As a kid, I always wanted to shoot. The fact that I was not allowed to use ‘real’ guns was extremely unfair. Yet, I distinctly recall not finding it nearly as unfair as the prerequisite to finally start shooting centrefire rifles.
Yes, I would finally be allowed to shoot actual guns, but only if I wore hearing protection. And this did not mean foam plugs, it explicitly referred to full-sized over-earmuffs. I hated them when I was 14 and would still not say I like them today.
However, I have many hunting and shooting buddies who have varying degrees of hearing loss after decades of shooting and am glad my hearing is still fine. To keep it that way, I still wear hearing protection whenever I can and would strongly recommend other shooters do so too.
In-ear protection has come a long way and is convenient. Research seems to indicate it works as well or better than over-earmuffs. That said, good plugs are costly and easy to misplace. So, earmuffs may be the way to go for many shooters.
Fortunately, technological advances mean that a good pair of muffs today has very little, if anything, to do with the big bulky muffs I was made to wear as a kid. After years of using various Peltor models, I have switched to a pair of electronic Howard Leight Impact Sport muffs for field use.
For me, Howard Leight was not a brand that rang a bell when a shooting friend suggested their Impact Sport electronic earmuffs as an alternative to the 3M Peltor SportTac model I had used and complained about for years.
However, I reckoned they were worth a try. A quick bit of research turned up that Howard Leight is a brand of the Honeywell corporation. More specifically, it falls under the Industrial Safety division.
The Howard Leight product catalogue includes a large variety of hearing protectors, ranging from plugs and passive earmuffs, to electronic ones. Though not specifically mentioned on the website, it seems like the Impact Sport muffs are targeted at hunters and shooters. They are available in army green and are sold by many hunting and shooting retailers.
Why electronic earmuffs like the Impact Sport model for field use? The reason for me is two-fold. First off, my radio or mobile phone connects to them, which makes communication with the outside world possible while wearing hearing protection. Secondly, they can amplify ambient sounds below the 82 decibel level, rather than blocking all noises indiscriminately. As a result of this, you stay connected with your environment, which is critical from a safety point of view. The added benefit is that the elusive pig that rummages around the bush in the distance suddenly becomes audible.
As soon as noise levels reach 82 decibels, amplification stops and the muffs function as a regular passive pair, protecting your hearing. Their specified rating for Australia is class 4, with a noise reduction of 24 decibels.
The Impact Sport earmuffs are powered by two AAA batteries, which gives them an average of 700 hours of use.
The earmuffs have an AUX input, a 3.5mm connector cable is provided in the box. With batteries inserted, weight is just over 300 grams (301.4). Most of the material used are various types of plastic, save a metal frame in the headband.
As mentioned, recent scientific research suggests that the use of custom-fitted in-ear plugs provide better protection from harmful levels of noise than many forms of over-ear protection. These days, plugs can also be made to offer electronic amplification of ambient sounds and they are fairly easily available.
With this in mind, it may seem odd that some shooters still opt for over-ear protection. So why would you? Though the much higher price of plugs may be prohibitive for a number of shooters, I feel the cost argument should not be the deciding factor if discounted over decades of preserved hearing.
However, there are other, much more practical reasons to use over-ear protection like the Impact Sport earmuffs. They offer a good amount of protection in a conveniently compact package because they fold up. In addition to this, I greatly appreciate the amplification of ambient noises for previously mentioned safety reasons and when stalking.
Being made almost entirely of plastics, the earmuffs are hard-wearing, easy to clean and amply weather resistant. I can connect my radio, which I always use when hunting with a mate, both to communicate our positions and animal movements, as well as to be able to radio for help in case of emergency.
In addition to this, you will not lose them as easily. I have tried in-ear plugs and after having them fitted and waiting for them to be produced for a while, it took me all of two trips to lose one of them. Another grumble I have is that I found keeping them clean in outdoor situations tedious. Repeatedly taking them out and putting them back in with grimy hands, in dusty or muddy environments is a chore.
My switch to the Impact Sport model is based on a few characteristics of this particular set of muffs. The main reason is their slim profile. I no longer own the 3M Peltor SportTac I previously used, but the Impact Sport is a lot sleeker than the passive pair of Peltor Optime III earmuffs I still use.
The two Peltor models are similar in profile, with the Howard Leight Impact Sport being much slimmer. This makes all the difference in the field. With the Impact Sport muffs, I can quickly bring up my gun to fire a shot without them being in the way. I do not miss a shot because I decide not to fire in case I cannot bring my gun up properly and I do not bump them off my ear just before I fire.
As you recall, I alluded to complaining about the Peltor SportTac pair. Well, there you have my main gripe. For me and my shooting style, they were too bulky for practical field use. They offered great protection and were generally comfortable, but they just kept intruding. My only other complaints are that somehow they seemed to warm up my ears much more on hot days than the Impact Sport do and they did not fold down as small.
My Impact Sport earmuffs see a fair bit of use. I enjoy going out with the shotgun for small game and most of my other hunting involves hiking long distances and stalking. I carry them in a small pouch on my belt or in a large coat pocket when not in use and put them on once I arrive at a spot where I think I will be shooting.
The amplification of ambient noises has on occasion helped me find animals that I would not have detected without them. So far, I am on my second pair of batteries, the first ones lasted me several months, so I’m quite pleased with battery life.
I went with green ones even though other colours are available, but will probably go with some bright colour when the time comes to replace them. It just makes them easier to find and provides additional safety when in areas with other hunters.
Even though I use my muffs fairly diligently, I do not think there is such a thing as a perfect pair of over-earmuffs for active use in the field. Even the Impact Sport model, that I consider the most convenient pair I have used to date, has its downsides.
Most importantly, the traditional model slips in the way of your hat and potentially your glasses. I am fortunate not to require prescription glasses, but generally wear sunglasses and always don a hat. Well, except when I wear my muffs.
After trying various options that differ from putting them on seconds prior to shooting (not practical), wearing a beanie over them (no brim, inadequate under tropical conditions) to putting various types of caps over them (with varying success), I have taken to using a scarf.
I can wear my Akubra while covering terrain with the scarf around my neck. Once I stalk in, I switch and put on the muffs with the scarf over them. We will not get into how this looks, but it fits over the headband of the muffs while protecting me from the sun.
The added benefit is that it also covers part of my face, providing some additional camouflage. Another drawback is that you need to make sure you put them on well so they properly cover and seal your ears. This this proved a bit finicky the first few times, but I have found fully extending the muffs, putting them on and pushing the headband down ensures a good fit.
Again, this is not unique to the Impact Sport model, but failing to do so means you will not be as well protected as you should.
Perhaps one day, I will look into owning another pair of in-ear hearing protectors. For now, I will keep using earmuffs when I go out shooting. For field use, that means my Howard Leight Impact Sport muffs. They are not perfect, but of the various models I have used over the years, they are what works best for me. So far battery life has been great, they are durable and competitively priced at $149 – visit tsaoutdoors.com.au
- Weight: 301.4g (batteries included)
- Protection rating: Class 4, 24 DB reduction
- Activation level: 82 dB
- AUX in: 5mm
- Power specifications: 2xAAA / 350 hours, auto-off after 4 hours
- Material: Plastics (plus metal frame in headband)
- In the box: Earmuffs, AAA Batteries x2, 3.5mm audio cable