Bird Hunting Ear Protection
Hearing protection is just as important for bird hunters as it is for firearm safety. A single 12-gauge shot can produce 155 decibels, which is enough to cause permanent hearing loss without proper ear protection.
TETRA offers electronic ear protection for waterfowl hunters that amplifies quiet sounds (about 8x sound enhancement) and shuts off to protect against loud gunshots and duck calls.
The most popular form of hunting ear protection, foam ear plugs are inexpensive and easy to find. They are also convenient to carry in a pocket or backpack. They can be rolled into a thin, snake-like shape and then inserted into the ear canal to block out noises. Foam earplugs can be disposable or made from reusable plastic, which is easily washed and cleaned to prevent bacteria from breeding inside the ear.
They don’t protect against impulse noise, such as gunshots, which can lead to hearing loss and other problems, but they are still better than no ear protection at all. They are a great choice for waterfowl hunters who want to maintain situational awareness and hear their duck or goose calls. They have a low NRR rating of just 23 decibels and are less expensive than electronic ear protection options. They may not be comfortable for prolonged wear, however. Foam earplugs are usually inserted and removed several times during a hunting session, which can increase the risk of irritation.
Over-the-Ear Ear Muffs
Several companies make over-the-ear ear muffles that offer great protection while allowing you to hear ambient sounds and conversations. They are generally less expensive than electronic ear plugs but more than passive earplugs.
They work by digitally compressing loud noises and acoustic signals back to safe levels while amplifying quieter sounds. They are also more comfortable to wear and can be folded for easy storage in a gun bag or tool box.
These ear protection products have powerful sound amplification to help you locate birds more easily than if you were wearing only a pair of basic over-the-ear muffs. They tend to be a bit more expensive than other over-the-ear muffs but significantly cheaper than some of the electronic shooting muffs. They also do not require batteries and can be worn comfortably while you are working or hunting. They can be worn in conjunction with a face mask or hard hat. Remember to wear blaze orange when you are outdoors so other hunters can see you better.
Electronic Ear Plugs
A good alternative to traditional ear plugs is an electronic hearing protector. These amplify quieter sounds while shutting off to block loud noises above 85 decibels. This allows you to have a conversation or hear your range master’s commands while still protecting your ears from gun blasts.
Some models like the Howard Leight Impulse model feature a built-in microphone for communications, and others like the AXIL XCOR ear buds provide voice enhancement and sound localization. They also digitally compress and reduce loud noises over 85 dB to safe levels, while amplifying quieter sounds up to 8 times.
Other types of electronic shooting ear protection include valved ear plugs that let you close the filter for solid plug-style protection or leave it open to allow you to hear more of your environment and locate birds more easily. One example is the Etymotic Gunsport Pro ear plugs. They have an impressive noise reduction rating of 30 and can be worn with a variety of ear tips.
The newest form of hearing protection, electronic earplugs combine passive sound attenuation—or in this case, over-the-ear muffs—with analog or digital circuitry that compresses (or “shaves the peaks”) off dangerous sounds above a certain level. This allows the user to hear low sounds, such as game calls and natural acoustics, at normal levels while protecting against gun blasts and other loud sounds that can damage ears over time.
Most of the modern electronics on the market have more than one microphone in each ear cup, which helps determine the direction that a sound is coming from. This is an especially important feature for hunters and military/police tactical situations where a sudden noise can be dangerous to someone nearby.
Some models of electronic ear plugs also have an input jack to allow for connection to 2-way radios and audio devices, like MP3 players. Some even come with a microphone for conversation. The downside is that they are generally more expensive than passive earplugs and most require batteries or an overnight charge before use.