You only have one set of ears.
Shooting is a fun pastime, but it’s not worth sacrificing your hearing for.
Shooting exposes your ears to very loud noises that can cause long-term damage to your hearing as well as conditions such as tinnitus.
Given how important your hearing is, it makes sense to choose some high-quality ear defenders for shooting. This is especially true if you go shooting regularly.
If you take children to the shooting range, you also need to make sure they also have some good ear muffs to protect their more sensitive ears.
Best Electronic Ear Defenders for Shooting
1. 3M Peltor SportTac Headset
The 3M Peltor SportTac ear defenders are some of the best out there when it comes to quality of construction.
They’re designed specifically for shooting and hunting, and with an SNR rating of 26 dB, they do an excellent job of dealing with the noise of shots.
These ear muffs are electronic, so they will amplify the quiet noises around you while detecting and reducing the sound of loud noises.
- SNR: 26 dB
- Each pair comes with interchangeable green and orange shells
- Hearing protector level can be adjusted to your requirements
- Battery life of around 600 hours
- Takes 2 x AAA batteries (included)
- Very easy to open and close when you need to change the batteries
- Adjustable headband means you can get comfy
- Quiet sounds can be heard clearly while loud sounds are cut out
- Very good sound quality
- Strong steel headband
- The design of the on/off switch makes it quite easy to accidentally switch on
- Quite expensive (but worth it for saving your hearing)
- Your head will probably get sweaty wearing them
- Not waterproof
The 3M Peltor SportTac ear defenders are great for grouse hunting and clay pigeon shooting.
They are extremely efficient in cutting out gunshot sounds without cutting out lower volume noises.
The only real drawback with these ear protectors is that they aren’t waterproof, which is quite common for electronic ear muffs but can be a serious problem in the UK.
Read our full review of the 3M Peltor SportTac ear defenders here.
2. MSA Sordin Supreme Pro X
MSA Sordin ear defenders are widely regarded as some of the best electronic ear defenders for shooting on the market.
However, they’re also some of the most expensive ear defenders you can buy, so it makes sense to weigh up their pros and cons carefully before purchasing a pair.
- NRR: 18 dB
- Folding headband
- 2 waterproof microphones for a stereo effect
- Waterproof battery area
- Suitable for left- and right-handed shooters
- Aux input for connecting other audio devices
- Takes 2 AAA batteries
- IP67 rated (can withstand being immersed in water)
- Long battery life (around 600 hours)
- Practically waterproof
- Detailed microphone gives realistic sound and picks up conversation well
- Takes AAA batteries—cheap to replace
If you can afford them, the MSA Sordin Supreme Pro X are some of the best electronic ear muffs for shooting on the market.
However, cheaper options like the 3M Peltor SportTacs will do a more than adequate job for most people, which is why these ear defenders aren’t first on our list.
The MSA Sordin Supreme Pro X ear defenders appear to have a very low NRR of just 18 dB. However, different brands have different methods for determining the NRR, so it’s likely that MSA Sordin are particularly conservative in their testing methods.
Most people who use these ear defenders are surprised to learn that the NRR is officially so low, since the noise reduction they offer in practice is at least as good as rival ear muffs with higher NRR or SNR scores.
These ear defenders can be bought with gel inserts (that cost extra) to improve the seal and fill in any gaps, which is especially useful if you’re wearing spectacles. They will also improve the noise reduction.
3. Honeywell 1013530 Howard Leight Impact Sport Earmuff
These electronic ear muffs block out gun shots and other sudden loud noises while amplifying quieter ambient sounds to enhance your shooting experience and hear what other people are saying.
- SNR: 25 dB
- Amplifies ambient sounds up to 82 dB (about the volume of a telephone ringing) and reduces louder sounds
- Battery life of around 350 hours
- Takes 2 x AAA batteries (included)
- Made by Honeywell, a reputable industrial work gear brand
- Very comfy even when used for several hours. Can be adjusted to fit large heads.
- Effective at reducing the sound of gunshot and amplifying quieter ambient sounds
- Good value for money
- Controls are easy to use
- Shorter battery life when compared to the 3M PELTOR SportTac Hearing Protectors
- Might be too large if you have a small head
The Howard Leight Electronic Folding Earmuffs by Honeywell are excellent for blocking out loud gunshot noises while amplifying quieter noises so you can carry on a conversation with your shooting partners.
They’re cheaper than the 3M Peltor SportTac Hearing Headset reviewed above, but have a considerably shorter battery life at around 350 hours rather than 600 hours.
