A 12g shotgun when fired reaches 140 – 150 decibel (dB), this will cause instant damage to your ear drum if not protected. Normal conversation is around 60 dB with rock concerts for example at 100 dB. This is why hearing protection is essential when shooting clays.
There are many different types of ear protection on the market so finding the right one for you is just down to personal choice and what suits you as a shooter. I have below listed some of the common types available and the pros and cons of each but as always, it largely falls on personal choice and budget.
+ Easy to insert and remove
– Single use only
– Useless if wet
Foam plugs are very handy to have in the car as back-up if you forget your regular ear defenders or indeed if you take a guest shooting. They are relatively cheap with the best way to buy them being in bulk and from places like builders merchants. The price will rocket if you have to buy them at a shooting ground. They are single use only and not washable.
+ Re-usable, washable
– Intrusive, firm construction
Rubber plugs are a re-usable version of the foam ear plugs. Due to them being made from rubber though they tend to be firmer and a little more uncomfortable to wear for longer periods of time compared with the foam ear plugs.
+ Relatively Cheap
+ Easy to put on and off between stands
– Can be awkward during gunmount
These are probably the most common and most practical form of hearing protection, easy to put on and take off or move to the side when having a chat. Also great for keeping your ears warm on cold days. At around £20 they are also inexpensive. There is also an argument that they protect further than just wearing plugs do as they cover the area behind the ear that sound can also enter. The only drawbacks I would say is that sometimes you can “clunk” the stock when mounting the gun which diverts your attention just before you squeeze the trigger and also it pretty much limits you to just wearing a baseball cap, those of you that are tweed inclined will need to leave the flat cap at home!
+ Comfortable Fit
+ Effective sound isolation
+ Additional with valves or electronics
– Time consuming to buy
Custom plugs are an upgraded version of rubber or foam plugs. Impressions are taken by an audiologist and sent to a lab where they are constructed with or without filters. Basic solid plugs cost around £90. At extra cost you can have passive valves that close with the sound waves of the shotgun or even electronics that cut out the harmful sound levels but amplify the quieter sounds. Expect to pay more than £500 though.
+ Easy to wear
Again, like the custom fit plugs these are an upgrade of the standard defenders. The benefit of these are the ability to have normal conversation but as expected cut out the high level shots. Just like the custom plugs these can be expensive and now some of them even have Bluetooth to connect to your mobile phone!
It is all down to personal choice and what feels comfortable to you while shooting. What should not be down to choice is whether you wear them or not!