If you’re going shooting, there are two things you will always need, whether you’re at the range, in your backyard, or on a competition field: eye and ear protection.
Proper eye and ear protection isn’t just a good idea because it protects two of your most important senses, it’s downright required just about everywhere. And where it isn’t required, like in the woods when you’re hunting, you should still use it.
Today we’re going to talk about why exactly you need eye and ear protection when you’re shooting, what options are out there, and how to choose the best ones to meet your individual need.
Why You Need Eye and Ear Protection
We would be remiss to talk about eye and ear protection for shooters without at least talking a little bit about why you need them, and the dangers of not using them.
Ear protection is the obvious one: guns are loud. So loud in fact that they can easily damage your hearing, especially if you spend a lot of time shooting without proper hearing protection.
And the effects of loud noises on your hearing are cumulative, so while you may not notice a problem at first, each exposure to loud sounds, like gun fire, damages your hearing just a little bit more.
Eye protection is a less intuitive thing for people to wear while shooting, it’s just not something new or inexperienced shooters think about, but it’s no less important than hearing protection.
Ricochets, pieces of targets, and ejected shells or casings can all cause serious damage to your eyes. I once had a piece of birdshot bounce off a nail or screw in a wooden target stand once and come back and smack right into my shooting glasses.
I wasn’t even the shooter that day…I was observing from about ten yards back, and off to the side.
The glasses survived, but rest assured that my left eye wouldn’t have, had I not been wearing safety glasses. I cannot stress enough how important it is to wear properly protective shooting glasses when using firearms, or when near someone who is.
You can also get powder thrown back into your face from inconsistently loaded ammo, and I’ve even seen someone take a live (unfired) round to the face when a magazine spring failed and launched the loaded round. Would it have blinded them? Probably not, but it hit them in the forehead hard enough to bruise, and I certainly wouldn’t want that to happen to my eye.
Eye Protection Options and How to Choose
What kind of eye protection should you wear?
The main thing you want to look at is the ANSI Z87.1 rating. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) maintains standards for various things, and the Z87.1-2015 rating is the rating for properly protective safety glasses.
It was updated in 2015, hence the -2015 part, and is the most current and up to date rating for protective eyewear. Eyewear that has this protective rating is more than sufficient for protection while shooting.
If you’re shopping for protective eyewear, make sure you see this rating on the lenses, or an ANSI certification somewhere on the packaging. If you aren’t sure, look for another pair. They’re about $15 for really nice ones, so they aren’t exactly expensive.
We recommend the wrap-around style that fits over your entire eye area. If you wear glasses, these should fit over your vision-correcting lenses as well. You can also get various lens tints that help with certain tasks.
Gray tinted lenses are best for blocking glare, amber lenses are best for cloudy or overcast days and indoor shooting in poor lighting, and blue/purple lenses are best for distinguishing contrast, such as when you need to see an animal you’re hunting when they’re standing in front of a similarly-colored background.
Other than the ANSI rating, eye protection is mostly about shooter preference, and application. Ear protection is a similar story, but there is slightly more to consider
Ear Protection Options and How to Choose
Ear protection when shooting is vitally important. Immediate damage to human ears starts around the 140 decibel range. The humble .22LR, one of the smallest and quietest rounds available, clocks in at 145 decibels upon detonation, so no matter what you’re shooting, you need hearing protection.
But what kind?
There are two basic types of hearing protection, in-ear earplugs like what you’d wear to sleep at night to block out the sound of your partner storing, and on-ear earmuffs that sit over your ears like a pair of headphones.
Earplugs are generally better at blocking sound, but they’re a pain to put in and take out, and can make it very difficult to hear other sounds such as people talking, which can be a problem if you need to listen to an instructor, or range officer.
They come in a variety of styles, but the most popular ones have a plastic band, similar to a headband, that helps keep them in your ears while allowing to take them out and wear them around your neck when you don’t need them in.
These are cheap, and can usually be bought at your local range for a few dollars, but the guy at the counter may judge you a little for not bringing your own.
Earmuffs are more convenient to put on, and easy to hand to a buddy to use, but they don’t quite offer the same protection level as earplugs, generally speaking. If you’re shooting something like a .50 cal, you might want to consider doubling up: earplugs and earmuffs.
They can also be hot, and difficult to wear over hats and helmets.
The real benefits of earmuffs come from electronic ones that offer active hearing protection. These earmuffs can actually offer amplification of quiet sounds, such as people talking, or game animals rustling around, while actively blocking loud noises such as gunfire.
These earmuffs are generally the best option overall, as they allow you to still hear important things like that trophy buck wandering up behind you, or safety commands from a range officer, while simultaneously blocking out anything loud enough to damage your hearing.
Best of all, they’re getting cheaper and cheaper all the time.
A Note About Suppressors
All the details and information about suppressors would fill a whole article, but they are worth mentioning here. Suppressors can take most supersonic rounds and make them hearing safe. Don’t believe the movies, the sound of the gunshot is still loud but generally not loud enough to damage your hearing immediately.
It’s still recommended that you use hearing protection if you’re using supersonic rounds however, just in case.
There’s no doubt that eye and ear protection is incredibly important for shooters, but with all the options available, it can be difficult to choose the best products to protect yourself. Hopefully, this has helped make the differences between these incredibly important items clear so you can better protect yourself in the future.