4. Awesafe Electronic Shooting Sports Folding Earmuff
If you’re looking for a budget pair of electronic ear defenders, this pair from Awesafe offers amazing value for money.
They limit noises to a maximum of 82 dB, protecting you from dangerously loud sounds (85 dB is usually cited as the safe limit).
- NRR: 22 dB
- Takes 2 AAA batteries (included)
- Aux input for connecting a phone or MP3 player etc.
- Reduce sounds over 82 dB
- Omni-directional microphones
- Carrying case included
- Adjustable headband
- Great value for money
- Batteries last a long time
- Can be uncomfortable
- Not from an established brand
A lot of people find these ear defenders work just as well as more expensive alternatives from better-known brands such as Peltor.
They offer amazing value for money, and are much cheaper than most other electronic ear defenders (at the time of writing). However, some people find them uncomfortable.
Best Passive Ear Defenders for Shooting
1. Peltor Bull’s Eye I Ear Defenders
These ear defenders from respected hearing protection brand 3M’s Peltor range are designed specifically for shooting. The cups are designed so that they won’t get in the way and distract you while you’re shooting.
- 27 dB SNR
- Collapsible headband
- Replaceable cushions and inserts for improved hygiene
- Adjustable ear cups
- Good value for money
- Folds down to make them easily portable
- Effective at dampening loud noises
- SNR is quite low for passive ear defenders—not ideal for long shooting sessions
These ear defenders are very comfortable to wear. They feel light and don’t get in the way when you’re shooting.
However, the SNR is relatively low at 27 dB, so you might want to get something with more protection if you’re shooting for long periods of time.
2. 3M Peltor Optime III Ear Muffs
A good passive (non-electronic) alternative to the 3M Peltor SportTac ear defenders is this pair of ear muffs, also from 3M.
The 3M Peltor Optime III Ear Muffs protect your ears from sounds as loud as 95-110 decibels. Since they’re not electronic, they will block out both loud and quiet noises.
These ear muffs come in a universal size, and can be adjusted to fit using the headband.
They effectively seal the ears off from outside noise.
- SNR 35 dB
- Adjustable headband
- Hygiene kit included
- Lots of space inside the ear cups so your ears can breathe
- Very effective at cutting down loud sounds
- Headband can be adjusted
- Should fit any adult’s head
- Tight but still comfy. They can be used for hours.
- Quite bulky and might get in the way depending on what you’re doing
- Not electronic, so they don’t amplify quiet noises. This makes them less good for hunting and grouse shooting.
The 3M Peltor Optime III Ear Muffs are some of the best passive ear defenders out there. They’re very well designed and effectively reduce even the loudest noises.
If you don’t need electronic ear defenders that amplify quiet noises, you can save a lot of money buy buying these instead.
In addition to shooting, these ear defenders are a good choice for racing or using in noisy work environments like airports and factories, or just blocking out traffic sounds or noisy neighbours.
3. Vanderfields NR35X2 Ear Defenders
The Vanderfields NR35X2 Ear Defenders could be a good budget alternative to more expensive products from 3M Peltor.
They can be used for blocking out sound in all kinds of environments, including the shooting range.
One nice thing about these ear defenders is that they look like regular headphones, so if you want to wear them in other places out in public apart from the shooting range, you won’t get funny looks.
- 26 dB NRR
- Foldable design
- Adjustable padded headband
- Fold up, making them easy to carry around
- Tight seal over ears
- Easy to adjust
- Not bulky
- Not suitable for larger heads
The Vanderfields NR35X2 Ear Defenders are a good pair of passive ear defenders for shooting, provided your head is on the smaller end.
Since these ear defenders are relatively small, they could be a good choice for ladies and kids.
They’re not as bulky as some other ear defenders, so they shouldn’t interfere with your gun mount while shooting. It's also nice that they look like normal headphones.
Shooting Ear Protection FAQs
What do SNR and NRR mean?
SNR (Single Number Rating) and NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) are the two main standards for rating the level of hearing protection offered by ear defenders and ear plugs.
Both give an estimate of the amount of noise reduction in decibels.
A pair of ear defenders with an SNR or NRR of 30 dB should reduce the volume of loud sounds by roughly 30 decibels (dB), though in practice the real level of noise reduction can be quite different, and is often lower.
Which type of hearing protection is best for shooting?
There are five main categories of ear protection products for shooting:
- Basic ear plugs
- Moulded ear plugs with passive filters
- Moulded ear plugs with electronic filters
- Passive ear defenders
- Electronic ear defenders
Most people agree that electronic ear defenders are the best option for shooting since they offer good hearing protection while allowing you to hear what’s going on around you.
