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Should You Run a Bell or a Beeper Collar on Your Bird Dog?

There are multiple reasons to argue for either, so let's take a deep dive to help you decide which device to choose.

Should You Run a Bell or a Beeper Collar on Your Bird Dog?

Bells have long been worn by bird dogs to allow hunters to keep tabs on their dogs in thick upland covers. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

For pointing dog lovers, there’s nothing better in life than watching a stylish English pointer hold down a covey of wild Bob’s in the southern pine barrens or coming upon a high-tailed, feathered out English setter in the young aspen stands of the Northwoods, but you won’t get this view if you can’t keep track of your dog as they’re working in the thick bird covers.

Aside from knocking down the birds that give you a lucky shot opportunity, keeping track of your bird dog while in the field is your biggest priority on any hunt. Without them, you’re not going to find all the birds in the area and it’s much more fun to work together anyway.

There are multiple ways to keep tabs on our bird dogs while they’re out searching for scent, often several hundred yards away from us. Not every hunter can afford an expensive GPS tracking collar system and are left with a couple of options for monitoring the movement of their canine counterpart, typically from a bell or a beeper collar.

Bells and beepers are both used to locate our pointing dogs when they lock into point ahead of us and we can’t see them. While they’re both in place for the same end result, they each operate in much different ways. Choosing one over the other comes down to a variety of individual factors, so let’s take a deep dive into those considerations.

bird dog in thick grouse woods
Bird dogs (especially pointing dogs on point) can quickly disappear from view in the thick timber. Can you spot the dog in the photo? (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

Jingle All the Way

The iconic heartbeat of the uplands for so many hunters, a simple bell worn around a bird dog’s collar has long been utilized as a tracking tool for monitoring their movement in the field. As the dog moves through the woods, the tone, volume, and cadence of the bell signals not only his location, but also tells the story of what he’s sensing as he works through the cover. Spend enough time around a belled-up bird dog and you’ll know when he searching versus when he catches scent or starts ground-tracking a running bird—just be ready when the clanging stops, that’s your signal to move in for the flush.

Bells are available in a variety of sizes, shapes, and materials, each with their own unique attributes, with many hunters having a storied preference for their bell of choice or for running different bells in different situations. Bells also offer a great solution when running multiple dogs, by placing a different bell on each dog.

bell choices for bird dogs
Different bells will produce different tones and volumes depending on their size and material. Many bell enthusiasts keep several on hand to utilize for different scenarios. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

Pros for Using Bells

Bells are extremely affordable, readily available, always reliable, and aren’t subject to function on whether or not you charged the battery the night before a hunt. For me and for many, the melodic beat of the bell in the northern grouse woods evokes a deep emotional response. It’s the original tracking device and has become a staple in our upland hunting narrative. Bells may be optimal for closer-working dogs in thicker cover when you can’t see them and provide a simple indicator to any big game hunters in the area when sharing public hunting grounds.

Not just for the pointing dogs, bells are also employed by flushing dog owners who want to keep track of their dogs in thick grouse coverts. The hard-charging flushers can easily slip out of view and the cadence and volume of the bell chimes away also tell a story. The beat quickens and the volume crescendos as a dog catches scent before rushing in to put the bird up in the air.

english setter wearing a GPS tracking collar and bell in the woods
Many pointing dog owners opt to outfit their dogs with a GPS collar to help them locate their dog on point once their bell stops chiming. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

Cons for Using Bells

Although bells have essentially a single moving part, they can at times freeze up or become plugged with snow, mud, and other debris and stop working. If working in thick cover where you cannot see your dog in front of you, you stand a chance of losing their location when the bell stops clanging as they move into pointing a bird. Unless you have pinpoint accuracy and a knack for echolocation—or an accompanying GPS collar—you may have a difficult time finding your dog to move in to flush the bird.


Although I was unable to ascertain any peer-reviewed scientific proof, there are countless anecdotal claims that birds become “bell-wise” from the constant clanging in the covers throughout the season. These conditioned birds are rumored to run from the sound of the bell making difficult work for both dog and hunter.

Other downsides of bell use include a decreased ability for your dog to hear your voice and whistle commands with a sound device strapped to his neck. And I have encountered a few individuals who themselves had grown tired of the constant clanging and clacking of the bell after a long day’s hunt.

Beauty and the Beep

Modern technology has been making its way into the dog training world and has certainly made our time afield more efficient and effective and thus, way more enjoyable. One of these early advents for pointing dog owners was the beeper collar. Utilizing sophisticated motion-sensing technology, beeper collars make a loud, repeating tone when the dog goes on point and stops moving. This audible signal is helpful to the hunter in locating their dog who may be at a distance and visibly obscured in thick cover.

Pros for Using a Beeper Collar

Beeper collars may be superior to a bell in locating a dog on point and many of these devices also offer training (stim/tone/vibrate) features. Some of them also allow you to customize how and when it beeps (locate only, point only, or run-and-point), and some offer a variety of beep tones, beep frequencies, or even alternate sounds (hawk screech). Beeper collars may be better suited for hearing-impaired hunters or for those with longer ranging dogs in more open cover where a beeper will cut through the wind. There are a variety of beeper collars on the market, include some from SportDOG, Dogtra, and other manufacturers.

american britney bird dog wearing a beeper collar in the field
Beeper collars are often preferred for wider-ranging pointing dogs in more open covers.

Cons for Using a Beeper Collar

Some hunters may find the beeper collar anywhere from off-putting to outright obnoxious. Beeper collars do require more maintenance, with batteries that need to be charged, and depending on your setup, you may max out of real estate on your dog’s neck by adding multiple collars. Much like bells, some bird hunters argue that birds get spooked or conditioned to beepers as well.

There’s no right or wrong way to track your bird dog through any use of a bell, beeper, or GPS collar. Choosing one over the other—or any combination of the three—comes down to your own personal aesthetic. Your choice may also be based upon your specific dog breed, how you hunt, and the types of cover and species of birds you chase.


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