One of the many questions people ask about guns and shootings is, “how many decibels is a gunshot?” Guns can be pretty loud and expose one to unsafe noise. This can permanently damage one’s hearing even when exposed to nearby shootings for a short time.
This noise level can be damaging for people who live close to gun ranges and even worse for the shooters themselves.
This is why gun safety is as important a factor for choosing a gun as gun quality. In this article, we will analyze how many decibels a gunshot is and how this differs based on gun type. We will also examine whether silencers make guns safer.
How Many Decibels Is a Gunshot?
The loudness of a gunshot depends on the gun type and the ammunition. Ordinary everyday guns tend to make less noise than more powerful guns.
Notably, sounds are measured in decibels, which can be explained as the measure of sound compared to total silence. A noise level of 10dB means the sound is ten times louder than complete silence.
However, a 20db sound means that the sound is one hundred times louder than complete silence. So, when a sound is 140dB, you can imagine how much more piercing than silence it is.
Yet, this is the standard for most guns. A .22 caliber rifle with standard ammo makes 140dB of sound. A .44 caliber pistol can be as high as 168dB of sound. This isn’t even the loudest rifle.
For context, a lawnmower, known for making one of the most grating and disturbing sounds, makes 90dB of sound. A chainsaw operates around 110dB. If there’s anything that comes close to the 140dB mark, it’s a rock concert. Think of that ringing ear headache that typically comes with the end of a rock concert.
Now, let’s look at the decibels of some of the most popular gun types below. We will consider shotguns, rifles, pistols, and others.
|Gun||Sound in Decibels|
|.50 caliber (black powder)||159.7|
|.22 blank pistol||165.3|
|7 mm Magnum||166.5|
|12 Ga. (hunting ammo)||161|
|12 Ga. (2.75” ammo)||159.7|
|10 Ga. (3.5”ammo)||161.4|
|20 Ga Shotgun||153|
|AR-15, 16” Barrel||165|
|Ruger 10/22 .22R Rifle||140|
|.44 caliber pistol||168.8|
|12 ga. (3” ammo) w/choke||161.5|
|Remington 700 LTR||167|
|Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun||97|
How Loud Is a Gunshot Indoors?
There’s no specific range for how loud a gunshot inside can be, especially since different homes contain different building materials. For example, a gunshot in an indoor shooting range will most likely be louder than in a home. This is because most ranges are concrete-walled so that the sounds will bounce back rather than escape outdoors.
Still, gunshots sound much louder indoors. The sound is usually concentrated in one area so that the shot sounds will be directed back at you. Indoor shooting can feel so loud that even the most high-end suppressors won’t have much effect.
This is why suppressors are more common on self-defense types of guns that are generally used and kept indoors, than on defense ammunition and hunting rifles.
Can Gunshot Noise Cause Damage?
As you can tell, the sounds from a gunshot reside in a high-spectrum range. Even limited exposure to this level of volume can cause permanent hearing damage.
Noise levels above 85dB are considered unsafe for human hearing. Clearly, this is below the range of a gunshot. Also, the human threshold of pain for noise is 135dB, and most firearms are way out of this range. Most of them register at 140-170 dB.
This means that guns on the higher decibel end are very dangerous to your ear health. Prolonged exposure can lead to permanent damage. Even short-term exposure can cause immediate hearing loss.
The effects are worse if you are constantly in an environment of prolonged shooting. For instance, firing range workers are at higher risk for hearing damage. But it’s even worse for hunters and enthusiasts.
These people have guns in close proximity to their ears. For example, shouldering up against a rifle can cause a loud noise, leading to immediate hearing loss.
How Far Away Can You Hear a Gunshot?
The sound of a gunshot can travel quite a long distance. Because the decibels are higher, the sound can penetrate spaces even faster. However, how far it travels depends on the firearm, the ammunition, technique, temperature, and weather. For instance, sound travels faster in colder temperatures. So, you can expect to hear a gunshot even further in this region.
Depending on all the factors involved, you can hear a regular handgun shot up to a mile away. Silencers can reduce the range you can hear this shot to 20-60 meters. However, you can hear more powerful shotgun ammunition up to two miles away.
