According to Sports Shooting USA, any sound over 120 decibels (dB) can damage your hearing. So a rock concert, generally clocking in at 100 dB, should be fine once in a while.
A nightclub at 110 db is pushing tolerance levels, and a jackhammer, which has been measured at 115 dB, is going to do more than set your teeth on edge – it’s going to jangle your ear bones close to their safe tolerance levels.
The world record holder for screaming? (No, we didn’t know that was a thing either). That’ll hit the magic number – 120 dB, with resultant potential hearing loss and damage over time.
That means the more you hunt with a gun and no ear protection, the more of your hearing you’re likely to lose over time – the risk of having a marked high-frequency hearing loss increases 7 percent for every five years you hunt unprotected.
You’re going to need some ear protection. But there’s a bewildering selection out there. To be effective in making your hunt ear-safe, and to qualify as among the best there is, you’re going to need something that reduces the dB count by over 20 at the very least.
We’ve got you covered – especially your ears. Here are the best hunting ear protection options available.
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Best Hunting Ear Protection - Comparison Table
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Best Hunting Ear Protection - Reviews
Testing relentlessly well among both reviewers and hunters, the Howard Leight R-01526 two-pack has a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of 22 dB, taking you straight into the safe zone for hearing loss.
Bang – job done?
Well, yes, but the way the Howard Leight R-01526 earmuffs are built highlights an important distinction among ear protectors – you don’t necessarily want something that blocks out all sound. Sound is one of your key instinctual triggers while hunting, and to simply block it all out could arguably do more harm than good.
The Howard Leight R-01526s deploy electronic ear protection – a set of directional microphones that amplify ambient sounds to a safe level of 82 dB.
If that weren’t clever enough, the earmuffs actively listen out for when sounds – including the sounds of guns discharging – exceed 82 dB, and immediately stop amplifying them at that level. The electronic ear protection is like a smart sonic wall, letting in the sounds you want, keeping out the sounds you don’t.
The earmuffs have been designed with hunters in mind, using something called Air Flow Control technology to allow them to use a slim earcup, so the stock of your gun has clearance while you’re shooting.
You can customize the padded headband too, so you’re not worrying about it slipping down when you’re ready to take your shot. And if the sound of electronic silence isn’t your thing, and you’re not listening out for the snap and snuffle of creatures in the undergrowth, you can plug in your favourite music or your radio station of choice while you hunt.
Overall, the combination of its impressive Noise Reduction Rating, the electronic sound-wall, the hunt-friendly design and the fact that they come in packs of two makes the Howard Leight R-01526 earmuffs our top recommendation.
Depending on your hunting needs though, also check out the R-01530 – it’s essentially the same product, but sold singly and available in camo-colors, rather than plain green or any of the more stand-out range-appropriate colors of the R-01526.
For hunters who find any kind of earmuff too bulky to take into the wild, or who have issues with shouldering their gun while wearing earmuffs, earplugs can be a great alternative. The SureFire EP4 Sonic Defender Plus earplugs are winning fans both on the range and on the hunt by blending a high level of technology, a low price point, a reputation for comfort and an impressive Noise Reduction Rate.
With filter plugs inserted, the SureFire plugs get you 24 dB of noise reduction. To hear normal sound levels, pop the filters out. Wax on, wax off – it’s that simple.
If you’re afraid of trying earplugs in case they fall out at a crucial moment, the SureFire plugs might be the answer to your prayers, with their patented EarLock technology making use of seven contact points to ensure the plugs don’t work loose or lose their lock.
They also have triple-flanged plug stems, so they’ll fit you comfortably all day long.
The SureFire plugs use a clever filter mechanism called a Hocks Noise Braker to disperse sound as it heads towards your ear canal. That’s how they achieve such a high NRR in a small pair of plugs. If you’re not sure about using earmuffs, give the SureFire Sonic Defenders a try.
The Caldwell E-Max Low Profile earmuffs, like the Howard Leight offering that leads our selection, amplifies sounds below 85 dB, so you don’t miss out on the normal sounds of nature and/or communication.
Microphones in each ear-cup give wearers true stereo sound, meaning no loss of precision when you’re looking for sound sources. But at the moment of sharp loud sounds like gunfire, the microphones shut off for a split second. That means you’re protected from specific, loud, damaging noise.
The level of ambient noise you hear is easily controllable by a simple dial, but the earmuffs deliver 23 dB noise reduction when you need it. The slim ear-cup also allows for clear shooting with no interruption, making for a pair of earmuffs many users are calling ‘the best they’ve ever used,’ particularly at their low price-point.
The ClearArmour 14001 earmuffs mix the highest NRR on our list (an impressive 31 dB!) and an advanced design with a lot of proprietary technology, giving you lots of hush for your buck. Using something called SonicSeal technology, once they’re on, these earmuffs are going nowhere unless you want them to.
They also have ear-cup ‘SoundBlocker’ shells that are a quarter-inch thick, and layers of proprietary noise dampening foam in their cups, to stop different levels of noise from damaging your hearing.
With swivelling ear-cups, and an adjustable padded headband, ClearArmor has developed a pair of earmuffs designed to stay put, stay comfortable and protect you from more damaging noise than almost anything else on the market.
On the other hand, by going for a physical foam-based solution, the company has introduced the issue of chunky, clunky size and some users have reported the headband and SonicSeal technology actually keeps the earmuffs on too tightly at first, making them one to wear in like a good pair of boots.
The thickness of the ear-cups might also be an issue for some hunters, though rifle-shooters have also reported they work well with their weapons of choice.
