Technology And Hound Hunting
By Dave Samuel (Field Editor)
Bear Hunting Magazine May/June 2006
Hunters in all outdoor sports take advantage of the newest technology available to them. Examples such as the advances made in the designs of the bow and arrow or gun and ammunition development allowing increased accuracy in both styles of weapons. Included also is the improvement in the hunting clothing we all wear, making our hunts much safer and enjoyable. New and improved optics, including compact range finders, that take the guess work out of the shot distance for both rifle and archery enthusiasts or the computer we use to research data on new hunting spots and outfitters are more examples. Technology has touched all forms of outdoor recreation.
One of the finest technological advances for the houndsman is the telemetry tracking equipment. This equipment breakthrough allows hound handlers to monitor their dogs and learn more about the sport and the animals they pursue.
There are numerous types of telemetry equipment available from which to choose. Most work on the same concept. Some manufacturers have made minor changes, but most still are designed on the same basic principals.
As an example, I personally use the 150.000 to 152.000 frequency in all of my collars along with most of our hunting group. From within the frequency range, each tracking collar is designated a specific frequency, such as 151.640 or 151.865, allowing the hunters to select which dog they wish to monitor at any given time.
I personally use Klein’s Telemetry Equipment out of Wisconsin. I find them to be the most dependable and durable on the market and if a repair is necessary, they have the quickest turn around time of all the suppliers I know. I believe they were one of the first in the nation to introduce telemetry equipment to hound handlers.
The tracking collar is attached to each individual dog before it is released for the hunt, much the same as a regular dog collar. Each tracking collar has a self-contained battery unit allowing between 10,000 and 16,000 hours of usage before the batteries fail. Attached to each transmitter is a length of antenna, normally a plastic coated cable of varying diameter, cut to the correct length to match the frequency of the collar. There is a circuit board inside the collar which emits a timed beeping sequence on a frequency preset by the manufacturer.
Inside the tracking collar circuitry there is also an additional technological option available. This is commonly termed a treeing switch. There is a circuit controlled by a mercury switch that is activated when the dogs head is elevated upwards. When the dog is walking or running a track, the collar is positioned perpendicular to the ground, while strapped onto the neck of the dog. The speed of the beeping emitted from the transmitter, for ease of explanation, is scheduled at a rate of one beep every three seconds. When a dog has treed its quarry and is positioned under the tree looking upward, the treeing switch is activated. The speed of the beeping increases to the rate of one beep per second. When the hound is out of normal hearing range, the hunter can tell by the speed of the beeping when the dog is stationary and if the bear may be treed.
This is not a sure proof way of telling if the bear is treed. At times the dog may be going up a steep incline or running on a road creating a false signal. One of the differences I have learned to watch for is if the speed changes between slow and fast. This indicates that the dog may be simply moving forward and as it sways, the mercury switch is temporarily turned on. I have found treeing switches are most reliable when I have two or three dogs all showing treed on the receiver at the same time. My preference is to have treeing switches in all of my collars.
There are several receivers and different types of tracking units to select from to monitor the collars on the dogs. In general, they all work on the same basic principle. Each receiver/tracking box comes equipped with the same standard equipment. There is a receiver which houses a circuit board system that allows the hunter to hear the transmission or beeping from the individual collar with the preset frequency.
Attached to the receiver, normally by means of a coaxial cable, is a directional antenna. By slowly swinging the antenna in a 360 degree circle, the hunter can determine which direction the strongest signal is coming from. Dependent on the terrain where you hunt there can be a lot of what is commonly termed “bounce” that will scramble the signal. This is when you are getting readings in two opposite directions caused by the signal echoing from some point. Think of it as a human voice echoing from hillside to hillside, bouncing around you and you are trying to locate its origin. Electrical lines can also interfere with the signal by causing electrical static very similar to skip on a two-way radio.
The invention of the handheld GPS is another great technological advance that has helped the houndsman. Much of the area we hunt has very little road access and what roads are there twist so badly you can leave point A to get to point B two miles further down the road and during your drive, you may face all directions of the compass.
Mounted on the dashboard of my hunting truck is a Garmin XL GPS that can create a track or history as I drive. Some of the newer versions have topography maps available. There are also versions available that have maps showing roads, trails, creeks, swamps, lakes, etc. and scroll as you drive. I also have a Garmin Street Pilot 2610 which has this feature, so when I am hunting in a strange area I can see how the roads and terrain lay. I also have established numerous waypoints from the area we hunt as references when trying to establish the location of the dogs. When I take off to walk to the dogs these days I am carrying a Lowrance GPS that combines all the features noted above. It is a great piece of equipment that combines topography and roads all in one handheld unit.
How do we use all of this equipment? If your hounds get out of hearing range you should be able to locate a signal on your receiver and determine their general direction. By doing a cross reference to your GPS waypoints in the same general direction, it will help you to better establish the location of the dogs.
The GPS also allows us the safety of a reliable system to navigate to and from our trucks or to a road. By marking your vehicle as a waypoint when you leave, it is much simpler and safer to return directly to your vehicle via the shortest and safest route. I still carry a standard compass just in case of battery failure.
At times when bear hunting with hounds, we get on a bear that will not tree. It will decide to simply ignore the baying and nipping of the dogs and continue to move at a slow walk and never really stop in one place. When constantly moving and paying more attention to catching the dogs than where you are actually at, you may not know exactly how far out it is in any direction. Once I have caught up to my dogs and have them on the leash, I use my handheld GPS to check my location compared to other waypoints listed in its memory. It may be quicker to walk out to a road or trail you have previously marked than to return the way you just came from. If I am hunting with others, a simple call on the handheld radio may save miles of walking.
Hunters are now also fortunate enough to have much better communication equipment available. The technological advances in mobile and handheld radios allows a much increased range and clarity in our verbal communications which makes our hunts much safer. I can think of numerous times when the advances have potentially saved the lives of our dogs.
A couple of personal examples may give you a better understanding of the use of our equipment. Twice in the last few years while hunting we have seen wolves come into the area where the hounds were running a track. When the wolves were spotted crossing into the area towards the dogs, we were able to get to the dogs before the wolves did. By knowing the location of all of the dogs by the readings of the tracking units and communicating on the radios, we were able to collect all the dogs before the wolves got to them.
Technology allows for a much safer hunt for ourselves and our dogs. We are also able to better monitor their location, allowing us to hopefully intercept them when they are approaching unsafe areas such as busy highways.
What is in the future for means of tracking our dogs with telemetry equipment? The future is here now but is too expensive for me and most hound hunters. Based on what I have been told, each collar will transmit a signal similar to what happens now but the receiver will be a video screen mountable on the dash of your truck. You will get a signal location visible on the screen’s map showing you exactly where your dog is located. I imagine it to be similar to what we now see on television on the police shows when they are tracking a bad guy or a phone call shown on a map on a computer screen.
They are also working on satellite collars for hounds, much like the ones currently used for wildlife studies. A reading is fed back via satellite using GPS coordinates to show the location of the dog’s transmitter.
All of the technology available does not help the hounds to catch a bear, but it does add to the safety of the hunt and helps the hunter to locate the dogs more reliably when they get out of hearing range.