If there is one item we hunters and shooters should consider indispensable it’s hearing protection. If you’re like me — and if you’ve done any amount of hunting and shooting you are — you’ve lost some of your hearing. Me, I’ve lost about 35 percent in my right ear (I shoot right handed), and about 25 percent in my left. That’s a lot, and being a gun writer for half a century, I accepted it as an occupational hazard. I say that because in my business there is no way I could have had hearing protection in place every single time a firearm has been discharged in my presence because it would be in the many tens of thousands.
Early on in my career when I was established enough to get invited to the various firearms industry writers’ seminars, I was struck by how many of my contemporary colleagues, let alone the icons of my youth like Elmer Keith, Jack O’Connor, Warren Page, Pete Kuhloff, Charlie Askins, Les Bowman, all seemed to be shouting at one another. My god, I said to myself, is this what I have to look forward to? I didn’t know it at the time, but I was already well on my way to joining them.
Hearing loss is usually a gradual thing. I say usually because some people can recall a specific event that caused the damage. For me there were three such incidents, two were accidental discharges close to my head, and one was the result of a practical joke by an idiot who thought it would be funny to discharge his .22-250 with the muzzle of his rifle about one foot from my right ear.
Realizing you’ve lost some of your hearing can be an epiphaneous event; it was for me. It happened on safari in Zambia in `79. I was taking a mid-day siesta after having risen early that morning to check leopard baits. My hootch was about 20 yards from a babbling brook that I could clearly hear as I lay there with my right ear on the pillow. But when I rolled over to my other side so that my left ear was on the pillow…silence! Someone stole my babbling brook! I damn near panicked when I realized how much hearing I had lost in my right ear. Over the years the damage seems to have evened out, so that my left ear is only marginally better than my right.
For those of us who are hearing impaired, one of the worst environments is a bar, restaurant, or any type of social scene where there’s a lot of talking or music in the background. If the person I’m trying to talk to isn’t immediately next to or across the table from me, I have trouble carrying on a conversation. And if they’re more than one person away, forget it; I might as well not even be there. Thankfully, I don’t have tinnitus, which is the ringing in one’s ears. But then again, maybe it’s because my hearing is so bad I can’t hear it!
Seriously though, of all the sounds that can damage one’s hearing, gunshots are the worst. According to OSHA, hearing damage and loss can occur in as little as 8 hours in an industrial environment of 85 dB. Music concerts and power tools can produce sound levels from 110 to 140 dB, and gunshots up to 185. According to research, the threshold of pain for most people is around 125 dB. It’s no wonder then that gunshots are so damaging
The sad truth about hearing loss is that it’s permanent, and there’s nothing that can be done to bring it back. Sound, however, can be amplified, as with hearing aids. Until recently my experience with hearing enhancement simply amplified all sounds, so the background noises that interfered with my hearing were still there. There is hope, however, because modern digital technology has gotten to where background noise can be filtered out, and sounds in the higher frequency ranges — the ones gunshots are so good at destroying — are enhanced.
The leader in this field is Axil Innovations, a company that has six product lines, all dedicated to saving or enhancing one’s ability to hear. Two of its products, SportEar and Ghost Stryke, are designed primarily for hunters and shooters. Ghost Stryke is Axil’s newest product so we thought it timely to check out a set. The company describes Ghost Stryke as “100% digital headmuffs without the muffs.” This product is not designed for hearing loss, nor does it have the advanced features to filter out background noise or enhance certain frequency ranges as the more expensive SportEAR units do; it’s purpose is to protect the ears from further damage without bulky earmuffs, while at the same time enhance sound up to 6x more than normal hearing. With GS you get digitally processed amplified sound to better hear what’s going on around you at the shooting range, out hunting, etc., yet it blocks out loud damaging noise above 85 dB through digital sound compression technology. Inexpensive #10 zinc air hearing aid batteries will power the units for 160 hours.
When I inserted GS in my ears for the first time I heard sounds in my house that I never knew existed! I could hear the swish of the ceiling fans; the rush of forced air through the heating and cooling registers; the fact that setting a glass or dish down on a marble counter top was noisy, and that the comfortable volume level on the TV was now 20 when it was 32. To say it was a sobering experience for me to suddenly discover a whole new world of sound would be understatement.
On my daily walks around the neighborhood it’s now a veritable cacophony assaulting my ears where previously nature’s sounds were either muffled or not heard at all. And I now can hear a car approaching from more than twice the distance as before. At the shooting range I was actually hesitant to try the Ghost Stryke because they amplified sound so dramatically, how could they also shut out sound when it’s at damaging levels? Well, they can! At the shooting range it was so nice not to have that claustrophobic feeling I get from muffs…to say nothing of sweaty ears, yet at the same time knowing my hearing is being protected even better than most muffs on the market can provide.
In the hunting context, I can’t imagine ever being without these things. To be able to hear a deer approach from two or three times the normal distance; a squirrel jumping from limb to limb; an elk bugling in the next zip code, can’t help but make one a more efficient hunter.
As for the social environments I mentioned earlier, that’s one where the Ghost Stryke isn’t all that effective. While I can hear better, it’s because speech is being amplified, but so is the background noise so it’s kind of a wash. However, Axil’s more expensive SportEAR line can address background noise issues. If you suspect you’ve lost some of your hearing and are tired of having to ask people to repeat things, I urge you to check out www.sportear.com The Ghost Stryke has an MSRP of $499.– Jon R. Sundra