It was a dream come true. As a budding outdoor writer and magazine editor, I was making my first media junket. The occasion was the launch of a new line of Winchester Ammunition. The location was at their home base in East Alton, Illinois. I hooked up with our PR host and a portion of the group in the baggage claim area of the St. Louis Airport. We grabbed the luggage and headed out to the parked van where more of the writers were already waiting.
As the youngest guy in the group, our host asked if I wouldn’t mine climbing in toward the back of the van. I snuck around some bags and plopped into an open seat, then looked up to see who I was sitting with; I was struck nearly speechless. On my left was Hal Swiggett. On my right, across the narrow aisle, was Bill Jordan (not Bill Jordan of RealTree, but Big Bill Jordan of border patrol fame). On the first hour of my first big time press trip, I found myself seated between two handgun legends. That memory sticks vividly with me all these decades later. With both Hal and Bill hunting the other side now, it’s a career-defining event I cherish.
The other memory that remains equally strong is the primary function I served during that ride to our hotel. Both Hal and Bill were of the shooting era when no one thought twice about hearing protection. Shoot more, shoot more often—ears be danged. So if these two legends were going to be able to carry on a conversation in the noisy van, they needed a young buck between them to translate and elevate the volume. To my honor, the young buck that day was me!
Besides the honor, that van ride made lasting a impression on me that has made me a stickler about hearing protection ever since.
At the range I’m fanatical about hearing protection to the point where, depending on what we are shooting, I’ll wear both plugs and muffs. But as important as they are, I had never come up with anything that I really liked for use in the field. Muffs are okay, but sometimes interfere. In-the-ear solutions weren’t comfortable for predawn to post-dusk wear, and with hearing enhancement systems I always had problems determining the exact direction from which amplified sounds were coming.
Then I got a call from Brad Esson. Brad’s a Minnesotan and hunting fanatic who markets a product called WildEar Hearing Boosters.
I told Brad about my ongoing issues, and he assured me WildEar would make me a believer. So, we set up an appointment at a local sporting goods store for me to have a pair custom molded. About 2 weeks later they showed up in the mail, in time for the last several hunts of the year.
Not having worn ear plugs of any kind for actual “in-the-field” shooting (i.e. hunting) for years, the biggest hurdle for me to overcome was to remember to put them in. Because they are precision molded to my ears and color-coded for right and left, identification is easy and they are comfortable. But there is a learning curve of not “feeling” them all the time. As I remembered to wear them, it became more natural to have them inserted for increasing periods of time. I also really like that each unit is permanently etched with my name, so that when I inevitably leave them somewhere they’ll at least be easily identified!
A number of the deer hunts on which I tried them were in extremely windy conditions, and I couldn’t wear them for long then. Amplified wind noise is worse than regular wind noise, which in itself is annoying. But then came the chance to try them last week for waterfowl hunting in Stuttgart, Arkansas. Wow! I was impressed.
WildEar Hearing Boosters are by far the best hearing protection/enhancers I’ve ever worn on a waterfowl hunt. I used them in pit blinds, brush blinds and in the flooded timber. The wide range of volume adjustment allowed me to set the enhancement level perfectly for each situation; yet, when the guns were booming, they blocked out the harmful blasts completely. The WildEar Master Series has four “programs,” which allow me to select the type of sounds that I want enhanced, and which I want diminished. I need to play with this some more in the wind, but I believe these programmed settings could really help there.
Best of all, the WildEar system allowed me to accurately pinpoint the direction of the enhanced whistling wings, which made me an instant ace in spotting birds flying above the canopy of the timber. Now, if they could just make me a better duck caller … then they’d really have something!
I can’t wait to try them out on my turkey hunts this spring. I believe they’ll help me hear more birds, as well as pinpoint locations. And you know what? I’m betting they’ll help me avoid busting as many birds as I have in the past. My aggressive hunting nature always makes me want to get “just a little bit closer” to toms I hear. Now that I’ll be able to hear them better, I’ll be more inclined to just sit down where I’m at and call them in. That will boost my success ratio for sure!