Hearing Protection

From Longtime Brit Reader Quentin:

How often should you practice shooting without ear protection?  Every photograph and video of people practising I’ve seen has people with ear and eye protection.  But when necessity strikes, you’re not going to have protection.  And if you’re in an enclosed space, can not the sounds and flashes be disorienting?  So, how do you prepare for that?

It’s an interesting question, and I must confess that I don’t have the real-world experience to answer it properly:  people have only ever shot at me out in the open (earning return fire, so to speak) and while my ears did ring a bit afterwards, it didn’t last long.

Indoors?  ‘Nother conversation altogether, I suspect.

My thought is that in a dire self-defense situation, the typical nervous response (tunnel vision, slowed-down time etc.) will tend to muffle or even ignore the sound of gunshots*.  Certainly, while hearing damage may well occur in such situations, the perception may not be that disorienting — but I will gladly be corrected by anyone who has been exposed to gunfire in a confined space, e.g. soldiers or policeman, either current or veterans.  I do once remember talking to a WWII vet who’d been involved in house-to-house fighting in Italy, and apparently it was a common sight to see men sitting around afterwards, completely deafened, and some men with blood running from their ears.

All that said, however, the immediate answer to “How often should you practice shooting without ear protection?”  is, unequivocally, never.  Not even out of doors.  The damage to one’s hearing is far more critical than practice for a situation which, quite frankly, is statistically rare.  Suffering some hearing damage from wasting a goblin in your home is, I would suggest, not important.  Deafening yourself unnecessarily is silly.  (I have serious tinnitus from decades of unmuffled .22 shooting in the outdoors.  Large-caliber indoors shooting practice?  I wince at the very thought.)

So, my Readers, what say you?

*The noise of gunfire in an indoor shooting range is different, of course, in that this situation is a non-stress one and using hearing protection is not negotiable


  1. Rock concerts, ear infections, machine guns, and that damn tank that decided to fire it’s main gun while I was standing next it – all have contributed to my hearing damage. I pretty protective of the hearing I have left. And screw Paul Ryan for not pushing a hearing-protection (suppressor legalization) bill through when he had the chance.

  2. I have moderate to severe hearing loss in one ear and moderate loss in the other, from years of exposure to various loud noises when I was younger. Farm machinery, rock music, hunting, riding motorcycles (it’s the wind noise not the pipes) etc… Then about 12 years ago I was exposed to a couple shots fired from a .44 Special revolver when I didn’t have my earpro on. Since then I’ve also had constant tinnitus. I’ve learned to tolerate it on most days but the bad days are, well, bad.

    Of course these days I am very careful and always double up on hearing protection when shooting indoors. My only remaining centerfire rifle is a suppressed 300 Blackout. I hate being at an indoor range anywhere near a non-suppressed AR or other centerfire rifle.

    I keep a set of electronic muffs next to my home defense weapons. I also have specialized hearing aids that provide protection against loud noise, but I can’t tolerate wearing them all the time. I hate knowing that if I ever have to shoot in self defense without hearing protection the damage to my ears could make me totally deaf and leave me with even worse tinnitus which is hard to imagine. Still, I would shoot to protect a loved one without hesitation should the need arise.

    1. Amen. One shot, twenty-some years ago, from a cheap Brazilian .38SP revolver left me with a constant hissing/warbling in both ears that leaves me saying “what?” in most every conversation.

      Don’t risk it. Don’t train for the noise.

      You wouldn’t train for possible wounds by shooting yourself, would you?

  3. I concur that it is not advised to train without hearing protection ever.

    I further reason that hearing loss is cumulative but violence is all of a sudden. If you fire your own gun in your own parlor, you know the report is happening and are not suprised by it. Flash bang grenades don’t work on subjects who know they are being flash banged. Criminal suspects have demonstrated this after every room in a house is flash banged, until reaching the room with the suspect, who is unfazed by the grenade.

    The gentleman who asked how often to train without hearing protection can rest asured that in a defensive shooting indoors, he will be able to function despite the noise. – Jason

  4. Agreed. Never practice without hearing protection.

    In an emergency, you might trade some of your hearing to preserve your life. That’s a good trade. At the range, you might trade it for some holes in a piece of paper. That’s not.

  5. I wear hearing aids, for four years now, from the moment I get up until I go to bed because I can’t hear very well, lots of M-14 rounds and some M-60 along with copying morse code for four years kind of screwed me up. Then I did a bit of shooting without hearing protection when I was hunting birds and deer in the good old days.

    About five years ago I was adjusting a red dot on my AR-15 at the Bandera gun range where you shoot out of tunnels made of railroad ties and I forgot to put my hearing protection back on and with the flash suppressor in a semi-closed area I was hearing bells for several days ringing in my head. Now I don’t get out of my car at a gun range without my electronic ear muff things on my head. At times I put foam plugs in and muffs over if there are some real loud rifles next to me.

    As for what happens in a closed area, years ago, in the 1970’s I had borrowed a friends Ruger .44 magnum pistol when I was out hunting with a rifle. Coming back in at dusk I was in a creek bottom and saw a squirrel about 20 feet away and wondered what a .44 magnum would do to a squirrel, I think I missed the little rodent, I don’t really know because when I fired one shot in the almost dark in a semi-enclosed area of creek and trees overhead I was deaf and blind for a bit. I kind of wondered how Dirty Harry could shoot bad guys inside and still talk to them.

