined, secondary features become important. In general, the feeling of isolation or not being able to hear normal sounds while wearing hearing protection is considered a negative. Electronic ear muffs were developed using electronics to allow the shooter to be protected and still hear important sounds. There are also electronic ear plugs that do the same. The SensGard ZEM technology also protects against damaging noise while allowing speech and other useful sounds to be heard, using patented technology that does not require batteries or electronics.
Another important feature is size and ease of use. Again, in general, the smaller the better strictly in terms of taking up less space. Several models of ear muffs are designed to fold down to a smaller size. The SensGard units fold to fit in a shirt pocket. Ear plugs occupy the smallest space. Ease of use also includes how easy they are to put on and what you do with them when not in use. Ear plugs, when inserted properly, take the most effort to insert properly. The ear lobe should be pulled down with one hand while the ear plug is inserted as deeply as possible into the ear canal. Ear muffs get pulled apart and placed around the ears. The SensGard units have a quick three step process to wear properly. Additionally, when not in use, they can be dropped around the neck, ready when needed.
Another important feature with sport shooters concerns the gun stock. Ear muffs often interfere with the gun stock, while ear plugs and the SensGard units do not. This really effects shooters of all types and skill level.
When choosing your hearing protection for shooting, determine the level of performance you need, what is most comfortable for you and what additional features are important to you.
Below is a link to a you tube video created by shooters that purchased our NRA logo units. From a shooting perspective, this should give you some idea of how our product works on the range.