Digital ear-plug maker Electronic Shooters Protection (ESP) reports that every time you shoot a gun without proper hearing protection you are assaulting your ears with up to 150 decibels (dB) of deafening sound. Repeat exposure over 90 dB will result in permanent hearing loss while a single gun blast of more than 120 dB can do the same. More than 50 million shooters in the U.S. are currently at risk for developing some degree of noise-induced hearing loss – the world’s most common and preventable disability.
We sometimes regard hearing degradation as a simple quality-of-life issue, when in fact it has been scientifically linked to a reduction in cognitive function. Studies have found a link between untreated hearing loss, Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Now, more than ever, we are aware of the associated dangers and know that as wing and clays shooters, we are particularly susceptible to hearing damage. Luckily, the answer can be found with today’s digital technology.
In the shooting world, digital hearing protection has become the benchmark against sports-related hearing loss. Electronic protection safeguards from injurious levels of noise, while still allowing low-level surrounding sounds we associate with everyday life to be heard. What sets the electronic experience apart from using solid, analog earplugs or muffs is the ability to hear your grandchild whisper in the deer blind, the whoosh of duck wings approaching your decoy spread, or the ease of simply conversing normally with friends while benefitting from digital noise cancellation when a shot is triggered.
Electronic ear protection generally comes in two variations: inside the ear and earmuffs. Like old-fashioned ear plugs, with electronic versions the actual ear plugs or muffs provide the protection, while built-in amplifiers allow the user to hear through the device. Being able to hear ambient sounds like conversations and animal calls makes electronic hearing protection particularly attractive to shooters and hunters – and ultimately worth the investment. After all, why spend all that money on airfare, gas, vehicle rental, guide fees, ammunition, and food and lodging only to skimp on the best hearing protection that can both improve the size of your bag and protect your long-term quality of life?
Cutting-edge versions employing digital electronics are often tunable and can be ordered in discreet flesh tones. Easy-access volume-control dials let you easily adjust ambient sound intrusion on-the-fly.
Inside-the-ear style electronic protection is much less intrusive and more comfortable to wear than earmuffs, which can be cumbersome, hot and even hinder your gun mount by bumping against the comb of the stock.
One common question about electronic hearing protection is whether or not you can wear it in wet conditions.
ESP’s P2i Aridion nano-coating technology, standard on every model, protects their devices against water damage. The nano-coating reduces the surface energy of the device. Instead of the water spreading and sticking, it forms droplets that allows moisture, sweat and humidity to bead up and roll away. This hydrophobic layer is 1,000 times thinner than a human hair and ensures superior liquid repellency of the entire device.
As an industry professional, I spend an extraordinary amount of time on clays courses and in the field. I’m at an age where we all become sensitive to potential infirmities, and decided it was time to up my game as a longtime user of ESP’s electronic ear plugs to their new Apex model. On the outside, the Apex looked identical to my previous set of ESP Elites, but what wasn’t obvious to the eye was their latest chipset with its proprietary, patented wind-cancellation algorithm.
The ESP Apex model adds a patented sound processing functionality, which virtually eliminates wind noise, thereby minimizing distracting background sounds. Through custom fitting, the ESP electronic hearing protection devices create a tight seal with your ear to further mitigate noise intrusion.
In talking about the Apex, ESP owner Jack Homa explained that wind noise comes in two variations: the sound made from the wind hitting the microphone, and that made by the wind blowing through trees, grasses, cornstalks, and other nearby objects. Jack explained the first type of wind noise is reduced by all ESP models by tucking the microphone up under the flap of skin at the front of the ear opening called the helix, which acts as a natural windbreak to keep the wind off the microphone. The Apex goes a step further, helping eliminate other sources of wind noise using a patented algorithm that effectively cancels out this type of noise. The cutting-edge chipset containing this algorithm is exclusive to ESP.
“Repeat customers have reported 40 mile-per-hour winds in the Dakotas, no problem,” said Jack. “Thirty mile-per-hour winds through the Georgia pine trees chasing quail, no problem either. Another customer enrolled in Gunsite Academy, which requires students to wear electronic hearing protection. He told me his fellow students were complaining about the wind noise, but he never noticed it.”
ESP devotees include Willi Schmidt, of Pure Hunting T.V. fame, and two-time national sporting clays champion, Cory Kruse. Celebrated dog trainer George Hickox is an ESP user, and says “I use the ESP Stealth model which provides the highest quality digital sound. I can dial out unwanted background noises while still hearing a bird flush, the sound of a dog’s bell, or my hunting partners talking in a normal tone while safeguarding my hearing from the sound of gunfire.”
Shooting sporting clays on a moderately windy day wearing my new pair of ESP Apexes made a believer out of me. I still reaped all the benefits of my older set of ESPs – along with the field-proven effectiveness of the new wind suppression feature. I could still easily converse in normal fashion, I heard the traps fire, but the wind noise was amazingly filtered out. Of course, the Apexes provided the unparalleled hearing protection I have come to expect. I’m eager to use them in the Indiana dove fields and the northern Michigan grouse coverts this fall.
Dana Farrell has written hundreds of articles on shooting and hunting. He lives in the great state of Michigan and loves grouse hunting with his pointing dogs, vintage A.H. Fox shotguns and sporting clays.