There are four dogs working the field in this picture; a pointer, two shorthairs and a setter. Can you spot them? Neither can I, and I’m the one that took the picture. You can lose sight of your dogs very quickly in even a waist-high CRP field, and some of the Kansas CRP tracts I hunted last week with Ted Gartner and Tom Bondurant (pictured) of Garmin International were literally taller than we were. In conditions like that it’s very easy to lose sight of the sky, much less your dogs, unless of course they’re wearing Garmin Astros.
The Astro, now in its third generation, is a GPS tracking collar that (among many other things) tells you exactly where your dog is at all times. Since its introduction the Astro has become extremely popular with gundog owners (as well as houndsmen). The benefits of the collar are obvious whether you’re hunting close-working dogs in heavy cover or big-running dogs at all-age distances on open prairie. The peace-of-mind from knowing the exact location of your dog is huge, but I’ve found there’s an ancillary benefit to running an Astro, especially on pointing dog pups. It’s building your pup’s confidence, range and desire in that first crucial year.
I’ve been running an Astro on my setter pup since she was old enough to let off-lead in the field. I found out rather quickly that she had a tendency to range a little closer than I really expected or wanted her to in the fairly open terrain in which I do most of my hunting.
So I decided in this first puppy year of hunting to just let her run, chase, bump birds and generally have a fun, pressure-free time in the field. I haven’t collar-conditioned her, haven’t whoa broke her, haven’t steadied her to shot. It helps, of course, that I hunt either mostly alone or with low-key, understanding friends, but I reasoned that if I could let her run reasonably wild for a season and build up her confidence, desire and range, then I’d have a leg up when I start the real training this spring and summer. The Astro lets me do that without constantly worrying about losing her.
And it’s paying off. I’ve watched my pup’s range and confidence slowly but surely grow over the course of the season. Last week in Kansas she ran bigger and harder than she’s done all season. But I don’t think she’d be where she is if I’d constantly been on the whistle, the yell or the collar every time she dipped out of sight. The Astro’s a marvelous piece of technology for the upland hunter regardless, but I think it’s worth the price just for the confidence it’s built in my pup.
I know many of you bird hunters out there already run Astros on your dogs, but when do you first strap it on your pup?