Essential Personal Protection Equipment for the Range

by Drew Beatty

Thousands of articles have been written about essential range safety equipment, but it is always worth reviewing again. If you spend any time shooting recreationally, ear protection and eye protection are essential, and some other personal safety items are strongly recommended.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, being exposed to noise louder than 140dB can damage hearing permanently. Many firearms, including a .22, are that loud, and centerfire rifles and pistols are even louder. Repeated exposure to this level of noise will — not may — will cause hearing loss. It may be imperceptible to the person experiencing the loss at first, but rest assured, permanent hearing loss is occurring. Some older shooters may blame age for their hearing loss if you ask them, but I strongly suspect that shooting without hearing protection was the cause of their hearing loss.

Ear protection (sometimes shortened to 'ear-pro') is even more critical for those who shoot at indoor ranges. Not only are you exposed to the sound of gunshots, but also the sound is intensified greatly by being in an enclosed area with other shooters.

A wide range of hearing protection is available to today's shooters, and even the inexpensive hearing protection is very good. They range from foam earplugs and custom earplugs created specifically for you by an audiologist, to custom noise-canceling ear plugs that allow you to hear conversations on the range yet still protect you from the sound blast of shooting, and ultra-high-tech electronic headphones. There is something for anyone and any budget.

Eye protection (sometimes shortened to 'eye-pro') is another essential part of practice shooting. It doesn't take much imagination to predict just how bad your unprotected eyes could be damaged if a case comes apart when shooting, or some lead splatter strikes your eye while shooting steel. I've had spent cases eject poorly and come straight back at me hitting my glasses. I've also been on the range in windy conditions and had my eyes protected from flying dirt and debris. I've had hot powder on my hand when shooting revolvers where spent gas escapes between the frame and cylinder.

Eye protection has also come a long way in the past few decades. Today you can use the inexpensive yet effective $5 throwaway glasses, or buy shooting glasses with ballistic protection. These come in a wide variety of lens shapes and colors for an individual set of frames. These glasses may be expensive, but so is eye surgery and blindness.

One other recommended piece of personal protection is a billed hat. It not only offers some protection from being distracted by sun glare, but also offers your eyes and face additional protection from ejected cases. Even the best practice ammunition is just practice ammunition. You may have light loads that do not eject with as much force and come straight back at you. Also, shooting with others can be a hazard as their cases rain down on you. A billed cap can offer some protection from these hazards.

This final tip tends to affect women more than men, as they have more variety in clothing styles. Do not wear shirts on the range that are too low or come away from the skin. It's inevitable that a hot case will get between the shirt and the skin, and sometimes even in the bra. In addition to a painful burn, the attempt to remove the painful object suck in a bra may cause the shooter to inadvertently be unsafe with the gun they are holding, which could create all sorts of danger to the shooter and others at the range.

Ear-pro and eye-pro are essential. Carry extras of both in your vehicle or range bag just in case. Keep an extra billed cap with you too for other shooters. And ensure that your clothing fits closely to the skin to keep hot material out of sensitive areas.

Drew Beatty is a 50 year old husband and father, and a lifetime resident of the great state of Colorado. He is an NRA Life-Member, and a long-time firearms enthusiast, as well as a strong advocate for The Second Amendment.