|  10/31/2013

Garmin Alpha: Yes, It's Worth It

“Annie,” a red setter, wears the Garmin Alpha tracking/training system. Photo by Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

Old hunting joke: What’s the first thing a pointing dog owner should do when he loses his dog?
Answer: Pray
So far this season, my 1 ½-year-old setter and I have hunted our way across seven states in the upper Midwest for pheasant, quail, ruffed grouse, sharptails, and woodcock. Every place was unique and gave me a different perspective on upland hunting, but they all had one commonality: Annie got lost.
What brought her back to me, civilization and safety? My Garmin Alpha. As a pointing dog owner, I cannot stress this enough; the Alpha is the most important piece of gear for any big-ranging dog.
Here are some of the reasons why:
From an “Oh, no…” perspective: One of the biggest concerns of mine is having my dog roll too far, become disoriented and continue to sprint in the wrong direction. Knowing that, the biggest advantage the Alpha gives users is the safety net of being able to tell where your dog is to the exact foot. The grouse woods and the upland fields somehow seem to swallow dogs whole five feet in, and while being able to tell where your dog is to the foot may seem like overkill to some, the peace of mind it provides -knowing your dog is casting in front of you at 80 yards and not across the county – makes any hunt exponentially more enjoyable, not to mention worry-free.
When hunting familiar haunts (happy Halloween!), your well-known old barns and fencerows can lead you back to where you need to be. But for the serious hunter, when venturing off to new country, especially in new and different terrain, the Alpha can literally be a lifesaver. Not only does it let me know where my dog is, it lets me know where I am and where safety is. It’s a three-point security system that no hunter should be without. Additionally, having the ability to mark waypoints (or coveys) will easily let you find the trail when you decide to go bushwhacking after a running rooster.
Practice makes perfect: The Alpha is not simply a GPS unit, there’s more bang for your buck. The Alpha has a complete dog training system incorporated, giving you one less unit to pack in your vest. With three separate training buttons, you can set up the collar to stimulate continuous, stimulate momentarily (both either linear or traditional) or tone. I trained Annie to tone recall, which saves your breath so you can yell “ROOSTER!” without going hoarse.
Also, we know there are few worse feelings than accidently correcting your dog. Since Garmin is full of bird hunters, they know this and put a simple screen lock so this doesn’t happen – a touch I know the dog appreciates as much as I do.
Silence is golden: Wild birds get get smart in a hurry, and if you’re going to take the time to not slam the car door when you get to the field, it only makes sense to keep talking/yelling at the dog to a minimum. So, in addition to the tone recall function, when your dog does lock a bird down, the Alpha handheld unit alerts you with a vibrate/beep/visual, as opposed to the standard 100 decibel “car horn” locator ping.
Hunter friendly: I am not always the earliest adopter to new technologies in the field, so when I lost the user manual I feared I had a high-priced paperweight. Instead, the Alpha, which uses a touch screen that can be activated through heavy gloves, was a cinch to figure out and almost set up itself.
Unfortunately, it won’t make coffee: From a more fun side of things, the Alpha is like your own personal hunting secretary, keeping track of all the details you wish you had time to think about. From being able to calculate every variable of speed to distance your dog ran to planning your hunting route to alarm clocks to telling you exact legal hunting times (sunrise and sunset for your particular location), the only time you could get lost is while you’re playing around with all of its neat functions.
Not just for pointers: While this is a tracking device well-suited for big running pointing dogs and hounds, that doesn’t mean it can’t be handy for flushers. Annie and I both hate cattail sloughs, so we avoid them like the plague, but I know they are magnets for flushing dog owners. The principle behind the Alpha remains the same for flushers or pointers:  knowing exactly where your dog is at all times. Since cattail birds can be notoriously spooky, it could easily be used the same for location and recall.
After a year of using the Alpha with my first pointing dog, I feel comfortable saying it is the single most important piece of gear for the safety of my dog and in becoming a more knowledgeable and effective upland hunter.
I won’t hit the field without it, and neither should you.
Low Brass is written by Rehan Nana, Pheasants Forever’s Public Relations Specialist. Email Rehan at RNana@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter at @RehanNanaQF.