A guide to protective equipment

Jasper Fellows helps to keep your senses intact by breaking down the basics of protective equipment.

When most people think of gun safety, they think of the damage that can be done to anyone unfortunate enough to be stood at the business end of the barrel when the trigger is pulled.

Fortunately, gunshot injuries are extremely rare in the UK. It’s much more common for shooters to damage their hearing or vision through incorrect usage of, or failure to use, safety equipment.


All CPSA registered events, and many others, now require shooting glasses to be worn as a pre-requisite of entry. While it may seem unlikely for a piece of shattered clay to head straight for your eye, it’s much more likely that dust or debris may irritate the eyes causing you to miss the next target and possibly leading to irreversible damage to your vision. 

However, one must be careful in choosing which glasses to use while shooting. The aviators you use for driving might not be tough enough for the job. Always pick something designed for the sport, with polycarbonate or Trivex lenses.

Developed for military and aeronautic applications, these materials offer extreme durability, shatter resistance and strong UV protection – all in a lightweight package. 

Well protected with peaked cap, proper shooting glasses and moulded earplugs

It’s worth remembering that your everyday prescription glasses are probably not up to the standard required to keep you safe either. Fear not, there are plenty of options out there for the bespectacled.

Over glasses, as the name suggests, are simply shooting glasses that can fit over your usual prescription set. Often found as rental sets at shooting grounds, they tend to be fairly cheap, but bulky. 

Next up are prescription insert glasses. These allow you to have a set of prescription lenses made up that can be slotted behind your safety lenses. These are a cost-effective solution, because you only have to pay for one set of prescriptions – as you can switch them out between the safety lenses as needed. However, having two sets of lenses stacked against each other can cause glare and disrupt vision, especially when movement is involved. 

Direct glaze prescription lenses are ideal, if a bit pricey. Here, your prescription is glazed directly onto your safety lens. This means no fiddling with bulky over glasses or switching out prescriptions mid-shoot, but you will have to pay for multiple lenses if you like to use different coloured lenses when in different conditions.

Speaking of coloured lenses, there is often a lot of debate around the use of each colour. Think about the background and what can be done to improve the contrast of the target against it. 

Muffs give great protection but some shooters prefer the less bulky plugs

If you get the chance, try out a selection of lens colours and frames and find out what works for you. If you don’t like your glasses, you’re more likely to forget them in your kitbag, and it only takes one mistake to cause irreparable damage to your vision.

Finally on the subject of vision, it may seem simple but a peaked hat will not only help to keep sun glare to a minimum, it will also protect your face – and eyes – from falling debris like bits of broken clay.


Your hearing could be permanently damaged in the time it takes for your shot to leave the end of the barrel. Clocking in at 150dB, a 12-bore shotgun can instantly damage the sensory hair cells of the inner ear, leading to permanent hearing loss. 

So how can we limit this damage? Well, the United States National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) advise us to ‘avoid noises that are too loud, too close, or last too long’.

Decibel (dB) scale

150dB – Shotgun, peak noise level
120dB – Chainsaw
100dB – Lawnmower
85dB – Health & Safety Executive (HSE) upper exposure limit
70dB – Vacuum cleaner
60dB – Normal conversation
10dB – Breathing

Unfortunately, you can’t get much closer to an extremely loud noise than when firing a shotgun, with your ear just inches from the breech. The only option open to shooters is protection.

The first thing to look for when shopping for hearing protection has to be the attenuation rating. This will be marked in decibels, often abbreviated to dB.

The maths here is fairly simple – just remove the attenuation rating from 150 to roughly work out how many decibels from the shotgun blast will hit the inner ear, while you are wearing the protection. Essentially, the higher the attenuation rating the higher the level of protection offered. 

The next thing to consider is earmuffs or plugs. Earmuffs are great for their ease of use, they can easily be passed around and worn by anyone, you don’t have to keep replacing them and they are much harder to misplace.

Just make sure you get a chance to try before you buy with muffs, as they can become uncomfortably warm with continued use and some bulkier muffs can lead to mounting issues. 

Earplugs can eliminate some of these issues while also providing a greater level of noise protection. The yellow 3M Classic Ear Plugs can be seen at shooting grounds across the country. They are easy to use, cheap and hygienically packaged.

However, they can irritate the ear canal, are tricky to fit correctly and aren’t exactly environmentally friendly. There are lots of companies that offer bespoke, fitted earplugs.

This involves taking a mould of your inner ear, which is then used to create a set of perfectly fitting plugs. Now there is a significant cost to this procedure, but it will certainly help to alleviate the issues that arise from cheap, foam earplugs. 

Electronically augmented hearing protection is one of the latest innovations in this field. Small microphone imbedded in the muffs or plugs will recognise the difference between background, ambient noise and the loud concussive waves of a firearm.

Once a dangerous level of noise is detected, the hearing protection will activate to keep you safe. This allows you to carry on a normal conversation, or hear range instruction with ease, while also remaining safe while shooting. 

People often become dangerously blasé about hearing protection, with some claiming they have shot for years without really worry about it.

Remember that it only takes one shot to damage your hearing for the rest of your life, and with basic hearing protection available for pennies, there is no excuse to not stay protected. 

More on kit from Clay Shooting Magazine

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