Young people, especially, should wear hearing protection in the field at all times. The author's son has taken 34 big-game animals and fired thousands of rounds at the range, but he's never fired a shot without hearing protection.
Whenever I am at an industry gathering, I can't help but chuckle as the volume rises every time another one of my fellow gun scribes enters the room. You see, most of my colleagues come from an era when few folks bothered with hearing protection. A few may have worn simple plugs or stuck an empty cartridge case in their ears at the range, but few bothered with such sissified niceties in the field. Consequently, they have all suffered a significant amount of hearing loss.
I have always tried to protect my hearing. As a kid, I remember my uncles teasing me for wearing earplugs on our annual dove hunts. As I grew up and started hunting on my own, I continued to wear earplugs on my bird hunts no matter how much grief my friends gave me. When I started guiding hunts, my clients' muzzle brake-equipped rifles taught me real fast to have earplugs handy. Today, I never hunt without them. I even double up at the range, using plugs and muffs to block out the noise of crowded firing lines. It seems excessive to some, but I have always believed that excessive muzzle blast causes more flinches than heavy recoil, and I can't afford a flinch.
As much as I've tried to safeguard my hearing, it has not survived three decades of shooting and hunting completely intact. A broken trigger return spring on one of my Model 70s led to an inadvertent discharge inside an enclosed Texas deer blind. The sound of a .270 WSM going off in such close quarters is, literally, deafening. I was incapacitated for two days as a result. Nausea, dizziness, and the sound of a million crickets chirping in my ears kept me in my darkened room until my equilibrium returned. A trip to the gunsmith confirmed that the spring had broken and the fault was not mine, but my restored confidence did nothing for my hearing.
Shortly after that trip, I decided to use hearing protection at all times in the field to guard against such accidents and the inevitable occasions when time wouldn't allow me to insert my plugs before taking a shot. I considered using standard foam plugs, but they work so well they leave me practically deaf. Muffs are a bit better, but they are bulky and hot. Eventually, I decided to bite the bullet and buy a set of fitted, electronic earplugs.
Electronic plugs are great because they amplify the quiet sounds and block out the loud ones. They work really well, and the professionally fitted, high-end plugs are comfortable enough to wear all day. Unfortunately, they are also quite expensive.
My first set was a digital pair from ESP. The professionally fitted, electronic plugs were simply amazing. They blocked out the loud sounds without clipping or cutting out and amplified the quiet sounds without distorting or overamplifying them. I used them for years until, sadly, they failed to survive a trip through the washer in the pocket of my jeans.
The loss hurt my pocketbook and forced me to hunt and guide without hearing protection way too often. Over that year and a half, I did a great deal of damage to my hearing.
A quick twist of the wrist opens and closes the ports of Savage's adjustable muzzle brake. In the open position, the brake reduces felt recoil by approximately 30 percent, but the price of that recoil reduction is increased muzzle blast. Closing the ports reduces the muzzle blast to normal levels, and it's the ideal setting for hunting.
Last year, I decided I couldn't afford to lose any more hearing. My wife was complaining about the TV volume, conversations in crowded rooms were becoming increasingly difficult, and everyone around me was getting sick and tired of me asking them to repeat themselves. Most of my hearing loss was a result of that trigger return spring failure, but the hundreds of animals I shot and guided hunters to without hearing protection the previous 18 months didn't help.
I really liked my ESP digital earplugs, but a chance meeting with Walker's PR guru Mark Sidelinger caused me to take a long look at the offerings on the Walker's Game Ear website. The model that caught my eye is the full shell Custom Hybrid from the Jim Shockey series.
According to the website, the Hybrid has all the requisite high-tech features, such as high-definition digital signal processing platform, eight channels for the cleanest processing of intricate sound details, an integrated automatic 16 band graphic equalizer that delivers natural sound enhancement, and four different listening modes. All that adds up to one high-performance set of earplugs.
The Hybrid's state-of-the-art circuitry protects my ears from loud noises, and the plugs don't "clip," or cut out. In fact, they keep speech at near-normal levels while cutting out loud sounds. And they don't distort the sounds they amplify. Their digital circuitry is also easy on their standard hearing aid batteries, and their custom fit makes them comfortable to wear for extended periods, which means I'm sure to have them in at the moment of truth.
The author uses Walker's molded Custom Hybrid electronic earplugs. The fancy colored ones at the bottom are the custom molds he sent to Walker for having his plugs made.
Walker's digital earplugs aren't cheap, but they're a heck of a lot cheaper than hearing aids. They'll also do a great job of preserving the hearing you have left, and they'll keep you from developing tinnitus — that maddening, never-ending ringing in your ears that reminds you each and every day just how foolish you were to neglect your hearing.
A Muzzle Brake That's Easy On The Ears
In my August 2009 column I wrote about my disdain for muzzle brakes. Muzzle brakes definitely reduce felt recoil, but I don't like them because they make the rifles that they're attached to much louder. Several sharp-eyed readers and hunting buddy and Savage CEO Ron Coburn reminded me that Savage's excellent adjustable muzzle brake reduces felt recoil and addresses the noise issue in a very unique way. Since I am on the subject of hearing pr
otection, I thought it would be a good time to circle back and cover Savage's adjustable brake.
Savage's adjustable muzzle brake is unique because you can turn it on and off with a quick turn of the wrist. At the range, where shooting from the bench increases felt recoil, you can leave the ports open to take advantage of the brake's 30 percent recoil reduction. In the field, twist the brake to close the ports and bring the muzzle blast down to a normal level. Your guide or hunting partners will appreciate it, and you won't feel the recoil when you're shooting at game anyway.
Operating the adjustable brake is very simple, but you need to know where your gun hits with the brake open and closed because the point of impact is rarely the same. I have acquired two muzzle brake-equipped Savage rifles since I wrote that column (a 6.5-284 and a .300 Winchester Magnum). Both have different points of impact when I turn the brakes off. The change isn't a big one at 100 yards, but it is pretty significant as the range increases. You need to find out how much it affects your rifle's point of impact before you take it hunting.