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Tracking Collars?

by Lyle Zerla

          Why would someone go to the expense of buying a tracking collar for a Beagle?

          Each October I go to northern Michigan to hunt showshoe hares.  Where we hunt is 540 miles from my house in eastern Ohio, near Wheeling, WV.  I meet Jim Bridges, Darwin Accord, and Mike Parker in Rochester Hills, Michigan.  We all then proceed to northern Michigan, where we have rented a house together for the past four years.

          One year, we had a total of twelve dogs with us.  Jim and Darwin each had two dogs and Mike had one.  I brought seven of my dogs from the Blue Ridge Kennel:  Casey, Bobbi, Mary Lou, Caesar, Christy, and two seven-month-old pups, Rascal and Duke, Mary Lou's kids.

          We hunted one pack of dogs in the morning, usually for about six hours.  Then, in the afternoon, we would take the other pack out for three hours.  The following day we hunted the pack that hunted the shortest time the day before in the morning, in an attempt to keep from burning out the dogs.

          One morning we ran into two hunters from Kentucky who had lost a lemon and white female somewhere in the cedar swamp.  The next afternoon I stopped at their camp to see if they had found the dog--they had not.  The next evening they stopped at our camp to tell us that they had found the lemon and white female, but now they were missing a ten month old tri-colored pup.

          The next morning Charlie, from Alabama, flagged us down on the highway to ask if we had seen a dog that he had lost.  We had not seen any of the lost dogs.

          We were hunting a fifty square mile area and hadn't run into any other hunters, or even heard other dogs running.  Both the Kentucky boys and Charlie had spent a lot of time looking for their dogs.  They would have rather been hunting hare than hunting hounds.

          Our hounds handled fairly well and we had not had a problem.  As added insurance, we had tracking collars.  Jim and Darwin had two Wildlife Materials coon dog collars that, though quite heavy, were handled by the biggest dogs in the two packs.  The range on these two collars is claimed to be eight miles.  They also had two smaller Beage-sized collars that were run on the smaller dogs.

          I had purchased two Wildlife Materials collars, Model 3850 at a cost of $139 each.  I had been running these collars on my dogs for the last six months, ever since having one dog out all night in a coyote-infested area.

          I am not recommending Wildlife Materials over other brands, but they do advertise in the "Rabbit Hunter" magazine, one of the two sports magazines to which I subscribe.

          When I called Wildlife Materials, the woman who answered the phone was very helpful.  I didn't know anything about tracking collars other than I wanted an antenna, receiver, and two collars with the possibility of expanding to six collars in the future.

          The receiver I obtained is the 16 channel module that is used to track Alzheimer patients and is comparable in price to the ten channel model.  The collar is very lightweight and even my smallest dog, Casey, who weighs 18.5 lbs., has no trouble handling the weight.  The range of the 3850 is claimed to be three miles.

          On the sixth day of our snowshoe hunt, we ran my pack, with the exception of Duke, in the afternoon.  We were hunting a large juniper field.  Christy jumped a large hare that I could have shot on the jump, but didn't because I like to hear the dogs run more than I enjoy killing hare.  Casey barked and was soon joined by Caesar, Mary Lou, Bobbi, and Rascal.

          The hare went straight into the cedar trees that were nearby.  In a few minutes, the pack from the Blue Ridge Kennel was out of hearing.  We waited and we could hear them coming back.  Soon they were close enough that the hare should be coming into sight.  The hounds drove right past us.  The hare had slipped past us without our seeing it.  Back into the cedar tangle they went.  It was now 5:45 p.m., with darkness arriving at 6:45 p.m.  A lot of time, right?

          Remember Murphy's Law?  If something can go wrong, it will.  The girls from Blue Ridge took the hare out of hearing again.  In a few minutes I could hear Caesar's bawl shatter the still air, soon to be joined by Rascal's chop.  I could not hear any other dogs and Bobbi's squeal usually could be heard above the cacophony of the hounds.

          As the hare got closer, it became obvious that only Caesar and Rascal were in pursuit.  We had a split somewhere when the hounds were out of hearing in the cedar tangle.

          This time, the hare made a mistake and showed himself to Darwin.  His A-5 roared and Darwin had bagged another hare.  We leashed Caesar and Rascal and listened in vain for the rest of the pack.

