Sense of Place: Gun Dogs and GPS

Sense of Place: Gun Dogs and GPS

It’s a jungle out there.  No, really–a jungle.

The places you hunt where you need a gun dog the most are also places where you are most likely to lose that gun dog.  Coverts for grouse and woodcock can look like the banks of the Mekong, tiger country that can swallow up any hunting dog.  When hunters think of losing a dog, they mostly think of those “big-running” setters and pointers.  The fact is that any gun dog can vanish without warning, and at worst, without a trace.  Not even a close-working spaniel is immune from lighting out for the territory if it puts up a rabbit or the birds decide they are going to make a break for it.  Obviously, we train for this, trying to ensure that our dogs understand they are not meant for the life of a fugitive.  Yet sometimes even canines with the most sparkling characters take a powder.  And they may even be convinced that they are doing the right thing in trying to catch up to running birds.  It’s not their fault you didn’t keep up, they might say, if they could.

Hunters will forever argue about the aesthetics if not the ethics of using electronics to check up their dogs and make sure they remember what “come” means when in the field. “Hearing aids” some call them. But a “stimulation” device is never a substitute for patient, gentle, but firm training. Any dog that wants to please is always a better dog than one that is made to conform. Sorta like children, but without college funds.


zach lewis q5 prostaff
Zach Lewis - Q5 Prostaff

Let’s be honest, though.  When you consider all that is wrapped up in a decent gun dog, it can be staggering.  Nobody likes to think in terms of what a dog costs in dollars and cents, but clearly a good one is a substantial investment.  And what you pay to begin with is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg.  By the time your dog is ready to go into the field with you, you will have spent hundreds in vet fees, even for only the routine ones.  Maybe you did not pay a professional to train your dog, but how many hours did you spend in getting him into shape yourself?  Then there is the ultimate worth of a good dog which is like trying to gauge the value of the very best friend you can ever have.  (Ready for a Gun Dog?)

Up till now, hunters could use bells, that way they have virtually forever, to try to locate their dog in the brush if the dog was moving and they were close enough to hear.  Or there were beeper collars, which one writer has described as having all the ambiance of hunting behind a garbage truck going in reverse.  And there have been radio-tracking collars, great if you’re a biologist looking for a tagged bear hibernating in its den.  Worse comes to worst, if you gave up finding your dog before dark, you could strip off your t-shirt and tie it to a branch in the  hope the dog will find the scent and wait for you to come back in the morning.

All of which puts the cost of some of the latest GPS tracking collars into perspective.  (See Garmin GPS at Q5)

GPS tracking collars let you find out where your dog actually is in real time, whether the dog is running, walking, or sleeping under a tree.  You also have a world of options you can add to a GPS collar, as you see fit.  For one, you can include a remote trainer to keep your dog from going out of sight to begin with.  Or if you find yourself even more lost than your dog, your GPS can provide an emergency alert for searchers, so they won’t have to hunt for you, when you’re hunting for your dog.  A GPS is never out of cell service wherever you take it on earth. (See Garmin GPS at Q5)

High tech may seem antithetical to something as traditional as shooting-flying.  But every development bird hunters have adopted, from the matchlock on down, was once the pinnacle of modern technology.  If it keeps you from losing your dog, well, so much for tradition. 

Tom McIntyre

Tom McIntyre is a lifelong hunter and for more than forty years a writer on hunting.  His latest book, Augusts in Africa, is available on  He is at work on a new book, Thunder Without Rain, about the African buffalo, scheduled for publication in 2020.