As an international traveling hunter who has shot well over 100,000 gamebirds in 11 countries on four continents, I can tell you that the language barrier in many places can be a huge challenge. On my first wingshooting trip outside of America in 1980, I traveled to Cali, Colombia with some friends to shoot doves in the famous Cauca Valley. We took the wrong shotguns for the volume of shooting we experienced, but fortunately we did have both eye and ear protection.
With the ear plugs in place, we had no real way of communicating with each other and since my two bird boys spoke very broken English at best, I spent three days in the field pulling ear plugs out to pick up one or two words of English. Conversations with the outfitter weren’t much better, as the shooting going on all around my shooting location forced me to take the plugs out of my ears to have a conversation.
These challenges may seem trivial to some, but you can bet that communication issues can greatly affect the quality of what was otherwise a remarkable and memorable hunting experience.
At that time, I wasn’t a clay target shooter as I had actually stepped on a skeet field once in my entire life. As a young boy, my dad would take my brother and I to a family property, throw an old hand cocked Trius trap on the ground and get prepared to shoot some clay targets. In the absence of hearing protection, we would pretty much stuff anything in our ears…cotton, cigarette butts, paper…you get the idea.
Over time I shot many doves and ducks and new types of hearing protection were tried including foam plugs and plastic shooting muffs. These products did the job of protecting my hearing, but all they did was dampen sound. The ability to communicate was still lacking. The plastic muffs often affected my gun mounts as well. There had to be a better answer.
Once I started shooting clay targets on a regular basis, I found a guy who would make me some molded plugs that were custom fit to my ears. That seemed like a great idea and it was with one exception. I still couldn’t communicate with others around me without removing the plugs from my ears.
Enter ESP…that’s Electronic Shooters Protection, a remarkable product that has solved all of my communication concerns in the field and protected my hearing from gunshots and loud noises for more than two decades. I met Jack Homa, the owner of ESP at a gun club somewhere in the early 1990s, and to be honest, I can’t remember exactly where. But what I do remember is his discussion about hearing protection and hearing loss from shooting.
ESP ear protection lets you hear everything around you, but uses algorithms to block out loud, harmful noises such as gun fire. For example, the ESP Dynamic model possesses a high-quality digital sound and speaker system. The custom ear plug is equipped with six advanced auto-environmental settings and 16 channels, the built-in omnidirectional microphone enhances sound that it picks up and auto-calibrates the sounds, dampening harmful sounds while enhancing normal hearing.
You see, hearing loss does not usually occur from hearing one sound. I’m sure there are exceptions to this but in the vast majority of cases, hearing loss is progressive. What this means is that with every gunshot, the clock is ticking with regards to your hearing if it’s unprotected. Let’s analyze some common sounds in hunting.
A shotgun blast is the most common potentially harmful sound you can hear while hunting birds or waterfowl. Experts will tell you that hearing loss starts to occur at 90db. The sound of a shotgun has been calculated at 140db. Now, I’m not going to get all scientific on you, but rest assured, a 140db gunshot is contributing to hearing loss unless you are protected from it.
Of course, a single gunshot sound is one thing, but how about being in a duck blind or goose pit with a half dozen of your buddies. Worse yet, how about going on a late season snow goose hunt where there are no limits and guns don’t have to be plugged. Many hunters prepare for that by adding eight shot extensions to their shotguns. A group of eight hunters could put more than 60 rounds in the air with every decoying flight. That’s a headache and some serious ringing in the ears if I’ve ever seen it.
Now let’s talk about other sounds. I design sporting clays courses for a living so I own a decibel meter. One day I decided to check the sound level of my RM Custom duck call. To my surprise, the meter read 118db, which is over the hearing loss threshold. I love calling and shooting, so hearing loss would be in my future without some proper protection. And for the record, the loud high-pitched note on a good goose call can spike a decibel meter even higher than the 118db on my duck call.
So let’s get back to ESP and see the value of the product for the wingshooter. Bruce Scott and I started the Shotgun Journal television series in 1997. We traveled the world shooting birds and not only did we have to communicate with outfitters, guides and bird boys as discussed earlier, we had to be able to communicate with each other during the hunt. If there was ever a testing ground for custom digital hearing protection, we were certainly a part of that test. The secret with this amazing product is that it can effectively limit the sound of any noise over 90db, the sound level where hearing loss begins, but we were able to communicate clearly using our regular voices with the plugs installed. Each plug is custom fitted expressly for the user. In fact, the user’s name is placed inside the plug for verification.
As discussed earlier, being able to hear someone yelling at you from a distance is important in a dove field, but what’s more important is being able to carry on a normal conversation with hearing protection in place is pretty much critical. After all, being able to communicate comfortably with your guide and your fellow hunters is really a necessity. The ESP product line allows you to do that.
As you might expect, there are a number of different ESP models and price points ranging from the basic Analog Classic model all the way to the digital Dynamic model featuring six advanced auto-environmental settings and 16 channels. The omni directional microphone makes hearing the quietest sounds possible and the volume is totally adjustable. All ESP models feature an adjustable bandwidth to adjust the volume of sounds getting to the ear and every plug is custom fitted to the user and totally waterproof.
As I’ve gotten older, I find myself being a get to the point, bottom line kind of guy. So here it is. If you are a shotgunner – wing or clay – and you are not properly protecting your hearing from harmful noises, it’s time to get that taken care of. Without question you’ve already done some damage, but you can put a stop to further loss immediately.
I found out the hard way through decades of shooting without proper protection, but ESP took care of preventing any further hearing loss. My personal ESP model preference is the Stealth. The enhanced intelligent algorithms identify unwanted background noises without suppressing the sounds you want to hear, protecting your hearing from noises over 90dB. The Stealth hearing protection can also be custom programmed to match your hearing. +/-25 db NRR (Noise Reduction Rating).
So do yourself a big favor by making an investment into your hearing. Trust me when I tell you that you will enjoy the normal conversations with fellow hunters and guides and you will love the fact that when the guns go off, your hearing is protected from any further loss.
Marty Fischer is a designer and consultant for outdoor shooting facilities worldwide, primarily clay target (trap, skeet, sporting clays) facilities. To date he has designed more than 150 facilities in four countries. He is also a nationally recognized shooting instructor with 35+ years of experience, host of Marty Fischer's Wing & Clay Nation radio, an outdoor writer, author of two books, "The Gun Digest Book of Shotgunning" and "Limbhangers and 4-Letter Words." He is also the host of five instructional hunting and shooting videos. Find Marty on Facebook at www.wingandclayradio.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wingandclayradio