Clay Shooting

Hear­ing loud and clear

James March­ing­ton tries out the lat­est in elec­tronic hear­ing pro­tec­tion from Mer­cury Cus­tom Plugs

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James March­ing­ton keeps an ear out for some Mer­cury Cus­tom Plugs

How times change! As a teenager, my dad lec­tured me about the im­por­tance of pro­tect­ing my hear­ing when shoot­ing, and handed me a square of loo roll. I would tear it in half, roll up the pieces and stuff one in each ear. Job done, ex­cept at least one of them would fall out be­fore I’d gone 100 yards. Nowa­days, any shooter worth their salt will have some­thing al­most as so­phis­ti­cated as their iphone in their ears – and cost­ing nearly as much too. It’s all progress, and with luck those tak­ing up shoot­ing to­day won’t have my per­sis­tent ring­ing sound in their ears when they reach my age.

Hav­ing worked my way through squidgy foam plugs, Son­ics, and a va­ri­ety of pas­sive and ac­tive muffs, I thought I had found the ideal so­lu­tion. I’ve been wear­ing a set of moulded plugs with pas­sive fil­ters from Mer­cury Cus­tom Plugs for game shoot­ing. At a clay ground I’d use Pel­tor Sport­tac head­phones, which I’ve found give ex­cel­lent pro­tec­tion but re­main com­fort­able, if sweaty, for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time.

Then at the Lon­don Fish­ing and Shoot­ing Fair ear­lier this year, Dar­ren col­lared me as I passed the Mer­cury stand and urged me to “have a look at this” with a con­spir­a­to­rial tone, as if he was about to pull some con­tra­band from un­der the ta­ble. In fact it was much more ex­cit­ing than that; he had what he told me was the very first sam­ple of the Otto Noize­bar­rier Mi­cro to reach the UK.

It’s a kit based around a pair of so­phis­ti­cated elec­tronic plugs which prom­ise mil­i­tary-grade hear­ing pro­tec­tion, with up to 40db of noise re­duc­tion when it mat­ters, and the abil­ity to am­plify soft sounds up to five times. If that wasn’t clever enough, they come in a pocket-sized wa­ter­proof plas­tic box which in­cor­po­rates a bat­tery as well as var­i­ous ac­ces­sories. When you’re not wear­ing the plugs, pop them in the case and they are charged up from the bat­tery, which will top up the plugs’ charge mul­ti­ple times be­fore need­ing charg­ing it­self with a stan­dard USB ca­ble.

The plugs and case have a re­as­sur­ingly mil­i­tary feel about them. This is not just a mar­ket­ing trick – Otto in the USA make a whole range of mil­i­tary gear, from SWAT team head­sets to at­tack he­li­copter joy­sticks. When they say these things are rugged, they’re not talk­ing about a tough day down at the Skeet range. I don’t plan test­ing the box by run­ning it over with a tank, but it would cer­tainly sur­vive be­ing sat on by a cou­ple of labradors in the back of the car.

So I was cer­tainly im­pressed when Dar­ren showed me the kit, and even more

so when he ex­plained that he could take an im­pres­sion of my ears and sup­ply the kit with moulded plugs to fit pre­cisely into my lug­holes. The ba­sic Otto kit comes with the op­tion of flanged plugs or squash­able foam plugs, and the foam ones get a noise re­duc­tion rat­ing of 28db, which is as good as many over-the-ear muffs. I fig­ured a moulded plug had to be bet­ter still.

So I sub­mit­ted to the in­dig­nity of hav­ing my ears filled with goo from what looked like a builder’s mas­tic gun, and in due course my plugs ar­rived. As a proud Brit, of course I had gone for the red white and blue op­tion, but if you wanted pink sparkles or plain orange or what­ever, Mer­cury can oblige.

This was the mo­ment of truth. Rat­ings and spec­i­fi­ca­tions are all very well, but un­til you ac­tu­ally stick the things in your ears, you have lit­tle idea how they will feel in real life. Man­u­fac­tur­ers never sug­gest it, but a quick lick works won­ders when you’re fit­ting plugs and these were no dif­fer­ent. I soon had the Otto in­serts fit­ted into the plugs, worked out which ear was which and pushed the plugs into my ears with a slight twist­ing move­ment to ‘screw’ them in. Don’t take that too lit­er­ally, but your ear canals are slightly curved, so a small amount of ro­ta­tion is needed – an­ti­clock­wise for the right ear, and clock­wise for the left. The op­po­site ro­ta­tion will help when the time comes to re­move them.

Us­ing my pas­sive plugs, I have learned that it’s im­por­tant to make sure they are fully in, with the rel­e­vant part of the plug hooked un­der the flangy bit at the up­per front edge of your ear. That way they stay put, rather than work­ing loose and al­low­ing sound to sneak in through any gaps.

Plugs in­serted, it was time to switch on, and... wow! OK, I haven’t owned any other high-end elec­tronic plugs so I can’t give you a sub­jec­tive com­par­i­son. But the clar­ity of sound is close to wear­ing no plugs at all. If you press the but­ton twice you en­ter the en­hanced mode, with ev­ery tiny sound am­pli­fied so that walk­ing on gravel sounds like a tip­per truck emp­ty­ing its load. Handy if you’re lis­ten­ing out for a bird break­ing cover, or a squir­rel scritch­ing up a tree trunk.

The sound re­duc­tion on fir­ing the gun is equally im­pres­sive, and as ex­pected I found the moulded plugs ex­tremely com­fort­able to wear for hours at a time, cer­tainly much more pleas­ant than wear­ing head­phones, es­pe­cially on a hot day. It’s a cliché, but I hon­estly did for­get I was wear­ing them. The con­trols are sim­ple and in­tu­itive – just one large but­ton which you press and hold for a sec­ond or two to tog­gle be­tween the modes or switch on and off. Draw­backs? None re­ally, al­though inevitably you have to re­move the in­serts from the mould­ings each time in or­der to place them in the charger case.

All in all I was hugely im­pressed. Whether or not they’re im­pres­sive enough to part with £699 is up to you. It’s a lot of money when you can pro­tect your hear­ing with dis­pos­able foam plugs for a few pen­nies – but then these al­low you to en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence so much more, whether you’re shoot­ing game or clays. And of course you can’t put a price on your hear­ing.

Find out more at mer­curycus­tom­plugs.com, or track down the Mer­cury team at all the ma­jor shows and game fairs.

 ??  ?? James found the plugs very com­fort­able to wear for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time
James found the plugs very com­fort­able to wear for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time
 ??  ?? The plugs come in a box that con­tains a bat­tery to keep them charged, and fit neatly into Mer­cury’s moulded plugs (above left)
The plugs come in a box that con­tains a bat­tery to keep them charged, and fit neatly into Mer­cury’s moulded plugs (above left)
 ??  ?? The plugs are con­trolled by a sim­ple push but­ton on each unit
The plugs are con­trolled by a sim­ple push but­ton on each unit
 ??  ??
 ??  ??

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