  6. Thanks for the responses, folks. I must confess surprise – and appreciation – especially at the mention of tinnitus – I have tinnitus anyway, and not from shooting. BTW a couple of people mentioned training: I would draw a distinction between practising and training, with the latter being a tempo up from the former.

  7. Larry Correia has a long article he posted about suppressors and hearing protection back in 2017, and since he owned a gun store and was a CCW instructor, I bow to his superior knowledge —


    The most relevant section (though I’d encourage you to click through and read the whole thing):

    “If you’ve ever been around a really loud bang, you may have noticed that afterwards your ears ring. I’ve got some bad news for you, that ringing means you’ve permanently damaged your hearing. When that fades you will have lost some measure of hearing, and hearing damage is permanent and cumulative. The more of these loud bangs you are exposed to, the greater the damage. It will never get better. It will only continue to get worse.

    I was a firearms instructor for about a decade and spent a lot of time running ranges and teaching people. I was religious about wearing my hearing protection, but if you spend enough time on the range you will be caught unaware eventually and somebody is going to touch something off right after you take your muffs off.

    I have tinnitus. Basically, there is literally no sound of silence in my world. For me it is a constant ringing noise that’s about the same pitch as my lawn sprinklers. I also can’t pick up a lot of things in higher ranges, like for many years, my daughters’ voices. If you’ve ever spoken to me in the dealer’s room of a con, you’ll notice that I tend to lean over the table to get close to the speaker. That’s not because I’m being weird, it’s that I can’t understand you, especially in a room with background noise that aggravates the perpetual ringing.

    I’m not alone. I’m sure audiologists love old gun nuts because they sell a lot of hearing aids that way.

    Guns are loud, but are also incredibly useful. If you want to be proficient with a firearm, you must practice with it. So we put up with the loudness and put things in or over our ears in order to mitigate the damage as much as possible.

    However, muffs slip. It is really easy to break the seal of an ear muff when you place your cheek on the stock of a rifle. Boom. Hearing damage. Or that little foam plug in your ear isn’t squished in quite right, or deforms and falls out? Boom. Hearing damage. I used to hate when I came home from a long day teaching a class, and I’d hear that ring that told me that at some point I’d screwed up. Because there’s no going back.”

  8. Sure wish I hadn’t been as stupid in my youth as I was.
    I have multiple types of hearing protection in all my range bags and though I hate em I have to try to preserve what’s left.

    gunz, guitarz, gurlz – that’s why I’m hearing damaged.

  9. As with the others here, years of listening to loud music, gunfire, flying in military aircraft and motorcycles have taken their toll on my hearing, so I ONLY shoot with hearing protection.

    The only exception is hunting. Now my brother very carefully puts his hearing pro in before he shoots when we are hunting antelope in Wyoming, but I never do. A single shot from a long-barrelled .30-06 fired outside is not that distressing to me and I usually don’t want to take the time to put my earplugs in (for one thing, on those cold mornings, that would require me to take my gloves off.)

    When it comes to hunting, I apply the philosophy of Tuco (Eli Wallach) from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” that “when it’s time to shoot, don’t talk, SHOOT!”

    Also not to brag or nothin’ but last year my “hunting season” lasted until 8:30 am on the first day I went out and I took exactly ONE shot. So I don’t regard hearing pro as a neccessity when hunting. 😉

  10. 40+ years working long hours in a loud environment, before hearing protection was made available, I stuffed cigarette filters in my ears. I used hearing protection religiously when it was finally provided by my employer. My hearing tested good compared to my co-workers, yet I still can’t understand speech in a loud environment or if two or more people are talking at the same time. Words that sound similar are awfully confusing to me. Two, do, scoot, shoot. All I hear is the oo.

  11. Ditto everyone else. Never, never, never. Are your ears going to be damaged in a real firefight? Sure.

    But the idea of “training” that way is like shooting yourself at the range because you are likely to have to defend yourself injured.

  12. I doubt I’ve shot as much as most here, but I spent 8+ years in law enforcement back in my youth. I wore hearing protection every single time. Except once. One shot. A single shot, from my grandfather’s old .32 Colt, and I have suffered from severe tinnitus for over 45 years. I wouldn’t shoot without hearing protection again for all the tea in China. That said even after the damage has been done.

  13. hearing protection, always. the loss of hearing is just not worth it. the ringing in my ears? torture.

  14. Having practiced dentistry (think high-pitched air turbines running all day ’bout a foot or so from your ear) in Manhattan (NYC) (think subway stations with brake squeal), my wife still wonders that I can hear at all – eh?

  15. Being in a firefight sounds a lot like the beginning part of Saving Private Ryan, where the sound kinda goes out and everything is muffled. My ears got blown out when an RPG exploded about 10 feet away from me and threw me across the road, and it took a while for the muffleworld to go away. Mortars; same. Other than that, 50 cals and M4s popping off all around (when not wearing a headset) knock out your hearing right away too.

Comments are closed.