Are you or have you ever met a war veteran or career soldier who could hear well? I hope so, but too many have lost their normal hearing. Guns are loud by nature, as are helicopters and other military aircraft. Repeated gun blast exposure and long term exposure to high noise levels can permanently destroy the little features of your ears that allow you to hear normal sound, rendering you “hard of hearing.” One of the worse cases I personally encountered was a fellow I worked with many years ago who had been on a naval ship during WWII. His combat job was to stand on deck with binoculars below a cruiser’s big dual-gun turret to spot where the shells hit, calling in aiming adjustments to the gunnery crew. Needless to say, that is about as bad as it gets for gunfire noise exposure. He had worn earmuffs but in his day nothing stopped the sound of those mighty blasts.
When the OSHA law was passed, my employer appointed me to get our steel fabrication plant into compliance with it. As it turned out, hearing protection was one of the greatest challenges. Forming, punching and stamping steel parts is LOUD – usually far above the acceptable levels set out in the OSHA rules. So if the sound levels could not be reduced, then hearing protection had to be provided for everyone working inside the plant.
Earplugs and muffs were a quick answer. But they created other issues of safety and work coordination since they blocked almost all normal sound. That made communication inside the plant nearly impossible without them being temporarily removed. We enclosed as many operations as possible to lower the operators’ sound exposure, but most operations were not suited for that. I looked further for a better solution.
I discovered what was called an “Ear Valve.” They are specially made earplugs that allow you to hear most normal sounds but momentarily close when there are loud sound impulses – like the hit of a punch-press, or the blast of a gun. We didn’t shoot guns in our plant but one shop had nearly a dozen machines producing the repetitive banging sounds of heavy gauge metal being punched and formed. The little ear valves were ideal for it. They satisfied both the need for hearing protection while allowing communications. And they were cheap.
These little ear valves, also called Sonic Valves, are great for shooters. I often use them for target shooting – the same ones I got all those years ago. They will last and last with a little care. However, since they go into your ear canals, they decrease your ability to hear quiet sounds while wearing them. So I don’t consider them ideal for a hunter because a hunter needs to hear every quiet sound around them. That could also be said of some defensive or tactical situations.
With my own advancing age, I don’t hear as well as I used to. So a couple of years ago I decided that I would try to find something to help me to hear while hunting and protect my hearing at the same time. An online search provided many solutions just for that. But before choosing one, I decided to search the industrial-strength hearing protection that’s now available – the stuff that’s used everyday by people doing a job. At the 3M website, I found one that seemed to be ideal for my purposes: The 3M-Peltor Tactical Sport Electronic Headset. It was made to be used constantly and made to last. The thing was a little pricey for me at $176, so I searched further for online stores where they might be purchased for less. I found a safety supply company that priced them at about $110, so I bought them – and they are great.
The set is black and folds to a compact size for carry. It came with a draw-string carry pouch, batteries and an extra set of covers that are bright orange. For deer hunting, I opt for those orange covers since I’m wearing an orange cap anyway.
If you hunt with a handgun, especially a revolver, I recommend that you seriously consider using this type of hearing protection. My ears rang for a week after test firing just one CCI Shotshell cartridge from my .44 Mag Ruger Super Blackhawk – to pattern the shot spread. It never dawned on me that it could be extremely loud so I didn’t bother with my earplugs. Big mistake.
One feature that I thought would be really good for hunting with buddies turned out not to be as useful as anticipated. With this particular model, a mono-channel audio input port is provided that allows the set to be used as headphones for other communications devices. The downside to that, I discovered, is when another device, such as a walkie-talkie, is plugged-in, the set only “hears” that signal and nothing around you. The external mics on the headset are disconnected. That sort of defeats the benefit of the external input feature for most hunting purposes.
There are only two things about hunting with the Tactical Sport headset that I dislike: After extended use, say after wearing them for about 4 hours, the spring of the headband that holds them securely in place becomes more like a torture device, akin to having your head in a vise but not realizing it at first. The second thing (that also became apparent only after wearing them for a long time) happens when there was a breeze or wind through the woods. It starts out like an unnoticed “white-noise” in the forest setting, but winds up being something you have to escape before it drives you nuts, coming to a point where the amplified wind in those treetops suddenly becomes unbearable. But take heart – there is a solution that works for both issues: Just take them off for 10 or 15 minutes every couple of hours. At least that works for me.
Using the Peltor Tactical Sport in the woods really opened my consciousness to how well a deer or other game might hear you trying to creep though their place – their woods. With them, you notice the fall of an acorn as it hits the ground 75 yards away. And a woodpecker that’s ¼-mile away sounds as if it’s only a few trees away. You notice the sound of limbs rubbing together during a little breeze, and birds chirping from 100 yards or more. You hear a hawk calling as it sails across the sky beyond the next hill, and crows angrily taking on an owl at some faraway place. You notice the sound of a vehicle rolling on a gravel road that’s maybe a mile from you. Overall I’d say that it is an incredible experience for anyone deep in the woods. It makes you want to be still. Those critters are listening, too.
I found that Peltor also has a model called the “Peltor Tactical 6S” which is available at Cheaper Than Dirt, MidwayUSA, Optics Planet, and many other places. It appears to be almost the same as the “Tactical Sport” model that I have but at about half the price. They list similar features but they are not the same. The 6S has a NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) of 19 vs. 20 for the Tactical Sport. And the battery life for the 6S is shown as 200 hours using 4-AAA batteries vs. 500 hours using 2-AAA batteries for the Tactical Sport. This indicates to me that there are serious differences in their electronics and perhaps the quality of the sound reproduced through each. Other differences listed are: Gray vs. Black, no audio input jack, no orange covers and no stuff-bag provided. Not listed but presumed different: No auto shut-off after 2-hours idle, no batteries provided, and Made in USA vs. no mention for the 6S. I’m thinking the 6S is designed more for use at the firing range than for hunting and other extended-use serious applications. But, it may fit your needs perfectly. I recommend checking out the purchaser ratings and reviews at the various websites to see if this lower cost model may be right for you.
You may discover as I did that standard AR type of rifles do not work well with most earmuff protectors because the stock does not drop away from the sight-line the way old-style conventional rifle stocks do. My right-side earmuff, if left in proper position, interferes with the stock on my CAR-15 when aiming. To get the right sight-view, I must use earplugs or raise my right earmuff out of position – which defeats its protection. But maybe that’s just my problem. Some protective earmuffs have a recessed lower side to clear an AR stock. So if an AR is your primary shooter, you may want to consider those.
With the Peltor Tactical Sport, the sound you hear can be adjusted from “no-sound” all the way up to about 1.5 times louder than the actual sound. This amplification of sound makes hearing those little tippy-toe deer steps through Fall leaves a cinch, even from long distances. They have a mic on each side to provide stereo, just like your ears. The sound seems natural and you can easily tell the direction that a sound is coming from. And they protect your hearing since any and all sounds that exceed a safe level are electronically clipped to a maximum of about 85-dbA – which is for me distinct but not loud at all. At the range, you will hear gunfire from yourself and others but it won’t be loud. You can hear normal conversation while a shooter in the next booth is blasting away as if those shots were a half-block away. I find them to be so natural that I forget that I’m wearing them at times.
If you’re interested in trying the ear valves, I found them available online at “US Armorment” as the Sonic II Ear Valve, which they claim provides more protection than previous models.