They don’t offer more hearing protection than regular ‘passive’ ear defenders, but they amplify quieter sounds such as conversation and sounds of birds and wildlife, which is very useful when shooting.
Electronic ear defenders can be quite expensive, with the best models costing over £150, but since you only have one pair of ears it could be a good investment. Cheaper models are available for under £50.
Ear defenders in general offer better hearing protection than ear plugs because as well as protecting the ear drum, they also protect the bony structure behind the ear, which is also responsible for conducting sound.
Damaging this bony structure can cause hearing loss, which is why many people opt for ear defenders over ear plugs.
Moulded ear plugs with passive filters that allow you to hear conversation and perceive changes in air pressure are also popular, but they don’t offer the same level of protection as ear defenders.
Another downside to ear plugs is that they are very easy to lose and need to be replaced regularly, whereas ear defenders can be used again and again.
One downside to using ear defenders when shooting is that they can get in the way and touch the stock when you’re firing, but some are designed with a cutaway to make space for your gun.
Another downside to ear defenders is that your ears can get warm and sweaty, but in the winter this is preferable to having cold ears!
You can combine both ear plugs and ear defenders to get the maximum possible protection. However, this might make you feel too isolated.
It’s also possible to have too much hearing protection, and it could be dangerous if you can’t hear what’s going on around you.
Can ear defenders really protect hearing against the noise of gunshot?
Almost all firearms produce a noise of over 140 decibels (dB), which is enough to cause long-term hearing damage.
Small rifles produce a noise of roughly 140 dB, whereas big bore rifles can be over 175 dB.
If you work in a noisy environment, you may have heard that 85 dB is the safe limit, and that if you’re exposed to anything louder you should wear hearing protection.
If sounds over 85 dB are loud enough to cause hearing damage, how can ear defenders with an SNR of just 30 dB protect us from the sound of gunshot?
Well, the 85 dB figure is actually the safe limit for constant exposure during an 8-hour day. Our ears can withstand louder noises as long as we’re not exposed to them for too long.
Shooting noise is intermittent rather than constant, so it’s less damaging to the hearing than constant noise of the same volume would be. It’s a bit like how you can put your hand on a hot radiator for a second without it hurting too much, but leaving it there would cause a burn.
According to NoiseHelp.com, you can expose yourself to sounds of 127 dB for 1 second without causing permanent damage, but at 140 dB immediate nerve damage can occur, so you shouldn’t expose yourself to this level of noise for even an instant.
Therefore, as long as ear defenders can reduce the sound of gunshot to below 130 dB, they will protect our hearing.
Shooting will still be bad for our ears, but wearing some ear protection is much better than none.
An interesting thing to be aware of is that the decibel scale isn’t linear. An increase of 10 dB equals roughly a doubling of the perceived volume. This means that a decrease of 30 dB (via the use of ear defenders) equals roughly 1/8th of the perceived volume.
Even though the sound of gunshot will still be loud when wearing ear defenders, it will be reduced to a level that won’t risk rupturing the eardrum.
What sort of hearing protection do I need for clay pigeon shooting?
A cheap pair of ear defenders or ear plugs should do the trick at protecting your hearing while clay pigeon shooting. However, you’ll have a hard time hearing people speaking.
If you want to hear quieter sounds around you (speech etc.), electronic ear defenders are a better choice as they amplify these sounds and play them through small speakers in the ear cups.
How much do shooting ear defenders cost?
Ear defenders vary greatly in price. While you can’t put a price on your hearing, you want to make sure you’re getting value for money.
Top-quality electronic ear defenders usually cost over £100, while good passive ear defenders can be bought for less than £50.
Electronic or passive ear defenders?
In contrast to regular passive ear defenders, electronic ear defenders cut out high-volume sounds and amplify low-volume sounds, so you can still hear quieter noises like people speaking or bird sounds with your ear defenders on.
The electronic components of the defenders don’t offer your ears any additional protection, but they make the shooting or hunting experience much better as you can hear what’s going on around you.
If you regularly go game shooting, you should get yourself a good pair of electronic ear defenders.
If you’re clay shooting or going to a shooting range, being able to hear background noises isn’t so important, so you should be fine with passive ear defenders.
If we had to pick just one pair of ear defenders to recommend for shooting, it would be the 3M Peltor SportTac ear defenders as they are a well-made pair of electronic ear defenders from a trusted brand that offer good hearing protection while allowing you to hear conversation and environmental noises clearly.