Professional Training


Generally speaking, hearing protection is the least likely part of our Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to be ignored while shooting. The reason for this is that the damage we incur without it isn’t a possibility, it’s a certainty. It’s also intensely uncomfortable to shoot without it.

There are many different types of hearing protection out there, and just as many conditions and preferences to consider. Below we’ll discuss some of the things to think about when making this very important decision.

The problem: Under 70 decibels (dB) is generally considered a “safe” environmental noise level by most governing bodies in the world. This is roughly equivalent to the inside of a car being driven at 60 miles per hour (unless it’s a Bentley). Most would agree that this is fairly quiet.

Firearms routinely exceed 140-dB and some rifles edge toward 175-dB. This, is significantly louder than what is safe and when we expose our delicate hearing system to it without protection, it’s destructive.

Prolonged exposure to high level noise will cause permanent, irreversible hearing loss.

In the past this hearing loss was an unfortunate hallmark of people that spent a lot of time shooting. Fortunately, technology has helped us both identify the danger and protect ourselves from it.

The solution: Put simply, the fix for loud noise damage is to stop it from entering our ears at the level it’s generated. We need to reduce the dB level to a safe exposure so that we can take in the information without the damaging effect. This isn’t as simple as it may seem.

Our initial response may be to reduce too much sound coming from our environment. There is hearing protection out there that will reduce our ability to sense very beneficial things, such as safety information (or your friendly instructor’s voice). The dangers in this are apparent. We need to maintain a level of awareness when handling forearms.

These hearing protection levels can also induce the “occlusion effect.” This is what occurs when low frequency (body induced) sounds are trapped in the ear canal and essentially become “louder” and distracting. Think of chewing or breathing taking the center stage rather than what your environment is telling you visually. This disparity can be a bad thing and at the very least… take your mind off other, more important things.

Electronic vs. Nonlinear

Excepting more traditional hearing protection devices (which are traditional “earmuffs”) there are two categories that most shooters today consider. We’ll start with Electronic.

This category includes include both “in ear” and external types of devices. Both involve the use of microphones and amplifiers that collect and deliver information (sound) to the ear at safe levels while blocking the more dangerous (higher) variety. This has several benefits that are apparent immediately. The first is that they make the world around the user seem normal in terms of sound. Conversational tones are easily heard even around the loudest firearms, without the wincing pain of that sharp “crack” hammering our cochlea. This advantage is considerable. The external variety is also easy to put on and take off. This is handy if you are shooting with others or are frequently moving in and out of loud areas (indoor ranges).

They do require batteries and if you aren’t prepared to replace them (see our tip on what to keep in your range bag) you can find yourself without their signal advantage.

Nonlinear devices are those that reduce sound levels mechanically. These can both be in the traditional earmuff form or “in ear” designs. Both work by valving or “gating” sound as it enters the device, delivering safe levels to the user. These are highly effective at limiting dangerous levels of noise to the user and require no batteries to replace. They are however, very dependent on proper fit. Custom models, shaped to the individual are available and we see them on the range more and more often.

Whichever of these options you choose… make sure you choose one and use it. We are of the mind that the first indication that your hearing protection could be better is that you constantly remove it. We like to put it on and forget it is there. Like any good tool, it should fade into the process… quietly.


Until next time, train smart.


Author Bio

Duane “Buck” Buckner

After spending 25 years in the USCG, Duane “Buck” Buckner is now the U.S. Director of Training for Aimpoint. The Aimpoint Training Division conducts training courses for military and law enforcement agencies up to the Federal level as well as for the prepared civilian. Buck is widely known for his emphasis on brain psychology as it relates to combat and survival.


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Posted by Duane Buckner, Aimpoint US Director of Training on Nov 22nd 2022