I was packing up my safety glasses and ear muffs as well as some ear plugs and got to thinking about the importance of ear protection as well as eye protection when shooting a firearm. Your eye and ear protection are not generally the first thing you think of, but are an integral part of being safe while at the range. I’ll never forget my father shooting a snubnose Dan Wesson 357 Magnum and the noise was so intense outside that if you were close by it would nearly make your ears bleed. It was extremely painful and the ringing afterwards was persistent.
Ear protection is required by the EPA to have a marked NRR (noise reduction rating) and for shooting sports the higher the number the better. Most agencies suggest to derate the NRR from 25-75% so the bottom line is get the highest NRR number you can find and afford. It is suggested to use both foam earplugs and ear muffs for children, but it would also be good practice for adults as well.
I typically wear Howard Leight Impact Sport earmuffs given to me by my wife which have a microphone which amplifies ambient sound 82 dB and when the noise is louder it reverts to passive hearing protector with a NRR 22 rating.
The NRR for most earmuffs is 30 or below and for foam earplugs is generally 33 or below. While a reduction of 30 may sound impressive, remember a gunshot can be 140 dB (120 – 160 dB), pain begins at 125 dB and death of hearing tissue begins at 180 dB. It is extremely important to wear ear protection when shooting so remember to put your plugs in or your muffs on before you enter the range or any time the range is hot.