Hog Blog Gear Review – BattlePlugs Hearing Protection
August 21, 2013
If you spend much time around folks who’ve been shooting and hunting as long as I have, you’ve probably noticed a couple of common traits. We’ll lean forward a bit when you speak to us. We’ll often ask you to repeat what you’ve said. Some of us might even cup our ears in the universal sign of, “speak up, please.”
When I started shooting, you didn’t hear much about hearing protection. I’m sure someone must have known about the risks, but no one really talked about it. You just took the gun and went out to shoot it. No one bothered to tell you to wear ear plugs. I remember in Boy Scout camp, I’d spend every available minute at the rifle range. They didn’t pass out hearing protection or safety glasses (of course, these were just .22 rifles, but still…). I’m pretty sure that if I’d shown up at the junkyard to shoot with my friends, I’d have been laughed clean out of the woods for wearing a set of “Mickey ears”. And if I ever showed up in hunting camp with a set of plugs in my ears, the old guys would have looked at my dad and wondered what sort of spoiled little pansy-ass he was raising. That’s just how things were then, and many of us are paying the price today.
In fact, it wasn’t until I was late into my teens that I first learned the importance and value of hearing protection while shooting. I think the catalyst was an article I read in Outdoor Life about how a shooter’s flinch is often a response to the noise of the firearm, rather than a response to the recoil. It made sense to me, and the next time I went out in the woods to shoot up a bunch of cans and paper plates, I took a roll of toilet paper. I stuffed a goodly wad into each ear, settled down and started shooting.
And I was amazed that there was a noticeable change in my groups, especially with my .243 which is still one of the loudest rifles I own (not counting the ones with muzzle brakes). I realized that I wasn’t anticipating the shot as much, and I was able to stay on the target right through the muzzle blast. Of course, I was noticing things I’d never paid attention to before, so maybe the change wasn’t as extreme as it seemed at the time, but there was definitely a difference. Perhaps the best thing was that I didn’t have to sit through school the next day with that infernal ringing in my ears. I was sold.
I eventually graduated from wadded up toilet paper to those orange or yellow safety plugs. I was working at paper mills at the time, and there were always jugs of plugs available for the taking and I made the best of it. A few years later when I started shooting at organized ranges, I moved up to ear muffs (Mickey ears), and then discovered electronic hearing protection at the SHOT Show.
The thing about wearing hearing protection is that it doesn’t just reduce the noise of a gunshot, it reduces all noise. It’s difficult to have a conversation with plugs in your ears. It’s even more difficult to hunt without the ability to hear all of the sounds of the woods around you. Even most of the electronic aids that amplify normal noise but block sudden, loud noises can be a real detriment in the field. The amplification makes the slightest rustle of grass sound like an elephant charge, and if you turn them down enough to dampen the noise of your footsteps then you can’t hear much of anything. As a result, like many people, I’ve stopped wearing hearing protection while I’m in the field.
The industry has been all over the place in an effort to create hearing protection that allows you to hear and function normally while still dampening dangerous noise. The electronic solutions are the best, so far, but the quality options are all pretty expensive… generally in the range of several hundred dollars for a set of good ear buds, to over a grand for the high-end, digital systems. There are also some electronic hearing protection devices in the $25 to $50 range. These are fine for target shooting and plinking, but terribly unsuitable for hunting applications.
There have also been advances in the design of the basic ear plug. While you can certainly still get the old-fashioned, squeezable foam plugs, there are newer designs that offer baffles that create a better fit in the ear canal and block even more of the noise. I know, for example, that shooting my .325wsm with the muzzle brake is too much for the old-school plugs. They help, but I still end up with ringing ears after a couple of shots. The baffled plugs work much better. But of course these make hearing other sounds practically impossible.
BattlePlugs are, according to the manufacturer’s website, authorized hearing protectors for use by the U.S. Army… both for soldiers and civilian employees. They offer a non-electronic filter that dampens sudden, loud noises (e.g. gunfire) while allowing normal soundwaves to pass through.
How do they work?
Well, I’m not a specialist in this kind of thing so I don’t pretend to understand the science here. However, the plugs have a little cap that opens or closes. When the cap is closed, you get a pretty significant reduction in sound (about 24dB). When it’s open, the reduction is about 9dB. I’m not sure if there’s some sort of high tech thing happening in there, or if it’s just simple physics. If I open the cap and look inside, it’s just a tiny tunnel from end to end.
But they do seem to work as advertised.
I received a sample pair last week, and had a little time to mess around with them. They were a little uncomfortable to put in, but once they were in place they filled my ear canal very snugly (I got the medium size. They come in three sizes.) and were quite comfortable. With the cap closed, they really dampen all the sound like a super-effective ear plug would be expected to. You can still hear, but not much. With the cap open, I was able to watch TV… although the sound was somewhat muffled. Carrying on a conversation was possible, but not optimal. 9dB of sound reduction is a lot more than it may seem.
I did have some trouble opening and closing the cap without removing the plugs from my ears, but the literature that accompanies the plugs indicated that I should expect this until I got used to using them. That’s probably true enough, and I also think they just need to be opened and closed a few times until they loosen up. Overall, I didn’t find this to be much of an issue.
I took the BattlePlugs out behind the barn this weekend to test them under fire. I started out with the .22 pistol, which is really not much of an ear ringer without protection. It wasn’t much of a test. After emptying a few mags with the .22, I moved up to 9mm which was still pretty much nothing, and then to the .44 mag. Now, my .44 is loud, even with the 7.5″ barrel on it. I don’t like shooting it without hearing protection. With the BattlePlugs in and the little cap closed, the report of the .44 was nicely muffled. That wasn’t really a surprise, based on how completely they fill my ear canal. With the cap open, the report was not unpleasant at all, and it was still muffled enough that I didn’t get any ringing in my ears. That’s not very scientific, but it was a good practical experience.
Unfortunately, I didn’t try them with any of the braked rifles (.270, 30-06, .325wsm). Sorry, but with temps in the low 100s, I just didn’t feel like sitting out in the sun any longer. Based on the results with the .44, I feel confident that the BattlePlugs would be plenty sufficient for shooting a braked gun. They’re miles and miles better than the old, orange squeezables. I think they also outperform my cheap, Outers ear muffs.
BattlePlugs retail for around $12.75. That’s about $10 more than the old-fashioned plugs ($2.95/pkg at WalMart), but about half the price of low-end electronic muffs. The plugs are washable, so if you take care of them you should get a bunch of uses out of them. I expect that the baffles will eventually start to wear and tear, but of course I haven’t had these long enough to see any sort of wear. You can also order additional tips for about $3, in the event that the originals do finally wear out.
Overall, if you’re looking for something relatively inexpensive but effective, and don’t want the bulk of a pair of muffs, the BattlePlugs are certainly a good option. I’ve used other baffled plugs in the past, and the BattlePlugs are at least as good as any of those. The option of opening the cap to allow for better hearing is a nice feature, I suppose, although honestly; I find it’s just as easy to remove the plugs so that’s not much of a selling point.
BattlePlugs are currently available online, from National Safety, Inc. I found them at a few other industrial safety equipment sites as well. I haven’t seen them at any of the major outdoors distributors yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them start showing up soon.