BUYER'S GUIDE: Traditional Tracking Collars and Beeper Collars vs. the Garmin Astro GPS Dog Location System
HOW THEY WORKRadio tracking collars send a directional radio signal that allows you to pinpoint the direction of your dog and it gives limited information on distance.
The Garmin Astro Dog GPS sends a radio signal to your Handheld GPS unit with the exact location of your dog. The Handheld GPS unit plots that information on your MAP SCREEN so you can see your location, your dog's location, direction, and whether or not your dog is moving.
MAXIMUM EFFECTIVE RANGE -- The biggest advantage that radio telemetry tracking collars have over the GARMIN ASTRO GPS is range.
Radio tracking collars have about double the range in perfect conditions (12 miles line of sight).
The Garmin Astro has a listed range of 7 miles (line of sight).
NOTE: I have never been in a situation where I could get the maximum distance with a tracking collar. How many places do we hunt that actually have 12 miles line of site with nothing between you and the unit?
In heavy wooded areas and places with rolling terrain, your maximum effective range is going to be drastically different from the line of sight range. Around Mississippi, in heavy woods and rolling terrain, I can get around 5 miles with my tracking system, but the effective range changes as the dog moves.
DIRECTION AND DISTANCE
One problem with a radio tracking collar is that it never tells you exact distance, so you have to do some guess work and test your system. Tracking collars give very limited information on distance. With a tracking collar it's more about direction than distance. You can estimate the distance based on the amount of gain (signal strength) that is required to get the signal from the tracking collar, but this can change based on the terrain that is between you and the dog.
For example, if your dog is in the bottom of a ravine and there is dirt between you and him, you would need a lot of power to pick up a signal. Once the dog comes out of the ravine you would get a much better signal without the same power. So depending on what's between you and the dog, you will have a hard time telling the exact distance.
The Garmin Astro Dog GPS system shows you exactly where your dog is. The Astro has the same range limitations that tracking collars have because radio signals will only go so far. As long as you can pick up the signal, you know the exact distance between you and your dog and what he is doing (pointing or running).
WHEN YOUR DOG RUNS OUT OF RANGE, WHAT THEN?
The biggest difference with an Astro is that we will be able to see the exact point that the signal drops off. We will also have the advantage of knowing the last spot that we were able to get a signal.
With a tracking collar, once you lose the signal, you no longer have any information. You are either getting a signal or you don't. When you lose your signal you have to start hunting your dog by trying to get close enough to actually pick up the signal. This can be a major problem if you have no idea where to start looking.
With a GPS dog tracking system, you will know the exact location that you got the last signal. This allows you to immediately go to the last known location and pick up a current location.
WHAT ABOUT BEEPER COLLARS?
Beeper collars can really confuse some dogs. You have to condition them to the sound and you have to time your commands in the field since your dog can't hear anything while the beeper is going off.
While I have never had proof of a dog suffering any significant hearing loss from long term use of a beeper collar, I can't see that any dog would enjoy wearing one.
The hunter's hearing plays a major role in how well you can hear a beeper, too. It's one of the hardest things to determine when picking the beeper for a customer. Until you have used one in the field, you really will not know if a beeper is going to work with your hearing. The Garmin Astro GPS eliminates the hearing issues.
I have always been amazed at how terrain and wind can make beepers useless. Sometimes you can tell exactly where your dog is with a beeper and sometimes you can't.
THE ADVANTAGES OF THE GARMIN ASTRO GPS
You Know Your Dog's Exact Location -- The most frustrating thing about running radio tracking collars and beeper collars is that you never know exactly how far out your dog is from you.
The Garmin Astro gives you an exact location, distance from you, direction traveling (if moving), and status or what the dog is doing: running, pointing, sitting, or treed. This is more information than we have ever had before from a dog location system.
Garmin Astro Offers Silent Running -- The Astro is silent. Unlike beeper collars, the Astro does not make a sound. This is better for you and your dog. The Astro totally eliminates the disadvantages of running a beeper collar.
The beauty of the Astro is that it will also not bother the birds. While many upland birds are not bothered by the sound of a beeper collar, some birds (especially pheasants) learn very quickly that a beeper means hunters and dogs and they high-tail it out of the country.
Point Alarm Tells You Running or "On Point" -- The Garmin Astro Dog GPS has a "Point Alarm" that will tell you when your dog goes on point. This way you don't have to constantly check. The system tells you when you need to go find your dog.
Modern bird dog tracking collars can tell you if your dog is running or if he is on point, but you have to actually track the dog to get this information.
For example, when my bird dogs are running close (50 to 400 yards) I can turn on my tracking collar and hear them without opening the antennas. By listening to the beeps, I can tell if they are moving or on point. If they are running and close enough that I get a signal with the antennas closed, I don't even bother tracking them. It's their job to range out and find birds. The downside of this is that if my dog goes on point the second I cut my system off, I will not know about it until I check again, say 5 to 10 minutes later.
Beeper collars are still the least expensive form of electronic tracking. We sell beeper collars starting around $90 and up based on model.
Garmin GPS Systems vs. Radio Tracker Collars
ONE DOG -- A one dog Garmin Astro GPS system is $649 and additional Dog GPS units are $249 each (free shipping applies). While the GPS is slightly more expensive than a 1-dog bird dog tracking collar (around $499 depending on model), these tracking collars are not easily expanded when you need to track more dogs. You have to send your tracking collar back to the factory for an upgrade.
TWO DOGS -- You can get a 2 dog tracking collar system for around $599, but you can't expand it past 2 dogs. If you go with a higher end tracking collar that is an easily expandable system (up to 5 dogs), your initial cost would be $899 and additional collars will run you between $100 and $140.
THREE DOGS -- A 3 dog Garmin Astro system is $1149.97 ($649.99 + $249.99 + $249.99). A three dog radio tracking collar would be $1129. When you buy a Garmin Astro GPS for tracking three dogs you spend a little more but you get better information.
USING A GARMIN ASTRO DOG GPS SYSTEM IN FIELD TRIALS OR POINTING DOG HUNT TESTS
Right now, many of the Telemetry Dog Tracking collars are allowed to be used in sanctioned Field Trials and Pointing Dog Hunt Tests.
You cannot use them during the event, but the judge will hold your receiver and you are allowed to use them once the timed event is over or if your dog gets lost during the event and you choose to remove your dog from competition and want to start locating him. This allows you the security of being able to locate your dog in case he gets lost but it does not allow you an unfair advantage in the competition.
The only collars that are approved are very small and light. The reasoning behind this is that the judges will not allow a collar that the dog might confuse with a remote training collar. Most dogs will perform differently if they "think" that they have a training collar on.
So if you compete in trials, I can't recommend that you go with the Astro right now. I expect that over time it could become legal for events, but I clearly remember how long it took the Field Trial and Hunt Test organizations to come around to making tracking collars legal for use during an event, and I don't expect it will go any faster with the Astro.