“It's not just hearing protection,” said Tetra co-founder Bill Dickinson, in a phrase I did not yet realize I would hear several more times that week, “it’s hearing technology.” As a gunwriter, I hear this sort of statement quite a lot. Everyone’s product is not really the same as everything else in the category, they assure you, their innovation is slightly different, and thus a whole new innovation. The frequency of this sort of assertion makes it easy to become numb to it. However, over the course of our four-hour car ride and ensuing days in duck blinds, I discovered as far as Tetra is concerned, this is actually true.
It may seem cliché, but the only time I enjoy rising early is in duck camp, generally beating my alarm to wakefulness in the still, dark atmosphere. We loaded our trucks right on schedule and headed out into the crisp (but ominously calm) blackness of the early Kentucky morning. If there was any foreboding of a slow morning, our duck dog, Maddie, showed no sign. With the characteristic excitement that seems built-in to our favorite water-going hunting companions, Maddie eagerly bounded onto the boat as we shoved off, powering through a narrow channel marked only by a makeshift, shimmering tangle of tree-mounted guideposts. Soon the trees opened into a wide clearing, with two floating blinds connected by a veritable army of decoys. We’d already split into two groups, one per boat; now each group of us took a blind and hunkered down to wait for some ducks.
Except the ducks didn’t fly. Despite our impressive circus of decoys, which consisted of spinners, swimmers, divers and a horde of standard decoys (seriously, it was entertaining just to watch), a full moon meant ducks had fed late into the night, and the lack of wind drove the final nail into our coffin. Our blind took a mere six ducks, barely seeing any more than that in the air.
Duck hunting’s saving grace on slow days, however, is the camaraderie it affords.
Many a day I have spent in the deer woods with nothing to show beyond 12 hours of quiet meditation, but in a duck blind the atmosphere is blessedly different. Instead of mind-numbing stillness, lively conversations were had on everything from local news to the Tetra hearing protection we travelled there to test, which, as it happened, was making conversation quite easy.
Nice a pastime as this was, we had come for ducks, and a quick decision had to be made. Another full moon was on the way, and we had already seen its result at our current spot. As it happened, the gentlemen leading our hunt had another camp some hours south in Tennessee with so many ducks the stage of the moon rarely proved a factor, much less a problem. This made for an easy decision. Almost as soon as it was proposed, we hurriedly repacked our bags, reloaded the trucks and beat a path to the neighboring state, passing through some beautiful country along the way. Arriving with a few hours of light left, we elected to boat out to our newest hunting locale. While outwardly the setup was reminiscent of the blind in Kentucky, we discovered this to be far from the case. More reminiscent of a floating house, this blind was equipped with a heater, a couch and easy chair, an oven, a stove, a coffee maker and a grill, alongside a few other amenities. From this spacious anteroom, a door opened to the shooting area, where a number of shooting lanes peeked through a thicket of well-apportioned natural (and faux-natural) material disguising the blind. Out front floated a similar circus of decoys, with one of the widest swimmer tracks I have yet seen. These folks really know how to hunt in style. Even better, those who had hunted the blind that day tagged out before 10 a.m. Elated for the coming dawn, we kicked back in the serene calm of a Tennessee evening and spent a while watching the ducks fly their usual route into a neighboring field to feed. On the way back to camp, we were reassured the right decision had been made, as over the wake of our skiff rose another unclouded full moon, even brighter than the last.
We moved out the next morning with palpable excitement in the air—even Maddie trembled with a new anticipation. There was again no breeze, but it was simply one of those mornings you could feel in your bones—there would be ducks. We settled into our predawn spots, Maddie still quivering in spite of herself, and waited for light.
Just as shooting light dawned, a pair of mergansers drifted down into range. They dropped quickly, unfortunately, and we lost them in the dark of the trees (which earned me an inauspicious miss to start the day), but the signal was clear—ducks were coming.
Sure enough, as the light continued to rise, ducks (mostly mallards, though a few other species were represented, including a black duck) began dropping in. The lack of wind made landing a little difficult at our location, but compared to the previous day, it seemed a banner outing. With two hunters working the calls whenever ducks came into view, the morning went by in a flurry of feathers and shot, the furious staccato of feeder calls punctuated only by the splash of downed fowl, and one very enthusiastic canine entering the water.
Ducks dropped in from head-on and from the left and right; the unpredictable entry patterns brought on by lack of wind added an additional layer of challenge and excitement. It was at this point the value of Tetra’s hearing technology really became apparent.
Yes, Tetras make amiable conversation nice, but that’s just icing. Their real worth comes in hearing calls, commands and directions over the sporadic cacophony of gunfire. “Two on the left,” Bill would whisper in a low tone—perfectly audible despite his positioning several lanes distant. Likewise perceptible were the remarks of every other occupant of the blind, meaning I no longer wasted time searching the sky for already-spotted birds. I could simply hear my fellow hunters’ voices clear as day. No more speech garbled by ears ringing from the last barrage, or muffled by thick foamies. No more did I face the choice (barely a choice at all) between protecting my ears and leaving them free to hear as best they could. No more did shouted whispers around the blind spook descending ducks. Now I could simply hear what I needed, while the extraneous noise of gunfire was muted.
Even more shocking than open conversation was how well the Tetra AlphaShields picked up the particular noises of our quarry. The faint whistle of a duck’s wings, usually only audible as they pass directly overhead, was clearly discernable from a distance. The ducks’ calls were also easier to hear, though at least for me, the difference was not quite as drastic—duck calls have always seemed loud to my relatively young ears.
Having nearly tagged out by 11 a.m., with my departure time out of the Nashville airport rapidly approaching, I bade my fellow hunters a reluctant goodbye, as Bill and I left the blind in our wake. As our truck wound through the mixture of country lanes and broad highways leading back toward the Nashville airport, it took me a few minutes to realize how different this drive felt. For the first time in quite a few duck hunts, my ears didn’t feel as if they had spent three hours front row at a rock show. While Bill and I swapped stories and chatted about life, the ringing and strained focus that tends to encapsulate most of my post-hunting conversations was absent. For any avid duck hunter, who knows the stories and camaraderie surrounding the pursuit to be just as treasured as hunting itself, I can only describe Tetras as a must. They are now a permanent part of my duck-hunting kit.
Tetra Hearing: Technology Geared to Hunting
Tetra’s “Range” and “Waterfowl” AlphaShield models (expected to deal with a high volume of shots) operate on a basic principle: hunters need to be able to hear the sounds unique to their quarry, and to a lesser extent human conversation, but not much else—least of all the ear-splitting barrage of gunfire.
To such ends, the audiologists who founded Tetra have conducted extensive research on the specific audial frequency patterns common to an animal—in the case of the units I tested, a duck’s calls and the whirring whistle of wings—and programmed their hearing technology to hone in on these sounds. Using a proprietary process the company terms Specialized Target Optimization, Tetras then recreate these sounds with an identical frequency pattern, simply at a higher or lower volume depending on the initial intensity of the noise. Using the example mentioned, a wild duck’s call gets far easier to hear, while one’s personal duck call, which peaks at a cumulatively harmful 120-127 decibels, is dropped to around 80-90 decibels.
Unlike simple muting however, there is no distortion—Tetras don't shift the structure of sound, only its volume. Meanwhile, a separate process termed ClearComm amplifies (to a lesser degree) human conversation, while AlphaShield Compression mutes out gunfire and other harmful, concussive noises.
Tetra AlphaShields actually improve hunting abilities, as their precise amplification makes it easier to hear other hunters as well as the ducks’ approach, all while keeping ear-saving hearing protection firmly in place. MSRP: $699; tetrahearing.com.