The ClearAmor earmuffs would be higher up our list but for the thickness of the ear-cups. Their NRR is definitely impressive, and while they might be chunky on a hunt, they’re a solid choice for ear protection.
Peltor’s Sport Tactical 100 earmuffs make it onto our list because not only do they do what they need to do, giving you a NRR of 22 dB, but they add extra functions which make them especially useful to hunters.
In common or garden situations, for instance, having deep-set microphones might feel like just a design choice. Get out on a hunt with them though, and you realise there’s method in the mic-placement.
They allow for wind-noise reduction, which can make the difference between a successful hunt and a failed one. Cut the wind-noise, and undergrowth sounds are heard more clearly and with a better idea of direction.
These earmuffs also allow you to mix your favourite music with ambient sounds, and still hear everything you need to hear while out on a hunt. They even add echo reduction to their clever mix of functions, so you’re not misdirected by multipath sound signals.
Best Hunting Ear Protection - Buyers Guide
Ear protection is an essential part of any modern hunter’s kit – the alternative is progressive hearing loss over time.
But ear protection is almost as individual as a prescription for glasses. You’ve got to find something that works for you long term, is comfortable on your hunts, and above all, delivers the functions you want as well as the noise reduction you need.
Pick your protector
Earmuffs would probably be the recommended choice eight times out of ten. But there are people who find them intrusive or uncomfortable, no matter what they do or how they’re designed. Your choice will come down to a combination of physical discomfort and personal temperament.
Get to know your ears, and your temperament – can you stand to use earmuffs long term on your hunt, or are you more comfortable with earplugs? If you have no problem with earmuffs, you still might want to invest in some earplugs as an alternative or to add extra ear protection to some pairs of earmuffs.
Crunch the numbers
The Noise Reduction Rating has been questioned by some groups, but it’s a solid ready reckoner for loud, sharp noises that can damage your hearing.
The equation for hunters is straightforward – in most cases, you’ll need ear protection with an NRR of at least 20 dB, and anything which dampens noises over 85 dB will serve you and your ears well.
Choose your usage
There’s ear protection out there that can be used in a range of situations, from hedge-trimming to industrial work, from the range to the wild. Decide whether you’re going to spend money on ear protection you can use in your day-to-day home or work life, or whether you’re going to go for something that’s hunt-specific, with special considerations or features for your needs when you’re out hunting.
You can find ear protection that’s most suited to home and work use, ear protection that excels on the range, and ear protection with those extra flourishes of hunt-specific thinking that set them apart. Be sure you know what you want your particular ear protection to do, and where you want it to perform best.
Electronic or passive?
There are two real approaches to ear protection: electronic and passive. Passive is simple – it usually means a physical barrier between the source of the sound and your ear canal. It’s the ear protection equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears. It will stop you hearing damaging noises, but it might also stop you hearing much of anything else, whether that’s the useful noise of animal movement or conversation from your hunt-buddy.
It’s also not usually very sophisticated in what it offers you on a hunt. Electronic is the smarter, tech-heavy option – it can boost ambient sounds so you can still hear everything you need to hear but get protection from sounds at dangerous decibel levels. But if you go electronic, you’re trusting the length of your hunt to the battery life of your ear protectors.
There’s no denying the benefits that electronic ear protection can bring though, so really, it’s comparing six of one with more or less a dozen of the other. Go electronic where possible. Take extra batteries. Happy hunting, happy hearing.
Bells and whistles?
Most often a factor in choosing your electronic ear protection, some manufacturers take the needs of hunters specifically into consideration when designing their products. Do you need extra-thin earcups to facilitate your shoot?
Would wind-noise reduction make a difference to your hunting? There are a world of options out there – have some idea of things that would help you, because then you’ll know what’s worth paying for, and what, for you, are just extra bells and whistles with no purpose.
Like any product you’re going to wear for a long time, be sure you buy ear protection that’s comfortable. You don’t want to find yourself out on your hunt being distracted by a headband that slips or earmuffs that crush your head like a grape.
All the bells and whistles in the world won’t help you if you don’t want to wear your ear protection because it hurts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I really need ear protection?
Yes. There are some arguments about how the Noise Reduction Rate is calculated, but the impact of exposure to loud noise is hard fact. Ear protection should be as much a part of your kit as your gun.
Passive or electronic?
This depends on what suits you best. For more effective hunting, most sources would say electronic, because electronic lets you do more, like hear boosted ambient sounds while it protects you from damaging noise levels. But if passive suits you better, go with your instincts. After all, it’s your hunt, your ear protection needs to suit your needs.
What should I pay for ear protection?
Ultimately, this depends on how high you want your NRR and what other bells and whistles you want attached to the basics of your ear protection. There are several options for ear protection that deliver reasonable NRR and some hunting-specific bells and whistles without breaking the bank – we’ve listed a handful right here. But only you really know what you want your ear protection to do besides protecting your hearing, and only you know your disposable budget.
Pay for higher NRR, pay for the specific bells and whistles that will help you out on the hunt, and pay for comfort, because those are essential elements of the right ear protection for you. Focus on those essentials and don’t make false economies. Compromise on NRR and you leave yourself open to hearing loss, which is permanent and might well cost you more to supplement down the line.
Compromise on comfort and you’ll add an unnecessary pain to your hunting trips. Compromise on the bells and whistles that would genuinely help you and every time you use your less expensive, whistle-free ear protection, you’ll remember that you could have had one with the bells and whistles you wanted, and that it would have enhanced your hunting trips.
That’s a one-way trip to dissatisfaction and less successful hunting. Choose the right bells and whistles at the start, commit to paying for them because they’ll improve your hunting trips while protecting your hearing, and you’ll have a better, happier hunting future.