Eye & Ear Protection: The Basics

As a firearms instructor, I work with a lot of beginners. And not everyone has the knowledge of the basics, like how to be safe and protected during shooting. While at the shooting range, we can put on closed-toe shoes, don a hat, and wear clothing that covers a good portion of our skin (to keep hot brass casings from making contact with delicate areas), but we also need to wear protective gear for our eyes and ears.

Since you never know when or where bits, pieces, particles, or hot casings can come at you, it’s imperative that you protect your eyes. All shooters, instructors, range safety officers, and spectators are required to wear eye protection (often called “eye pro” or just, simply, “eyes”) while shooting is in progress.

Eyewear

Some people like to wear their prescription eyewear or regular sunglasses while shooting. But keep in mind that these models may get scratched and they may not protect enough of your eyes (on the top or around the sides). In addition, they are probably not impact resistant. Specially designed shooting eyewear (not just safety glasses) that have met the military requirement for ballistic resistance testing and the requirement for high velocity impacts is your best bet, and there are many types, styles, price points, and even colors from which to choose. Just note that different lens colors can have pros and cons for different shooting conditions, so it’s not always best to simply pick the purple ones, just because you like that color. (Side note: My shooting glasses actually do have purple lenses, and they are great for indoors and outdoors, but I switch to darker lenses when it’s really bright outside.)

Hearing Protection

The use of specially designed earmuffs or plugs that reduce the intensity of the sound reaching the ears is also highly recommended. Gunfire is loud, especially in an indoor range (and it’s still loud even after you get used to it). In addition, some guns are so loud that a single shot can cause immediate and permanent hearing loss. So get something that’s comfortable for you to wear—whether the inside-the-ear foam or molded-plastic plugs or the traditional muffs…or both!

Earmuffs enclose the entire ear and are great for cold days. But sometimes those bother my head and get in my way. So for comfort, my favorite type of ear protection (also called “ear pro” or—you guessed it—“ears”) is ergonomically shaped earpieces that fit snugly in my ear. I can wear them all day and not be bothered by the feel of them, and they reduce decibels nearly as much as muffs. Another plus: They are inexpensive.

Just be sure to check the noise reduction rating (NRR) of your hearing protection The higher the NRR, the greater the noise level (in decibels) is reduced. Some electronic models even include amplification for voices (so you can hear fellow shooters and/or instructors) while reducing the sounds of gunfire. Of course, due to the technology needed, electronic hearing protection tends to be the most expensive of all the hearing protection devices.

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