Today's High-Tech Hearing Protection for Shooters

Your customers know they need to wear hearing protection on the range. What should you be selling them?

Today's High-Tech Hearing Protection for Shooters

Hearing damage and loss is caused by cumulative damage, which can be prevented but often is not because humans are too egotistical. Kids don’t know better unless parents or mentors advise and help. Young adults think they’re bulletproof, and by the time we’re 40 or 50, perhaps with some tinnitus or gaps in conversations, the damage is done. Permanently.

When loud sound waves hit the internal components of our ears, starting with the fine cilia hairs that help capture and transmit the vibrations, it’s like a bomb shockwave rolling over a forest. Except the trees grow back in a forest, eventually. Our ears never recover. Compile blast after blast — music, gunshots, concerts, tools in the garage or at work, other noises — and in a few years we’re left asking, “Huh?” while watching television with our family or showing a polite smile at a loud restaurant because we can’t hear the conversation.

I am all of those. I am guilty of every single thing, and probably more, mentioned above. My tinnitus is buzzing as I write this while listening to Robert Earl Keen and Charlie Robison in the background. It’s just how it is. It never will go away.

Your customers have the same issues. You probably do, too. We’re all are in the mix of the following statistics from the CDC’s National Health Interview Survey:

·       In 2019, 13 percent of adults aged 18 and older had some difficulty hearing even when using a hearing aid, and 1.6 percent had a lot of difficulty hearing or could not hear at all, even when using a hearing aid.

·       Hearing difficulties increased with age, with 26.8 percent of those aged 65 and older having some difficulty and 4.1 percent having a lot of difficulty or deafness.

·       Among adults aged 45 and older, men were more likely than women to have had some or a lot of difficulty hearing, or could not hear at all.

·       Non-Hispanic white adults aged 45 to 64 had higher rates of some difficulty, a lot of difficulty, or inability to hear, compared with other race and Hispanic-origin groups.

·       In 2019, 7.1 percent of adults aged 45 and older used a hearing aid; use was higher among men than women in all age groups.

Those are your customers. Selling them hearing protection for year-round use should not be difficult. It can be easier for you these days, too, thanks to more options and better technology at different price points for every buyer.


How Damage Occurs

Our ears are intricate organs involved with hearing and balance, both of which are or can be affected as we age. Those two things are connected, too. Protecting our hearing is important in many ways.

Our outer ears collect sound waves, such as from a gunshot, and funnel them into the canal. When these waves hit the eardrum in the inner ear, its vibrations are transmitted to and through the middle ear’s three tiny bones: the hammer, anvil and stirrup. These vibrations are converted in the cochlea into electrical impulses that its tiny hair cells send to the auditory nerve to the brain for processing. Our body then reacts to the information. We might wince in pain due to loud gunshots if we’re not wearing protection, or smile at the muted “clang” of a steel target when we hear it through our plugs, muffs or aids.

Damage occurs in that final stage where the electrical impulses are converted and transmitted. Cochlear hairs don’t regenerate. When they’re damaged, like those trees cut down by the bomb blast in a forest, they don’t pop up again ready to go. Lack of hearing protection with the screaming weed-trimmer, concerts and trips to the gun range did something each time.

Last May in Phoenix at a Sig Sauer fan event I attended, the sprawling public range had a series of benches covered by metal roofs. These were built on concrete pads. Hard top, hard bottom, open all around. Yet the noise doesn’t just go forward when guns are fired. Noise expands. An app on my iPhone that measures decibels shot into the high 90s as rounds were fired, and I was standing at least 40 yards away if not more. Indoor ranges are particularly loud because the sound is “trapped” inside the building.

Hearing protection helps blunt the potential damage, and hearing aids may help users hear sounds better. You’re in a position to provide some insight while selling everything from traditional standbys to the latest models of protection.


What’s Hot for Hearing

Last year on two occasions I talked with Dr. Bill Dickinson, a longtime audiologist in Nashville, about hearing damage and protection. Dickinson is the owner of Tetra Hearing, a company that makes in-ear hearing protection with amplification, suppression and tuning to specific frequencies for shooters and hunters. He has worked in the Nashville music industry and with Vanderbilt University in the field of audiology.

Dickinson and I hit all the hows and whys about hearing damage and loss, why people avoid getting tested (ego), costs (coming down) and more. We talked about family members who refuse to admit they need assistance and how troubling that is. We discussed the technological improvements, which Dickinson said will continue to improve.

The biggest thing, though, is not awareness. We’ve heard about hearing protection and such for years. The thing now is acceptance.

“I believe it could be a generational thing, just like with safety harnesses,” Dickinson said. “There was a lot of emphasis about those, a lot of awareness and education. Now we have a generation or two of hunters who have grown up wearing safety harnesses, they’re shown in photos in magazines and on the web, and people just accept it as a safety aspect of hunting. Maybe hearing protection will be the same way.”

I’ve used some Tetra plugs for more than a year on the range, in hunting situations and even in casual settings. They come in custom and universal models, fitting nicely in my outer ear. I’ve tried other models, including from Howard Leight, that have a connective cord to keep them from falling off and with an operating button for on/off and volume. The latter has Bluetooth capability, too, which more muffs and wireless hearing protection products are offering these days.

Your sales will include all these options for one simple reason. Some shooters are cheap and just want plugs, or the least expensive muffs you have. Others will spend money on the top of the line, whether that’s a $79 model of Bluetooth- and other-enhanced muffs or something that costs two or three or 10 times as much. Just as with guns and accessories, good-better-best products and price points are found in the hearing protection section, too.


Hearing Protection for Every Budget

Consider these hearing protection options for your customers:

Foam Plugs: These are the most traditional and least expensive option, even with the molded models designed to fit more snugly into the ear canal. They offer good protection when worn properly, but the trouble is that few shooters go to the trouble of wearing them correctly (which is scrunched up and shoved down into the ear canal, then allowed to expand). Therefore, “something is better than nothing” applies with these. If your customers buy these, offer a reminder that muffs will increase the level of protection should they want to double up on the range.

Muffs: I’ve used — and highly suggest — the muffs from Walker’s, Howard Leight and Peltor. All three have super amplification and suppression, Bluetooth and comms capabilities, adjustability and comfort, and a variety of models in different sizes and colors. The Peltor Sport Tactical 500 Electronic is one to consider, as is the Howard Leight Impact Pro and Walker’s Razor Slim.

I have a couple of muffs in my truck and more at home, and am not shy about wearing them. One downside some users complain about is “they make my ears hot.” OK, that’s where in-ear protection comes into play.

In-Ear Protection: The advancements in these small, in-ear hearing protection devices is astonishing, especially in the last 10-15 years. We’ve gone from over-the-ear devices that were easily visible to flatter, more comfortable ones that fit in the outer ear opening, to today’s small models that almost are invisible.

AXIL GS Extreme 2.0 (snug, in ear, cable and controls) and Digital Ear Pro (wireless) are prime examples of these, as is the Howard Leight Impact Pro Sport Earbuds. The latter is not wireless but has USB charging capabilities, eliminating the need for batteries. They have a passive hearing protection of 29 dB and momentarily blunt anything louder than 85 dB.

Check with your distributor or sales rep about deals, special promotions and other ways to increase your hearing protection offerings.


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