Electronics are increasingly becoming a part of hunting, but how do you tell the tools from the toys?
Every year I lose Mia, my little huntress, for a few minutes and although I always find her, there’s that moment of panic. But every year I hear about other hunters who lose their dogs and are not so lucky in getting them back. Products such as the new Garmin® Astro 320 could prevent many of the dogs from being lost each year and has features that go well beyond just tracking your dogs.
This jungle of willows is full of Pheasants but even when your dog is wearing a hunting vest, it’s easy to lose sight of them.
Due to the large number of features offered by the Garmin® Astro 320, this review is limited basic setup and those features that I personally find most useful. Actual field testing was conducted while hunting.
The Garmin® Astro 320 GPS
The Garmin® Astro 320 comes complete with the handheld device, GPS collar, antennas, adapters, and user manuals. Adapters include USB, AC plugin, and car adapter; the USB adapter can be used to charge the collar as well as download updates.
Garmin® Astro 320 adapters
The following features are illustrated through a series of video links. Granted, they’re just crude cell phone recordings, but they illustrate the Astro 320 in actual hunting situations.
Even the best product isn’t much good if it’s difficult to use and understand. As a software developer, much of my review focused on user-friendliness; I found navigating the menus to be intuitive and consistent throughout.
Add a dog
Dogs can be added either manually, or wirelessly by holding the handheld device next to the collar. Dogs can easily be managed by the handheld device and there are a variety of options for managing and gathering statistics on individual dogs.
Marking and Waypoints
There’s no video on marking and setting waypoints, since these features are illustrated in other videos such as marking the truck’s location. I did find this function to be very useful particularly for marking covey locations, landmarks, and obtaining distances. A few years ago I became lost for several hours when low rainclouds lifted and revealed landmarks that I couldn’t see when I set out; other hunters found me 5 miles from my truck and drove me back, but something like this Garmin® would have prevented me from becoming lost in the first place.
Trip Computer/ Odometer
The trip computer or odometer, as with marking and setting waypoints, is a nice feature with safety applications. You can also better manage your hunts by knowing times and distances.
A hunting device that isn’t waterproof is useless to me, so the Garmin® Astro 320 went on all my duck hunts. I found it to be waterproof under normal hunting situations and have confidence that it’s likely to be waterproof under abnormal situations as well.
There are some very good hunting locations that I’ve avoided for fear of losing my dogs, but with this particular GPS, I’m not afraid to hunt these areas. One benefit of the GPS is allowing my dogs to hunt more freely, since I can keep track of them remotely rather than by sight.
What Results Can You Expect?
The focus of my review was on user-friendliness in regards to setup, configuration and calibration, and ease of use while hunting; another primary consideration was usefulness. I relied heavily on the reputation of Garmin® to provide a quality product but didn’t let them off the hook when it came to accuracy and functionality – I still expected the device to live up to their reputation.
I configured the unit to extend battery life, such as setting the frequency that it pings the collar, reducing the backlight, power-off, and disabling features that I don’t use. As a result, I could run it for a good 8-9 hours before receiving a low battery warning.
The Garmin® Astro 320 is a rugged device that thankfully has a very solid clip. Although I lost the handheld’s antenna in heavy brush, it has been able to stand up to everything I’ve thrown at it.
What to Watch Out For
After testing the Garmin® Astro 320 for several months under various conditions, there are a couple of considerations.
Charging the Garmin® Astro 320 GPS collar can take up to 5 hours depending on how low the battery is, so a little pre-planning may be in order. The Astro 320 comes with several adapters including one for vehicles, enabling it to charge while driving. The quality of batteries for the handheld device play a major role, and rechargeable Lithium or NiMH batteries are recommended. Having gone through a pair of regular batteries with each hunt, I soon purchased a charger and set of rechargeable AA batteries.
There have been issues with Lithium batteries catching fire or exploding if they become too hot or if they have been overcharged. Some lower quality batteries seem to have a higher rate of this occurring.
Calibrating the compass consists of rotating the handheld device vertically, horizontally, and in a circle; for some people this could be a little awkward. Considering the performance of the GPS once the compass is calibrated, in my opinion, is well worth the gyrations of calibrating it.
I found that the dog map is not accurate if you are moving, although the distance from your dog is accurate. Case in point: Mia and I became separated while Pheasant hunting and I found that if I was walking, the arrow on the dog map pointed in various directions, as though it could not get a lock on her. The distance seemed to be accurate, but the arrow would point in different directions. When I stopped walking, the handheld was able to lock on her direction, therefore I had to stop each time I checked in on her.
HuntinDawg.com provided a Garmin® Astro 320 and one collar at a reduced price for my review, and without question I will be purchasing a second collar since I prefer running my dogs in braces. After extensive testing, I highly recommend the Garmin® Astro 320 which can be purchased at HuntinDawg.com. A good GPS collar is pricy, but with me it comes down to priorities and safety is the top priority for both me and my dogs; I’m not into toys or gimmicks and view the Astro 320 as a safety device first and foremost. As for priorities, I don’t spend much money on hunting clothes, decoys, or even my shotguns and they all serve me well. However I will put good money into safety, and haven’t met a hunter yet who has lost a dog and not regretted doing more to ensure its safety.