Probably like you, I’ve tried several different kinds of ear pro. Much like hunting and shooting, hearing protection has evolved. The reason I ask is today we will walk you through the Ear Protection Evolution of my hunting career. Similar to the SHWAT™ Outfitters Hunting Evolution merchandise, my journey with hearing protection starts like a caveman and over time evolves into a modern sportsman.
Some people think that because we hunt with suppressors, hearing protection is not necessary. They are wrong and I’ll tell you why. We will also examine the comfort, cost, and effectiveness of the different hearing protection. When this story ends, will I end up as the modern sportsman using the newest coolest gadget? Or will I revert to something earlier in the timeline? Sit down, strap in and join me on this journey through this virtual time machine as we look at the evolution of ear pro.
Before we embark down this timeline, let’s look at why I still wear Ear Pro even though we hunt with suppressors. Many people think that suppressors are like what they see in Hollywood and it is far from accurate. Suppressors “suppress” sound but they don’t eliminate it. When you shoot a gun, it causes a mini-explosion. Are explosions loud? Yes, even if it’s a mini-explosion, it’s still an explosion and it’s not super quiet like you see in the films. So first, I want to preserve my hearing.
Second, while we try to shoot suppressed most of the time, sometimes it makes more sense to draw the pistol to finish a hog. Third, when you use electronic hearing protection there is a tactical advantage. Who doesn’t want every advantage when you are hunting? Enough about my reasons, let’s get this story going.
I don’t think the first ear pro needs a formal introduction. Foam earplugs aka “foamies” are the cavemen in this story and are probably the cavemen in your story as well. Like cavemen, foamies are simple and archaic. Does anyone like the feeling of cramming a one-inch piece of fluorescent foam down your ear canal? If your answer is yes, you probably look forward to your monthly rectal exam, too.
In my opinion, they are uncomfortable and not the most effective option for hearing protection. The good news is that they are found just about anywhere and are super inexpensive. When hunting either day or night with other people, these are a no-go. While they do protect your ears it is extremely difficult to communicate with your hunting buddy. Saying all of that, foamies make a great backup if you are in a pinch or maybe hunting in a blind by yourself.
Better Than Foamies
Next up is the huntsman with the spear, is something like the Sonic Defenders. When using them I notice that they are much more comfortable than the aforementioned ancestor. Unlike the foamies, these are not a “one-size fits all.” These come in small, medium and large and allows for customization.
This provides a slight improvement in comfort, which is a big plus in my book. The biggest improvement over its predecessor is the valve at the end of the device. Think of the valve on a beach ball or inner tube. When the valve is open, it allows you to hear and be more aware of your surroundings. That could be communicating with someone in your hunting party or hearing the animals near you.
Simply plug the cap back into the hole and your ears are safe again. While this is not the ideal setup, at least you have the option to plug or unplug. These costs around $15-$25 depending on the brand and are a slight upgrade to the foamies but not much less than the next man in our evolution, the hunter with the bow and arrow.
Electronic Hearing Protection
This is where ear pro becomes cool! Electronic Hearing Protection is a game-changer. My Howard Leight Impact Sports Earmuff is a Christmas gift from my in-laws from a couple of years ago.
This is the first item on the list that does not violate my ear canals’ civil rights because they are earmuffs. Since nothing is probing my ear, these are extremely comfortable to me. You can also upgrade and get gel cups to replace the standard, rigid foam that came with it for $25-$45.
Now that you know that they are great to wear, what makes them so great to use? The microphone on the front of each earmuff picks up every noise around you and amplifies it. It’s like you are a superhero in the MCU and have an enhanced power of super hearing. This allows you to sometimes hear animals before you see them and you can communicate with your hunting party without fidgeting with the equipment.
This is extremely important when you are very close to a sounder of hogs and are counting down a simultaneous shot with a buddy. You can be 10 feet away from me and when I start whispering the countdown, you have no issue getting into the rhythm. While these amplify EVERYTHING around you, through some sorcery, it magically protects your hearing when shooting.
By rolling the wheel or dial (whatever you want to call it) on the left earmuff, you control the power and the volume. These Howard Leight earmuffs take two AAA batteries and it seems like they last forever. This device isn’t much more (around $40-$50) than the Surefire EP4 Defenders. To me, it is worth it to spend a little more money and get the electronic ear pro because you get so much more bang for your buck and they are more comfortable.
Bluetooth Enabled Ear Protection
The next step in this evolution is the modern sportsman with the rifle and that is the Walker’s Silencer – Bluetooth Rechargeable device. If you’ve read any of my Pulsar reviews, you know that I am a huge fan of rechargeable batteries. These Walkers come with a charging dock where these earpieces sit in for storage and to charge. When the charging dock is fully charged, it can charge the earpieces up to 4 times. After several hunts, I have yet to recharge my charging dock.
While they are pretty small and look like some high tech hearing aid you would find at the nursing home, they are pretty comfortable for something you put in your ear canal. These come with a small, medium and large Sure-Lock sizing fins and foams tips which allows you to find the best fit for you.
There are a lot of bells and whistles you get with this device and there should be for over $200. What do you get for $200? Let me tell you. While it has Bluetooth, I have yet to utilize it but plan to experiment with it more in the future. Some people might pair to their smart phone to listen to a ball game while hunting at a slower pace than I do. A free app helps you manage the device and shows you the battery life percentage of both earpieces. You can also modify the volume and cycle through the four program settings (Voice Clarity, Hi-Frequency Boost, General, and Power Boost). You can control both the volume and program settings with the buttons on each earpiece.
As far as performance, the jury is still out. Hunting in the windy wheat fields of Texas has been challenging with these Walker’s. The ability to hear and communicate effectively has not been great due to the strong winds that normally accompany us in these fields. I know people that use these at the range and love them. The Walkers are a great fit for someone who sits in a blind and wants to use the Bluetooth to connect to their phone and listen to audio, but I am not yet sure if they are fit for the tactical hog hunting we do out in Texas where being able to communicate is vital.
My Go To Ear Pro For Tactical Hunting
I did hint at a surprise here. A lot of times we think the most expensive, the newest thing is always going to be the best option. That’s true in some cases, most cases perhaps. But not in this case and for this specific purpose of tactical hog hunting. I am partial to my Howard Leight Impact Sports with the upgraded gel cups. Primarily because they give me the ability to communicate and hear even in a strong Texas wind. And did I mention they do that while not sacrificing any comfort or breaking the bank?
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Thank you for this article. I recently went shooting with family and wore foamies. I ended up with hearing loss and a concussion after shooting high-caliber rifles and an AR-15. Now that I’m in hearing aids and still hard of hearing even with them, and experiencing the terrible frustration of hearing loss every day, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of adequate protection. My audiologist is also a gun enthusiast and gave me very good advice – for next time, haha. Too bad I didn’t have it before the damage was done.