July 16, 2022
Guns make loud noises. This is one reason suppressors have become so popular. It’s also the reason many shooters have poor hearing, tinnitus or both.
In my younger years I shot a lot of guns without hearing protection. I also spent a great deal of time on a military tank range, sometimes with only my index fingers in my ears to "protect" my hearing. It’s no surprise that I don’t hear nearly as well as I used to, and there is a constant ringing in my ears.
Trust me, hunters should take every step they can to avoid hearing damage or loss—both on the range when shooting and in the field while hunting.
The obvious action is to wear hearing protection, but common ear plugs and muffs come with an inherent problem. They not only reduce the amount of harmful noise from gunfire that enters your ears, but they also muffle every other sound. They make it difficult to hear range commands, your hunting buddy, guide and environment, and they make you talk really loud. The answer to this problem is electronic hearing protection that shuts down to block noises above a certain decibel level, but amplifies conversation and even the sound of a whitetail buck sneaking behind your stand while you’re hunting.
I’ve tried just about every hearing protection device on the planet. Although expensive, the electronic models are the best option. I’ve found that unless you spend the money for top-of-the-line electronic hearing protection, you’ll soon regret your purchase. The failure rate of bargain-basement devices is so high that in a couple years you’ll have spent enough money replacing them to have paid for high-quality electronic hearing protection.
When I was a young coon hunter, my partner and I purchased electronic hearing protection muffs that also amplified sound to help us hear our hounds when they got out of range. They worked reasonably well but sometimes gave us fits when trying to determine the direction from which the sound was coming. Modern amplification devices like the Champion Vanquish Pro Elite, WildEar FieldEarz and Tetra Shield series (all featured below) work in stereo and make this easier. This, combined with the protection they offer, is one of the reasons in-ear devices like them are being used more and more by hunters when they’re hunting.
In fact, one of the driving forces behind the development of the products from Tetra was that the company wanted to create in-ear sound-enhancing devices that would help hunters hunt better. On occasion I’ve used these electronic devices when hunting and found they do indeed allow me to hear sounds that would have otherwise whispered past my damaged hearing. Though I may be a bit old school to fully embrace the concept, they work. The primary downside I’ve found using electronic amplification devices when hunting is their magnification of wind noise.
Of course, you might be thinking, My hearing is great, and when I shoot at game animals, I don’t experience that loud ringing in my ears. For many that’s true and it’s because high adrenalin levels often prevent the post-shot ear ringing you experience on the range when not wearing hearing protection. This happens because of auditory exclusion and aural reflex; it’s the body’s natural mechanism to protect hearing. This leads many to believe that when hunting they do not need hearing protection.
However, while auditory exclusion and aural reflex may prevent that post-shot ringing, they are not reliable means of hearing protection. Hearing damage can still occur. Additionally, these natural reflexes typically only apply to the shooter. If your son or daughter is pulling the trigger, it’s unlikely your adrenalin levels will be high enough to provide any natural hearing protection. The same applies to hunting guides.
Another consideration are muzzle breaks, which have become very popular. Muzzle breaks do a good job of reducing recoil, and an even better job of damaging hearing. Hunting guides hate them, and I do, too.
Even the quietest muzzle brakes are loud enough to breach your body’s audio exclusion and aural reflex limited protection capabilities. If you’re shooting or hunting with a muzzle-brake-equipped rifle and not using hearing protection, you’re either a fool or already deaf.
Easy Listening: Hearing Protection Devices
Many hunters wear glasses to enhance their vision and protect their eyes. Using sound amplification devices to enhance and protect your hearing while hunting is no different. Here are several models worthy of field.
CHAMPION VANQUISH PRO ELITE
The best over-the-ear electronic hearing protection I’ve found is the Vanquish Pro Elite earmuffs from Champion. They’re very comfortable, have two, full-dynamic-range HD speakers and an omnidirectional microphone, minimize wind noise, and are Bluetooth capable. While you’re wearing them you can listen to music or even answer a phone call. They’re also equipped with a 12-hour-run-time, rechargeable lithium battery. Of course, they are, like all over the earmuffs, a bit bulky.
$249.95 | championtarget.com
My primary hearing protection are custom-fit in-ear devices from WildEar. You create a mold of your outer ear canal with the Home Fit Kit, send it in to WildEar, and the company builds amazingly compact electronic ear plugs to provide a perfect fit. This means that even if you do not turn them on you will still get hearing protection. I’ve had mine for about six years and have broken them twice—miniature electronic devices will always be fragile—but WildEar has repaired them, free and within a week, every time. They run off standard hearing aid batteries. I’d now give $10,0000 to have had them when I was a teenager and when I was in the Army.
$1,095 | wildear.com
TETRA MULTI-PURSUIT ALPHASHIELD
Tetra is a relatively new company providing in-ear electronic hearing protection devices. But Tetra is a bit different from other companies in that it has explicitly developed units for hunters. These devices are engineered to enhance the sounds emitted by the specific game you hunt, whether it be deer, waterfowl, elk or turkeys. The in-ear units offer both hearing enhancement and protection. Prices range from $699 for AmpPods to $2,199 for custom-fit, multi-pursuit, amplification and protection CustomShield ear inserts. A few years ago, Tetra provided me with a set of the non-custom Multi-Pursuit AlphaShield units to test, and they worked impeccably well. I’ve used them on the range and during turkey hunts. They perform as advertised.
$1,499 | tetrahearing.com