I’m almost 40 and finally realizing that I’m not getting any younger. If the first half of my life I screwed up my body, the next half I’m going to do everything I can to keep and improve what I have left! This year I decided it was time to stop further ear damage and start hunting with ear protection.
My dad blames his significant hearing loss with shooting too many guns in the army without hearing protection. But you don’t have to shoot often to do damage. I shot a few rounds from a .44 pistol without ear protection and I had major ringing for months. If Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry shot real loads through that pistol of his I don’t think he’d hear anything anymore!
While growing up I wore hearing protection most of the time while target shooting. But sometimes it was only a couple of spent shells sticking out of my ears. They probably did more damage than good.
Eventually I wised up and committed to proper hearing protection during all target shooting activities. But I didn’t want to inhibit my hearing during hunting, and usually only need one shot at game, so I wore nothing when in the woods. Last fall a young college student was doing a paper on hunters and hearing loss. She had a table outside Jays Sporting Goods in Clare and asked hunters to answer a few short questions about their hearing levels and shooting practices. I asked her about her initial findings, and saw that hunter after hunter complained of ringing in the ears and hearing loss, which worsened over time. So I decided it was time to take my hearing protection to the next level and started researching my options.
The first call was to Walker Game Ear. I had seen their advertisements for ages now and had always been intrigued with their performance. Having never met anyone that actually used them, I didn’t know if they were more gimmick than substance. The conversation with the representative was informative, but left me with just as many questions as answers. I grew concerned that I’d lose directional hearing and would be searching all around for where I heard the twig snap.
They offered two primary versions, muffs and in the ear devices.
The muffs weren’t appealing for multiple reasons not least is that they looked bulky and noisy. I often sneak through dense swamps and could imagine branches streaking across them making all kinds of unnatural sounds.
In the ear devices seemed best, but the costs were very high.
Then I came across Sport Ear. On my first call I reached Brett Wade, who gave me the education I was looking for. He held Walker Game Ears in high regard, touting them as the founder of this industry. Walker has since sold the business. And Sport Ear is founded on a slightly different principle. They are first and foremost a hearing aid company, that built into the hunting protection product line.
Sport Ear has varying levels of hearing enhancement. From the 30, which has the least amount of hearing enhancement, to the 210, 412, and the 812 with the highest level of enhancement.
Brett gave me a money back guarantee, and I decided to try their Select-A-Fit 30 (lest amount of enhancement) as my hearing is still pretty good. The Select-A-Fit model has little rubber stoppers of varying sizes that you try to see which one fills your ear cavity best.
My first test was while bowhunting. If I had the volume too high then the sound feedback was slightly digital. But when I turned it down just a hint I really couldn’t tell the difference sound quality between aids or no aids, except that my hearing was a little better with the aids in.
Around 9:30 in the morning I thought I heard the very faint noises of animals walking in the woods to the South West of me. It was so slight and distant that I began to question if I was hearing something, or just imagining it. It sounded like two animals walking carefully through soft leaves. After ten minutes and no sight, I chalked it up to imagination.
By 10:30 I decided to try and call in a deer. The wind was in my face, and there was a hill ahead where I thought deer might bed down for the afternoon. Since I had a bow and arrow, I had to find a tight ambush spot, and saw a perfect vantage point about 100 yards ahead. Slowly I made my way, careful as I could to remain quiet. Just before reaching my destination I made the fatal mistake and snapped a large twig. Two deer instantly jumped from their beds and bolted through the forest. They would have been in the exact spot where an hour earlier I thought I heard two animals sneaking along before going silent. I knew then that I had a new tool in my arsenal and not to question my hearing again. Hunt after hunt thereafter I recognized the faint sounds of animals that I wouldn’t have heard before without the Sport Ears.
During gun season I was able to finally put them to the protection test. It started with sighting in my rifle. Still leery of them actually working, I wore them under conventional muffs. That of course worked just fine. Then I took off the muffs and settled in for my first Sport Ear shot. It felt abnormal, like not wearing a seatbelt while speeding down the freeway. I squeezed the trigger, felt the percussion and heard the muzzle blast echo down the forest trail. No ringing, and no loud explosion at the point of the gun. Impressive! It shut down the dangerous sound but instantly allowed me to hear everything else.
I wore them over the opening weekend of deer season, unfortunately I didn’t see a deer I wanted to shoot. But I did something that I hadn’t done in years, and hunted with that massive .44 mag. There’s a beaver pond swamp that I sneak through looking for bedded deer. You either see nothing or come face to face with a deer. It’s where I shot one of my biggest bucks. I do my best to sound like another deer, which enables me to get close to them. But when your gun rubs against a tree there’s nothing natural about that sound and you may as well have blown a whistle to announce your arrival. The handgun allows me to sneak quietly through the tight swamp, and now with Sport Ear, I won’t do any more damage to my hearing when I shoot.
I didn’t see a deer that afternoon, but I shot the gun once to see how the hearing protection worked. They had slipped out slightly from my ear and allowed some unwanted sounds to get in. Still, the impact was minimal and my hearing quickly recovered. I talked with Brett Wade at Sport Ear about it and he suggested we try making molds specifically for my ears. We’re in the process of that now and I’m looking forward to trying them out. While the Select-A-Fit were comfortable, they did feel slightly awkward.
I’ll take them out again later this year hunting and will report on my findings. But as of now I would highly recommend them for anyone who is serious about protecting their hearing. You could spend anywhere from $500 to $1,500 depending on your current hearing levels. But I for one have decided my hearing is worth the price. And of course I love it that these gems are made in the U.S.A.!