Do Gun Silencers/Suppressors Eliminate Gunshot Noise?
Everyone remembers that old Hollywood cliche where a room can be full of guests, and an assassin still shoots one person discreetly and gets away without anyone noticing. But is this really possible?
The answer is very rarely. If this fact still needs to be clarified, gunshots are ultra-loud, and even the most powerful gun silencers don’t magically cure this. Most handguns and rifles bullets travel very fast.
They are faster than the speed of sound and will always create a loud crack when fired. There are also other factors, such as bullet weight and speed, power charge, ammo, etc.
While gun silencers do a great job of reducing noise levels, they rarely make so huge a difference that you become completely unaware when a shot is fired. They are not made to make shootings discreet.
Instead, they make gunfire safer and gentler on one’s hearing. Besides, the quietest ammo is often the weakest, and slower bullets are likely to make less noise (as well as function less effectively).
Quiet caliber bullets are rarely ever the choice, especially not for hunters who have specific and sometimes far-away targets.
Still, suppressors can make a significant difference in guns. They are the only form of hearing protection that you can fit on the muzzle of your weapon to reduce the sound they generate. This means they are not directed at protecting the shooter but everyone within close range.
For example, a low-powered gun, such as a .22 rimfire, can become significantly quiet, especially if you also use slow subsonic ammo. As a matter of fact, the sound itself becomes genuinely safe for your ears.
Suppressors reduce a good number of guns to within the 140 range. According to OSHA, limited exposure to extremely short-duration or impulse sounds- like gunshots, will not cause hearing damage as long as the sound is under 140dB. Achieving a sub-140 dB sound pressure level (SPL) with a suppressor is referred to as “hearing safe” in the firearm market.
Silencers also reduce noise pollution externally. They are like car mufflers; they effectively muffle the firing gas at the gun muzzle and slow it down to produce a quieter shot.
In Europe, some countries encourage or mandate their use by gun owners in outdoor shooting sports. They are also quite popular in America. Most guns for sport shooting, home and self-defense, and hunting come fitted with suppressors.
Still, it only makes so much difference. Pistols and center-fire rifles make very noticeable noise, even with suppressors. A rimfire would still be very dangerous for the hearing. For example, a .308 rifle gunshot will still be very high and unsafe for heating.
Other Helpful Protection Measures
Beyond silencers, shooters can also protect your hearing from extensive hearing damage with simple shooting protection. Special hearing protection devices typically keep the noise level under 140dB.
These devices usually specify their Noise Reduction Rating (NRR), typically between 15 to 33 dB. The higher the NRR, the higher the device’s decibel reduction level.
Ear muffs are the standard ear protection devices. They cover the entire ear area to prevent piercing sounds from penetrating. Muffs are usually pricier and come in different designs and colors.
Some also have the unique feature of allowing you to amplify quieter sounds and muffle louder sounds. This way, you can hear instructions and hold conversations in the range. When shooting indoors, you’ll need an ear muff with about 28-33 NRR.
Ear plugs are typically weaker and cheaper. They are mainly designed to reduce lower decibel noise levels. Still, some are designed specifically for shooting or hunting and are much preferred by people who like lighter hearing protection.
This form of ear protection is often made from foam or silicone. They are inserted only to cover the part of the ear where sound travels through, and you can custom-order them to fit your ear size.
Plugs also come with straps and cords for easy use. The hunting ones have special acoustic filters. This allows softer noise to travel through, but the valve automatically closes when there’s a heavy soundwave.
Gunshots are extremely loud and typically exceed the 135dB pain threshold for humans. This means they can severely damage your hearing. So, it’s crucial to consider noise-reduction tools like gun silencers. You may also invest in earplugs or ear muff.
How many decibels is a gunshot exactly? If you’re unsure how many decibels are in a gunshot from a gun type you don’t know, you can install a decibel calculator on your phone to get a rough estimate. For example, you can check out DecibelPro and Perfect Sound Meter. Knowing the loudness of your gun will protect you from ear damage.