It is essential that your ears are protected whenever you go shooting. The blast from a shotgun can be well over 150dB which is loud enough to cause permanent damage to your hearing. Clay shooting in an enclosed Trap layout can be particularly bad as the noise is bounced around within the layout and you also stand close to other people whilst they shoot.
There are many different types of hearing protection on the market which vary greatly in price and effectiveness. They range from cheap disposable foam plugs that are pushed into the ear canal to expensive electronic ear muffs that allow you to hear normally whilst protecting you from the blast.
Whilst foam plugs may be OK for occasional use they don't provide a very good seal within the ear which can result in poor protection. Ear muffs on the other hand can provide good protection but many people find them uncomfortable to wear, especially with glasses, and they can foul the stock when mounting a gun.
One option to consider is custom moulded ear plugs. These offer several advantages - they are moulded to your ear so they should provide a good seal (and therefore good protection), they are comfortable to wear and they won't foul your stock or be affected by glasses.
The fitting process is quite straightforward, the first step is to take a mould of your ear shape. This is done by blocking your ear canal with a foam plug then a rubber-like mould solution is pumped into the ear so that it fills the entrance to the canal and the open part of the ear. You then have to sit still for a few minutes while the mould sets, it's important not to move at this stage as it can distort the shape of the mould which will result in a poor seal. Once the mould is set it is removed and sent away for the plugs to be made, which usually takes 1-2 weeks.
The plugs themselves are available in a variety of colours and finishes and you can even mix colours to give a marble-like finish if you want. There is also the option of a hearing filter which is a small tube that allows you to hear more clearly with the blast being cut out by a special valve. If you have a larger budget then you can specify electronic versions that have the CENS system incorporated, these use the same concept as electronic ear muffs so you can hear normally but the blast is cut out by the electronics.
Apparently our ear canals continue to grow and change shape as we get older so the plugs will need to be replaced every few years. I was told they should last from 5-10 years so it's worth bearing that in mind when you make your choice.
I have used this kind of hearing protection for many years and, in my opinion, they work very well, providing a good balance between blocking out the blast and still being able to hear other noises such as a referee speaking.
There are several companies that offer custom moulded ear plugs including Green Leopard (0845 330 4153) and ProGuard (020 8639 4440), the ones used in this review were made by Hearing ReSolutions (01204 655530) who provided excellent customer service and a good product.
Charlie Dean, ClayPal
Available in a wide range of colours
Custom moulded to fit your ears
Standard plugs can have an optional hearing filter or be specified with built-in electronic protection
£50 - £500
If you are looking for an alternative to ear muffs then custom moulded ear plugs provide a comfortable and effective choice that are easy to carry with you. However, make sure you go to a good reputable supplier as they can vary in quality and therefore effectiveness.