Which Way Did He Go?

Using GPS Technology To Keep Track Of Our Hunting Dogs

Hey, you think "beeper collars" are great? Well, read on. I think you'll agree Ted Gartner and friends at Garmin are really on to something.

The new GPS Dog Tracking System gives you the ability to track the amount of ground covered by your gun dog.

They've developed a unit small enough to fit our dog's collar that continually updates a handheld GPS receiver to show us the dog's location...and it can also indicate when he's pointing birds.

Sound interesting? I thought it might, so in order to provide a little more information on the unit, we'll summarize a conversation I recently had with Ted Gartner, Garmin International's PR guy.

Bob West: Ted, it's no surprise you folks would be the ones to bring this concept of tracking our dog's movement, using Global Positioning, through to a finished product. I know a lot of hunters including myself have asked, "Why doesn't someone..." Anyway, when did you begin seriously looking at the idea of using GPS to track our dogs?

Ted Gartner: Well, Bob, we've been hearing from our customers for a long time about the need to develop a GPS tracking collar, but things started taking shape a few years ago around a campfire in the grouse woods of northern Minnesota. After a long day of banging through the woods, a buddy and I wondered how far our dogs had traveled. Being an avid bird hunter and a Garmin employee, I realized I was in a unique position to learn more about the movements of our dogs.

One of the features of the GPS system allows you to know where your dog is at all times.

The next morning, we strapped one of our Foretrex GPS receivers (a unit designed for hikers and runners) onto a couple of our dogs and we went hunting. We couldn't actively track our dogs, but that evening we were able to download their tracks to a PC to determine where they hunted and how much ground they covered. I immediately knew we were on to something.

Shortly after that experience, a team of talented engineers started to conceptualize the idea and soon realized we had the technology and expertise to make it a reality. It's been nearly three years in the making, but we think we've got something that can really be useful to gun dog owners.

BW: How does this unit work?

TG: It's pretty simple. We call the device that you strap onto your dog the DC 20. It's just a little bit larger than a standard e-collar box. In fact, when you're using an e-collar, you simply thread the tracking unit onto the existing collar so it sits up on the back of the dog's neck. Or if you prefer, you can mount the DC 20 on your dog's back using a harness we've designed to hold it upright.

The Astro GPS Dog Tracking System is ready to go out of the box. Once the unit acquires a GPS signal, it automatically lets you know where your dog is. Unlike telemetry collars, there's a compass page on the handheld unit that shows the direction and precise distance to your dog. It also indicates if your dog is running or on point, and unlike beeper collars, the unit runs silent...so there's no incessant noise.

We've also built a map page into the unit so you can tell where you are in relation to your vehicle or nearby roads, as well as showing where you and your dog have been in relation to the area you're hunting. I find this page to be particularly useful when hunting big open prairies or CRP grass. A lot of times, I'll wonder if I've hunted a specific piece of ground'¦with the Astro, I can look down at the map page and see my track and exactly where my dogs and I have hunted.

The GPS unit can be mounted on either a collar or on a shoulder harness.

BW: What about when we're hunting with two or more dogs--is the unit able to track more than one dog at a time?

TG: Not a problem. You can actually track up to 10 dogs per receiver, so it's an expandable system.

BW: How often is the dog's location updated to the handheld unit? And what about range--how far out can our dog be and still show up on the receiver?

TG: The collar gives you a location update every five seconds, and battery life is about 10-12 hours on the rechargeable collar and about 20 hours on the receiver, which is powered by two AA batteries.

Like any other radio transmission, range is largely dependent on line-of-sight transmission. If you're in open, flat country, you should be able to see your dog up to five miles away, which is way beyond the range of our bird dogs.

BW: I notice the Astro looks like a normal handheld GPS receiver.

TG: Sure does. In fact, the Astro is based on our most popular unit for outdoorsmen, the GPSMAP 60CSx. You get a top-of-the-line handheld GPS with a sunlight-readable color display and a highly sensitive GPS receiver that works even under a thick tree canopy or in deep canyons.

Another really cool feature is the "covey counter." When you find birds, you can mark a waypoint that tells you the precise location, time of day and elevation where you got into the birds. In addition, you can mark the number of birds flushed and even how many you shot if you like. At the end of the day or over the course of a season, I find this gives you a great look at the behavior of game and what areas are most productive.

We've also developed a new list of icons for the Astro, so you can easily mark and identify bird flushes, food plots, tree stands, sign, ATVs and other hunting-related features. You can download and save all of your waypoints and tracks on a computer and even share them with other Astro users'¦not that I'd ever really want to share any of my secret spots!

BW: So we actually do have a stand-alone GPS in addition to the benefit of knowing where our dog is and when he's moving or standing birds. Ted, this sounds like the best thing to come along since sliced bread'¦or the arrival of the e-collar.

TG: Yes, and we'r

e pretty excited about the Astro. We think hunting dog owners will quickly realize there's nothing else out there like it.

For more information on the Astro, including an interactive demo, go to www.garmin.com/astro

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