Protection is always a personal thing. No one can stop you from not using protection if you do not want to use it. That is always your choice. But always remember safety first. It might cost you some dollars, but it will save you from adding your name to the list of the 466 million people worldwide having a hearing loss to an extent.
Shooting is an awesome experience for you. But for your ears without protection, it is a nightmare. As you know, the loudness of gunshots is immense, with the number being something between 140 to as high as 165 decibels depending on the gun. And if you are not using hearing protection, it is a terrible experience to receive sound signals from the gunshots and send messages to the brain. It is also very traumatic for the eardrums to convert the compressions and rarefactions produced in the air from the shot. Leaving alone the auditory nerves that find it quite stressful to send the electrical signals to the brain.
But coming back to the question, can you shoot a 22 without ear protection?
The answer is yes, you can shoot a 22 without ear protection, but that is quite risky. That also depends on the gun you are using. One thing to note is that the sound a shooter experience depends a lot on the weapon used, and not only the round itself.
For example, in a bolt action rifle with a 24 inches barrel, the .22LR could only have a light crack when firing, and you will be comfortable without hearing protection. However, if that same round is loaded into a revolver, it can have a very loud bark that could damage hearing that may be prevalent in the long term as a very slight ringing in the ears.
Most brands make less loud variations in 22lr like the RWS z-lang or CCI quiet. These rounds can be used safely and conveniently without hearing protection. But keep in mind that they can not be used with semi-automatic weapons as the cartridge is not strong enough to reload the weapon.
However, to be on the safe side, assume around is loud, and use protection so that you can save your ears for damage. You can use any of the two types of hearing protection: either the earmuffs or earplugs. We suggest using both the earplugs and the earmuffs when shooting for overall benefit. It is always recommended to put in the earplugs first and then wear the earmuffs over them so that you can get overall protection from the loud sound. Well, we agree that it might cause some trouble in listening to low volume sounds, especially when you are out there hunting in the wild but work awesomely together in preventing hearing loss.
Although it is not necessary, it is advised to use hearing protection in case something turns opposite than expected. Keep in mind that the average ‘standard’ 22lr is loud enough to cause hearing damage, and you need to wear protection to save your ears from damage.