Hunting and recreational and competitive shooting are rewarding sports that develop discipline and character. They also have negative side effects, one of which is hearing loss. Almost all older shooters suffer from hearing loss and I am one of them. My first observation came in the form of not hearing the travel alarm clock I’d had for years. I noticed at some point that I simply couldn’t hear the clock’s high pitched alarm when I was lying on my right ear. The hearing in the left ear seemed as good as the right, but there were frequencies that I could no longer hear.
My hearing loss was troubling, but not much of a problem. A couple of years later, in noticed that I was hearing summer night sounds in the dead of winter. I have tinnitus. I believe I’m fortunate in that my tinnitus is a pleasant summer evening sound of crickets and other nocturnal insects–but it’s still tinnitus.
I was one of the first people I knew who truly appreciated enhanced hearing protection. My first experience was in running the line in Service Rifle Clinics at Camp Butner. I borrowed a pair of the very first Peltor muffs with amplification I ever saw and used them for a weekend running the firing line during the M1 Garand clinic. They were wonderful. They protected my ears, yet I could still hear conversations with block officials and competitors as well as the pit to line communications. I was hooked and bought a set the first time I saw them available. I still have several pairs from Caldwell that I let students use in shooting classes and my students love them.
Recently, I decided it was time to step up to the real thing and I got a set of Nitro Ears custom ear plugs. Mine are full-size units, fit to my ears. One of the issues about electronic hearing protection is that it is, by nature, small. Those of us who need it the most are often older, and our fingers don’t always manipulate small objects well and we almost all have problems with small objects because of our declining close vision. I chose the larger units because of this. To me, they are simpler to manipulate. They are more noticeable, but fashion has never been a big concern for me, anyway.
I chose the standard Nitro Elite units. They have four gain settings for different auditory conditions.
The Nitro Elite units have less than two percent distortion and impulse noise protection that limits sounds that are capable of hearing damage. They’ll compress impulse noises above 85db without turning off. This gives you a more normal sound than most electronic muffs that simple cancel high noise levels. There is no noticeable transition to the sound. It’s like hearing gunshots on TV. You know it’s a shot, but it isn’t loud enough to hurt your ears. The passive hearing protection is 25-30db NRR and battery life is about 96 hours of full time use per battery. An automatic power down function extends battery life.
The best part of all this is that the Nitro Elite units are programmable, meaning you can visit an audiologist and send your hearing test results to Nitro Ear. They can then tune your units to your hearing and enhance the frequencies where you have hearing loss. You can again hear sounds you might not have heard in years. With normal hearing aids, your ear canal is still capable of hearing what your natural hearing can pick up. These are not hearing aids, but they do the same thing while protecting your ears from further damage.
I quickly adjusted to them and they are clearly the best hearing protection I’ve ever used in addition to being the most comfortable. I no longer feel my head is in a vise as I do after long periods with muffs, I can wear my hat and remove my glasses without removing my muffs. I hear better and feel more relaxed after long shooting sessions. The sound quality is not the same as hearing aids because all the sound you hear comes from the speaker.
For me, it all comes down to comfort. The Nitro Ear Elite units I have are more comfortable than anything I’ve worn except foam plugs which limit my ability to hear and require me to constantly remove and reinstall them. I hear better with them than any system I’ve used and I look forward to seeing how they work in a rapid-fire stage in the upcoming National High Power Matches.
Images by Dick Jones