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Choosing the right ear defenders is serious safety business which means it’s essential that you do your research first!
So, before going any further, let us all be in full agreement that shooting regularly without hearing protection will result in loss/damage to our hearing (I consider that anyone shooting a couple of times a month, a 'regular shot').
It is also very important for parents and anybody taking youngsters shooting to note that - young ears damage very quickly and easily and therefore it’s essential that they all wear full ear defenders over their ears whenever they are shooting or close to others shooting! (Most important. Please note: ear plugs will not be sufficient protection for the long term hearing of youngsters engaged in regular shooting)
So, now safety's been considered, the first thing to ask is - what basic criteria should I be looking for when buying ear defenders?
There are 3 main things to keep in mind:
Firstly, think about your budget.
A quality pair of electronic ear defenders will not leave you much change out of £150.00 (and you could actually pay up to £500). Passive ear defenders should cost around £20/£30, ear plugs around £10.00 and the disposable sponge plugs, just a few pence.
Secondly, do you want electronic or passive?
I would suggest that anyone involved in game shooting should invest in the best quality electronic ear defenders that they can afford.
As all experienced game shots are aware; being able to hear all the natural low frequency noises associated with shooting in the field, is essential to feeling fully alert and aware (cracking of twigs, tapping of beaters sticks, cracking of beaters flags, warning whistles and cries from the beating line, whirring of game birds wings breaking from cover and most important 'drive' start/end signals).
Clay shots may be happy to settle for passive ear defenders as they do not need to be so alert to other background low frequency noises. In fact some would prefer to lessen the possible distraction from background noises when they are shooting competitively. However, there are others who like to be very tuned in to the sounds of clays being released from the traps.
Lastly (but most important), think about comfort!
There are some shooters (game and clay) who just cannot feel comfortable wearing ear defenders over their ears. Some do not seem to be able to mount their guns without knocking their gun stocks against the defenders, which they find very off putting (I genuinely believe that this category have not practised their 'gun mounting' sufficiently or they have poorly fitting ear defenders).
Some shots are actually unable to wear ear defenders because they feel 'shut off' even to the point of feeling claustrophobic and/or 'off balance'. These unfortunates should wear the best quality and best fitting ear plugs that suit their budget.
Having explored the criteria, here are my suggestions to help you find the right ear protection.
Personally I would be lost without always having a pair of electronic ear defenders to hand. Given the many thousands of shot blasts from my pupil's guns during coaching sessions, I would have been rendered profoundly deaf without them. I also would find it very difficult to engage in normal conversation with my pupils if I could not hear normal low frequency voice naturally.
Top 5 Hearing Protections
I would rate these ear defenders the highest in terms of manufacture and quality. They’re great for protecting against high frequency impact noises. However, they also enhance your hearing, allowing you to actually hear better with the ear defenders on than off.
The manufacturers of the new 3m Peltor Sportacs advise us that these ear defenders allow “hunters to better control what they hear – and don’t hear. They can easily adjust the volume of surrounding sounds and even filter out certain unwanted frequencies with a special equalizer function.” Furthermore, the “built in Bluetooth solution makes it possible for wireless connection to a mobile phone or other communication device for instant communication.”
These ear defenders are a personal favourite simply because I find them so comfortable! They have soft foam ear pads and a fully adjustable padded headband. They are also extremely lightweight and simple to use. In addition to providing excellent protection from loud high frequency sounds, they also enhance the shooters ability to select a volume level to best filter low frequency sounds.
These are another favourite amongst the shooting community. They are equipped with a function to adjust noise level, resulting in improved sound quality and comfort for the shooter. The headband is also foldable, making it easy to carry around.
This is a pair of what we call passive ear defenders, and so they do not include batteries, electronics and valves. They are made to direct damaging sounds away from the ear, whilst simultaneously allowing you to hear speech around you. They are also comfortable, very lightweight, foldable and completely weatherproof.
These ear plugs are a cheaper option available if you have a limited budget. They have a soft silicone rubber cushion for comfort and mechanical valve which allows the wearer to hear normal conversation yet protects hearing from impact sounds.
Please remember that we have just the one pair of ears and damaged hearing is generally permanent!