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Rifle Magazine
December - January 2004
Volume 39, Number 6
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 232
On the cover...
The Stainless Ruger No 1 .204 Ruger is topped off with a Leupold Vari-X III 3.5-10x variable scope. Rifle photo by Stan Trzoniec.
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Howard Leight MAX Earplugs

Back in the dark ages when the army trained me to use an M1911-A1 pistol, I remember a sergeant inserting a fired .45 ACP case in each ear. “These guns are loud enough to permanently damage your hearing,” he said. “You need something to block the noise.”

He was dead-on about hearing damage, but placing empty casings in our ears was worse than useless advice. The casings did little to block muzzle blast, but led you to believe you were protecting your hearing.

A wiser shooter later introduced me to real hearing protection – sound-deadening muffs that cover the entire ear and soft earplugs specifically designed to block gunshot noise.

Commercial hearing-protection devices are laboratory tested, then assigned a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). The rating reflects the amount of protection, in decibels (dB) the device offers. Decibels are measured logarithmically. A sound registering 20 dB is nearly 10 times as intense as a 10 dB noise. Adding 3 dB to the blast doubles the intensity.

Even .22 rifles generate peak sound pressures of 145 dB. Anything louder than 85 dB can temporarily impair hearing. Firing a 12-gauge shotgun creates 155 dB of harmful noise, while a .44 magnum revolver produces 170 dB. A .223 varmint rifle generates 160 dB. Every exposure to sounds over 100 dB in intensity causes a tiny amount of permanent term hearing loss, which may not become apparent for several years.

To figure out how much noise reaches your eardrums when you wear earmuffs or plugs, subtract the device’s NRR rating from the decibel level you’re exposed to. Most shooting muffs or disposable ear plugs carry an NRR rating of 23 to 29 dB. These ratings can be misleading. Industrial hearing protection devices are tested for long-term exposure to loud noises, while shooters are exposed to high-intensity blasts that last no more than 1/250 second. Because of this, shooters actually receive greater protection than the NRR indicates – a 25 dB-rated earplug probably offers muzzle-blast protection somewhere in the 40 dB range.

Howard Leight Industries now offers a new, improved version of its MAX Earplug. The new earplug sports a modified design and new, softer material that makes the plug easier to insert and more comfortable to wear. The new MAX is slightly longer than the original, and its flange more closely follows the contour of the ear canal entrance. The new earplug is easier to insert and remove and is less likely to back out of the ear once in place. The version I’ve been using sports a   plastic cord connecting a pair of the earplugs, which keeps them together and makes them harder to lose.

Like the original MAX, the new earplug has an NRR of 33 dB, making it the most effective earplug on the market. I’ve pointed out that decibel ratings are logarithmic. The MAX’s 33 dB rating means this earplug delivers more than twice the protection a 29 dB device offers.

The improved MAX earplug is now available in sporting goods stores. For more information, contact: Howard Leight Industries, Dept. HL, 7828 Waterville Road, San Diego CA 92154; call toll-free: 1-800-327-1110; or visit online at:

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