We shuffled back to the trucks, feet weary and hunting vests laden with sharptailed grouse and Hungarian partridge that we had earned during our nearly two-hour walk through the Central Montana prairies. This was the proving grounds for the Alpha, Garmin's new track-and-train system for sporting dogs that was developed in conjunction with Tri-Tronics, the leader in electronic dog training.
I wonder how far we walked, I said to no one in particular. See, for the uninitiated, a bird hunter is never sure how far they travel on any given hunt. During the best walks, you're continually distracted by dogs, birds, conversations, and of course, the rugged 360-degree panorama of rolling hills and rugged mountains. Of course, I would soon know precisely how far I had traveled this morning.
It was then that I called up the "dog info" page for my three-year-old English pointer, LuLu. Her stats would put us all to shame. In an hour and 45 minutes, she had covered nearly 21 miles of ground!
Of course, this sort of canine technology is relatively new stuff, and an area that both Garmin and Tri-Tronics have pioneered. During my lifetime, electronic training collars have become standard equipment for professionals and amateurs alike, allowing trainers and hunters to control their dogs much further than any leash. And of course, keeping an eye on your dog via GPS satellites is even newer technology, only five or six years old.
The Alpha ups the ante, combining both technologies into one elegant device. You can track and train up to 20 dogs up to nine miles away, and receive alerts when your canine companion has found game. The unit is pre-loaded with topo maps, so you know if you're nearing a busy road. You can even track your two-legged hunting buddies who have an Alpha. All of that is cool, but it wouldn't be worth a whit if it was difficult to use. Thanks to the touchscreen (who doesn't have a smartphone these days?) and the geniuses in engineering, everything is laid out so that important information is literally at your fingertips, while everything else is in the background until you need it.
You'd think all this high-tech wizardry might detract from the simple pleasure of bird hunting. Not really. There's no longer incessant hollering for a dog, and there's no sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when your prized pointing dog hasn't checked in for a couple of minutes.
For the fellow upland (and hound) hunters out there, the Alpha and Astro tracking systems are definitely worth a look. And if you don't hunt? That's ok. The Alpha should serve as a reminder that whatever your passion -- running, cycling, golfing, geocaching, hiking, hunting, boating, or flying -- you can count on Garmin to help lead the way.