Firelight Bird Dogs

Firelight Bird Dogs

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Beeps and Bells, Tech in the Field


Friends will recognize this as the ever-present mess at the end of my kitchen table. But what it represents is my conflicted participation in technology in the field.

I started using GPS collars many years ago when my finest grouse dog ever, Patch, was almost 12. I watched her one day in the woods as she stood paused on a check back to where I was and I realized that her hearing was failing. Her increasing deafness meant that she was unable to track my opposite-of-deer-stealth through the woods and if she could not catch a glimpse of my movement then she didn’t know where I was. I figured that if she was unable to locate me then I had better be able to find her.  So an ugly, clumsy Astro collar joined her simple leather collar with the brass bell, and a handheld unit took up space in my minimal vest.

After Patch passed, the Astro was used only in Montana and Kansas where the dogs range far and wide and can be on point 400 yards away without me knowing.  Many visitors feel that the woods here in northern Michigan are vast and remote but in reality, roads and atv trails are crisscrossed throughout and never far away. Being able to look at the handheld and see where my dogs are has become a crutch of sorts and I use the collars daily.

This year I added a Fenix watch which works along with the Garmin handheld and despite my initial thoughts that it was overdosing on technology I have to admit that it actually simplifies things. A quick glance at my wrist tells me distance and direction for each dog and I just leave the bulky handheld in my pocket.

I still don’t use the stimulation/shock option on the collars; I simply don’t need them for my dogs. However, I have trained them to come around when I tone (beep) them on the collar which works well on windy days when they cannot hear my somewhat puny lip whistle and I am making a turn or heading back.

So, each day I come home and dump the mess of gadgets on the table and dutifully plug them into their chargers. When ready to go again the collars beep as I turn them on, I put the handheld into the vest, the watch on my wrist, and the dogs all dance at the door, each hoping that it is their turn to have a collar strapped on and be loaded into the Jeep.

I still, however, truly miss the countless days when I simply pocketed a few shells into my jeans pocket, slipped the bell collar over the chosen setter head and walked out the door.

Bells now sit as dusty memories on a shelf.

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