My wife's voice was shrill: "Oh God, what was it? Your wallet? Gun? Don't tell me it was your wedding ringâ€¦"
"No, no. None of those things," I said. "Worse: I lost my e-collar remote."
It's true that my track record with e-collars isn't the best. And for a duck season opening weekend that was already starting off as less than stellar, suddenly finding my waders lighter from the lack of a $300 piece of equipment was the cherry on top of a crap sundae.
The next morning, I picked up my buddy A.C. to try again. Even with pouring rain, having a honey hole to ourselves meant morning limits of North Dakota pothole ducks came quickly. Then it was time to search — no matter how pointless in the endless stands of cattails — for my lost remote.
After 20 minutes I was ready to give up, but we went around one more bend of cattails.
"Hey, buddy, look!"
It was A.C., with an I-just-earned-breakfast grin and my old, and now soaked, Tri-Tronics Pro 100.
For hunters and dog handlers, an e-collar system isn't a novelty — it's standard issue. They're great for guiding expectations during training, holding dogs accountable after the fact, and even keeping tabs on a retriever during a hunt. I know some folks see e-collars as a crutch, but I and thousands like me see them as just another tool. In the right hands, they're an effective means to create a finished gun dog.
If you're in market for a new unit, or just ready to upgrade, the following options are top prospects for 2018. Just do yourself a favor with advice from a guy who has been there more than once: Make sure the remote is securely attached to yourself when afield this fall.
Had my remote remained donated to Mother Nature, the first call (after my wife) was going to be to Collar Clinic. They sell refurbished units, which would have gotten me up and running for a bargain. But now that I have that old TT back, I'll be mailing it in for a tune-up since the intensity dial is on the fritz.
Send them your barely- or non-working bark collars, beepers and remote trainers to fix good as new (they'll even troubleshoot problems over the phone if you're extra nice). With 30 years of experience under their collar, they'll repair Garmin/Tri-Tronics, Dogtra and D.T. Systems, and will take any make or model as a trade-in toward a new unit.
Customer service is priority No. 1, and fast shipping is assured because everything — antennae, parts, and batteries, for instance — is in stock.
$49 (start price) | collarclinic.com
Dogtra ARC Hands-free
Making timely corrections is crucial in dog training, and can be simple to coordinate in a controlled situation. But what happens when your amped pointer breaks out of shotgun range and spoils the first chance of the morning hunt? By the time you've wrestled the transmitter from your bird vest pocket, the moment has passed.
The ARC Hands-free from Dogtra is an answer to this age-old conundrum. What makes this system stand out is the addition of a small, "hands-free" remote controller that complements the transmitter. It's smaller than a wristwatch, and can be strapped to a shotgun, a vest loop or even your wrist.
Once you have the 3/4-mile range collar on your dog, affix the hands-free remote within poking distance for those timely corrections that can nip handling problems in the bud before a hunt gets out of control.
$250 | dogtra.com
Garmin Astro 430
Call me a sellout, but I don't know what I'd do without my Garmin Astro. I've lost count of the times my dogs were located safely because of it, not to mention roosters bagged in thick cover that were held tight by a staunch pointer.
The Astro line from Garmin started the GPS tracker trend, and the newest rendition, the Astro 430, takes it up a notch. An intuitive, redesigned handheld unit comes preloaded with a topographical map of the U.S., and can handle tracking the whereabouts of up to 20 hounds. But if you want to really geek out, pair it with other Garmin gear, such as the Fenix 5 watch, DriveTrack 70 GPS navigator, and even your buddies' Garmin units so you can plan a hunt, keep connected, and regroup at the truck with the day's haul.
$650 | garmin.com
D.T. Systems Master Retriever 1100
If the Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades camo pattern isn't a dead giveaway, then take my word that the Master Retriever 1100 from D.T. Systems was built with waterfowlers in mind. Beyond its telltale face paint, this new remote trainer is custom fit for the field and marsh.
As any electronic unit destined for 60-plus-days in a wetland, both collar and transmitter are completely waterproof. A streamlined design makes the remote a bit easier to fit inside your waders, and the 1,100-yard range is well beyond what most hunting situations call for (unless your Lab can handle a really, really long blind). With 16 levels of stimulation and D.T.'s Vibration Assist, the MR 1100 is a train-and-hunt unit to its core.
$220 | dtsystems.com
Garmin Delta Inbounds
There's cutting-edge technology, and then there are things that don't seem possible. The Delta Inbounds is a pet containment system that falls into the latter category. It's small, wireless, and get this â€“ completely portable.
The base unit of the Inbounds can be plugged into any outlet and be set to cover a 170-foot radius, or approximately 2 acres. But throw a few batteries in it, and the Inbounds easily transitions to keep your roaming hounds within the confines of duck camp. If a dog can't help itself but goes after that squirrel, however, the system allows it to come back within the boundaries without a correction.
The Inbounds comes with a downloadable app so you can control and track everything from your smartphone, and you can purchase small Keep-Away tags to affix to objects (like trash cans) that create a 1-3-foot barrier to keep Fido from digging into yesterday's dinner scraps.
$400 | garmin.com
I like the concept of one-size-fits-all when it comes to remote trainers. But there are situations that require something unique. Take heeling. I always wondered why someone hadn't invented a way to instantaneously correct a dog the moment it tugged on the leash. Then Dogwatch made the SideWalker. Eureka!
The SideWalker is designed so that the dog trains itself, so to speak. Five settings from low to high, plus a vibration option, allow fine-tuning. When the dog pulls on the leash, the pressure of the collar strap on the SideWalker activates either vibration or a stimulation. These gradually increase as the dog pulls, and reset when he stops.
Dogs catch on quickly. It's a design that is simple and effective.
$119 | dogwatch.com
Lion Country Supply Bird Dog Trainer 800
Compatibility among dog equipment isn't just convenient — it can really cut down on the amount of gear you need to bring on training day. This is the shining attribute for the Bird Dog Trainer 800, an all-in-one training system that gives new meaning to jack of all trades.
Especially handy when dealing with more than one dog or simply adjusting from one setup to the next, it includes a remote trainer that has all the standard corrective necessities, as well as the ability to activate various remote-operated training devices. Seamlessly move from launching birds out of the LCS Universal Bird Launchers, or activating the LCS Remote Backing Dog for honoring work (sold separately).
$209 (remote/e-collar only) | lcsupply.com
Keep track of your long-ranging pointer with this easy-to-use GPS collar from Laelaps. Once you buy the unit, download the application for iPhone, Android or tablet. The collar transmits a VHF radio signal connected to your smartphone via bluetooth, so you know where the dog is to within 2 meters (no cell signal is required). Laelaps has a 17-mile line-of-sight range, and you can track up to 20 dogs with additional e-collars. The app also lets you text off-grid to stay in contact with hunting buddies.
$399 | laelapsgps.com
SportDOG SportTrainer SD-875
New from SportDOG is a price-point-perfect remote training system that will get any veteran, or new handler, up to speed in a hurry. The SD-875 has an easy-to-read OLED screen that displays which dog is selected (it's expandable to three dogs), stimulation level, mode, and juice left in the battery.
What's nice for gloved hands, however, are the large buttons that allow easy selection of 10 low/medium stim levels, vibration or tone, as well as the dog needing a correction. Its half-mile range is adequate for hunting and training scenarios, and it is waterproof down to 25 feet (you know, in case your retriever is trained to fetch objects accidentally dropped over the side of a duck boat). And to top it off, the SD-875 speed-charges in 2 hours.
$224.95 | sportdog.com