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Say What? Normalizing the Use of Hearing Protection for Bird Hunters

Protecting your ears in the field now will reduce your chances for hearing loss and other health complications down the road.

Say What? Normalizing the Use of Hearing Protection for Bird Hunters

Modern electronic hearing protection devices allow bird hunters to hear the subtle sounds of the hunt while protecing their ears from damaging decibels. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

If you’ve spent enough time enjoying hunting, shooting, and loud music like me, then you’re no stranger to the damage these high-audible activities can cause. In addition to my aforementioned upbeat upbringing, I spent my early twenties as a project geologist working on drill rigs and construction sites while playing bass guitar in dive bar bands on the weekends. Protecting my ears was not something I gave much thought to.

I eventually abandoned my boisterous bachelor ways, got married, and adopted a more modest lifestyle, but the damage was done. I continue to enjoy hunting, shooting, and rocking out to good tunes now more than ever, but the ringing bells that echo in my head day and night are not attached to any bird dog.

Duck hunter shooting shotgun wearing Tetra Hearing Wingshooter AlphaShields electronic hearing protection
A single shotgun blast can cause serious damage to unprotected ears; wear hearing protection to prevent hearing loss while engaged in hunting and shooting activities. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

Loud and Unclear

A few years ago, I started to notice a problem with my hearing—well, I should say my wife was sternly suggestive of a potential issue. She was beginning to shout louder down the hallway and regularly repeating herself as I was not hearing what she was saying, nor was I hearing her words clearly. Things quickly turned into frustration for both of us. I was hearing strange statements and ridiculous requests from her.

I scheduled an exam with my local audiologist where he ran me though a basic questionnaire followed by a series of tests. I sat in a sound-proof box and indicated when I heard the different tones. He also hooked me up to a machine that monitored the performance of my ears and confirmed the tinnitus (ringing in the ears) that I was well aware of all along and displayed the loss to several higher frequency tones.

I knew I might have some trouble hearing certain sounds, but to have the doctor map out measurable damage to both of my ears in my late-twenties was downright alarming. As a right-handed gunner, there is more damage to my left ear—the one closest to the muzzle bark. I continue to struggle to hear higher tones and have even more trouble picking out sounds or words amidst background noise, making daily life a bit more difficult.


Hope on the Horizon

I may never own a vintage European side-by-side shotgun or a tricked-out duck boat, but I realized the most valuable thing I do own is my health. It was then I decided to take hearing protection seriously and invest in my future. I started using a pair of Wingshooter AlphaShields from TETRA Hearing. There are many hearing enhancement and protection products on the market from expensive custom-molded electronics to earmuffs, headphones, and foam plugs, but I needed to hear the subtle sounds from the field like the jingle of a dog bell, the heart-stopping flush of a ruffed grouse, and the unforgettable duck blind buddy banter.

Upland Bird Hunter wearing Tetra Hearing Wingshooter AlphaShields electronic hearing protection
Hearing protection devices don't have to hinder your hunt; modern electronics amplify important sounds and block harmful high-decibel sounds. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

I knew my hearing was in good hands when I learned the founders of TETRA Hearing are career audiologists and passionate bird hunters. They clearly recognize the importance of both protecting hearing and hearing the hunt through their Specialized Target Optimization technology. All of the sounds and noises we expect to encounter in the field, from shotgun blasts and ringing duck calls to rooster cackles and covey flushes have all been recorded and programmed into their hearing devices, truly sacrificing nothing in your ability to experience your hunt with full sensory engagement all while protecting your ears from damaging decibels.


To learn more about both the problem and the solution, I connected with Bill Dickinson, president and founder of TETRA Hearing. Dickinson worked in the hearing aid industry for many years and is a diehard duck hunter. He noticed that while there were many products to suppress or block damaging sounds, the ability to listen was lacking, causing most hunters to not wear hearing protection which resulted in more hearing loss. “We’ve realized that every hunter needs something different depending on their individual needs, whether it be hunting for ducks, turkey, or elk, so we specially designed a series of hearing devices that are pursuit-based to protect hearing while preserving the listening experience, to hear the hunt and communicate with each other.”

Duck Hunter wearing Tetra Hearing Wingshooter AlphaShields electronic hearing protection
The Wingshooter AlphaShields from TETRA Hearing are engineered to subdue the loud ring of a duck call while picking up on the quacks and chatter of circling ducks. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

On the science of hearing loss, Dickinson outlined the physical changes that occur to our inner ears. “Like carpet at the doorway in a room, the hairs of the inner ear are worn down through repetitive excessively loud noises. The brain then becomes under-stimulated which can lead to problems down the road such as hearing loss and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Hearing loss is 100 percent preventable and it’s our hope through mentoring and awareness that we can change the narrative about hearing loss and hearing protection to modify the behaviors of hunters.”

The Cold Hard Truth

I get it. Hearing protection can be uncomfortable to wear and you need to be able to hear your dog and anticipate a flush, but all it takes is one shotgun blast for damage to occur. And keep in mind it’s both the volume and frequency of excessively loud sounds that result in damage. Hearing loss is permanent, once the damage is done, it cannot be undone. And don’t think that one shot or one outing without protection won’t hurt, hearing loss is also progressive. What starts out in our youth adds up over time and can lead to increased damage.

As in my experience, the higher frequencies—the same levels of the voices of our wives and children—are often the first to go. My advice, put aside anything perceived or actually preventing you from taking this seriously, whether you’re nervous about your gun mount or missing a joke or wild flush, it’s time we make hearing protection as much a part of hunting safely as wearing blaze orange and controlling our muzzles. And if you’ve been aware of phantom ringing in your ears, finding yourself regularly turning up the TV, or constantly asking people to repeat themselves, it’s time to assess for hearing loss and begin doing a better job of protecting yourself from future damage. The cold hard truth is that your health and the quality of your life depend upon it—don’t kill your future just to kill birds.

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