Custom-made earplugs protect hunters’ hearing

  • Sat Aug 25th, 2012 7:34pm
  • Sports

By Wayne Kruse Special to The Herald

Shotguns, chainsaws, leaf blowers and lawnmowers have finally done it to me. Damaged my hearing to the point I’ll soon be forced to admit defeat and start looking into hearing bleeping aids.

No excuse of course. Did it to myself. Burned boxes of Winchester Double-A’s and whacked cords of firewood without giving it a thought.

But, hey, society put little emphasis on hearing protection back in the day. Plugs and muffs and stuff were limited in design and availability, bulky and uncomfortable, and no one would admit to being vulnerable to hearing loss anyway. It was even considered a little, uhhh, un-manly in some circles to insist on hearing protection.

All that has changed, of course — a good thing — and Pat Webster is here to save your ears.

Pat lives in Seattle, over toward Ballard, but don’t hold that against her. She’ll come out to your gun club, or shooting range, or hunting group meeting, or off-road Saturday, and as if by magic provide you with custom-fit, made-to-order Insta-Mold earplugs, while you wait. One night she may be talking to the monthly meeting of the Northwest Chapter, Washington Waterfowl Association in Stanwood, and the next, doing earplugs for shooters at the Kenmore Gun Range.

No more bulky muffs. No more little foam whatchamacallits popping out of your ears at inopportune times. No more pressure, itching and discomfort as you try to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Webster will sit you down, inject a high-quality silicone preparation (looks a little like Silly Putty) in your ears, and presto! Comfortable, on-the-spot earplugs you can wear all day without even knowing they’re in place.

Well, maybe not presto. The whole operation takes about an hour, Webster says. Perhaps 10 minutes for the silicone to set, a certain amount of finishing work, a clear coating applied to keep the plugs clean and hypoallergenic. Piece of cake.

The plug material comes in a wide range of colors, including glitters, mixes, swirls, glow-in-the-dark or, if you’re sensitive about the whole thing, flesh tone. Camo is a popular blend, as is red, white and blue.

Plugs can be made to accommodate the ear pieces and ear buds of most popular electronic devices — Bluetooth, cell phones, I-Pods and the like — and the parent company offers dozens of specialty options available for military, law enforcement, pilots, musicians and others, both electronic and non-electronic.

Webster says about 80 percent of her work is with hunters, shooters, off-roaders and similarly noisy outdoor recreationists, but that the Insta-Mold plugs are applicable to a full spectrum of other activities and occupations. Anyone who must wear a helmet, for instance. Swimmers susceptible to water-carried ear infections; motor sports aficionados; workers in construction, heavy machinery, sheet metal fabrication, and on and on. And how about those gazillions of unfortunates whose partners are nighttime snorers?

Webster says the plugs hold up so well that most of her “repeat” work is for customers who have lost one or a pair, or have found that the items became a “chewy” for a canine pal.

“I’ve had more than one customer come in with 30-plus year-old plugs needing cleaning and refurbishing, but which were essentially sound,” she says.

The tab for a basic pair of while-you-wait earplugs, with carrying case, is about $47.50, Webster says which, considering you shouldn’t have to buy any more of the disposable products is not a bad deal.

For more information, contact Custom Fit Hearing Protection, Patricia Webster, phone 206-783-9994, e-mail patonpost1@msn.com.