          Jim Bridges got his tracking receiver out of the case.  We shut off the coon dog collar that Caesar was wearing and the 3850 that Rascal had on to avoid interference from the close proximity of the collars to the receiver.  Jim got a reading on his two Beagle-sized collars and my other 3850 in a due north heading.  The other coon dog collar produced a reading from the west.  We had a three-way split with less than thirty minutes of daylight left.  Murphy's Law in action again!

          We returned to the trucks, put Caesar and Rascal in the boxes, and our luck changed for the better.  The road headed in a northern direction.  We went about one-half of a mile and stopped to get another reading on the receiver.  Now the transmitters were giving a reading to the east and the large collar that Mary Lou was wearing was now giving a reading to the southwest.

          We had gone past Mary Lou, but Bobbi, Christy, and Casey were between us and a very large lake.  We decided to go after the three dogs.  We found a road that headed towards the lake and a public beach access.  We drove to the end of the road and got the receiver out again.

          The three dogs were now north of us again.  In a few minutes, it became obvious that the signal was getting stronger.  The quality of the signal was fluctuating wildly.  In the dense tangle, we could see that the terrain looked like a strip pit spoil--- ridges about ten feet high, about thirty feel apart.  When the signal was weaker, the dogs were in the valley and when the signal got stronger, the dogs were approaching the top.

          We still could not hear them, but the signal was getting very strong, flooding the meter with signal.  Jim switched the attenuator to the on position.  This reduces the receiver's strength by about 60% and is used when the transmitter is close by.  We got a signal of six on a scale of 0-10.  The dogs were very close.  In the dense cedar growth we cold now see them.  They were searching under deadfalls for another hare.

          Mike Parker and I wasted no time in getting in the cedar tangle and putting leads on the dogs.  It was now dark as we stumbled out of the cedars.  We turned off the transmitters and put Bobbi, Christy, and Casey in the dog box.

          Our attention was now turned to Mary Lou who was still to the southeast.  We went down the road on which we had come north, stopping to take readings with the receiver every few hundred yards until we got a reading of due west.  We then found a two-track road and moved in a westerly direction.  We stopped occasionally until we got a north reading on the signal.  We could now faintly hear Mary Lou running a hare.  We continued along the two-track road until it came to a Y.  We took the leg that ran north.  We got another reading.  This time Mary Lou was east of us.

          We could hear Mary Lou pounding the hare's trail off in the distance in the dark.  She really sounded impressive, with very few checks. 

          Mary Lou had just finished third in the Northeast Regional Progressive Pack field trial, losing to Run'em Over Tank in the semifinal cast.  This was after breaking her pelvis ten weeks earlier and being out of condition almost as badly as I am.

          Either Mary Lou could not hear us calling her, or she was ignoring us in favor of the hare.  She was in the center of a square bordered by the roads we had traveled searching for her.  We waited until 9 o'clock, with Mary Lou never getting closer than a quarter mile from the road.  With only one flashlight, we opted not to venture into the dense cedar growth, deadfalls, and swamps in the dark.

          We returned to the cabin, knowing that we could find her in the daylight, thanks to the tracking collar.  We also knew that coyotes were not a problem in this area.

          We started out the next morning at first light and drove for a half an hour to the spot where we had last heard Mary Lou.  She was north of us and the signal was very weak.  Was she lying down, or had she increased the distance greatly?

          We retraced our steps until we got a western reading on the receiver.  We found a logging road that ran in the direction where Mary Lou was located.

          We came to another Y in the road and took another reading with the directional finder.  Mary Lou was in the center of the area formed by the two roads.  I started to call her and the signal got stronger.  Jim switched the attenuator to the on position and we got a signal of six.  This meant that Mary Lou was close.

          Murphy's Law came into play again.   We lost the signal!  What happened?  My first thought was that she had fallen in a hole or that a coyote had killed her and was dragging what was left of the carcass under a log to finish after we left.

          I told Jim that she couldn't be too far and that we should go in after her.  Mike stuck to the two-track road that ran parallel to where we were headed.  Jim and I crawled over and through more deadfalls that I thought were possible in a hundred yards of woods.

          We heard Mike yell that he had her.  Now we had to make our way back out of the woods.  When we reached the road, Mike was waiting with the truck and Mary Lou.  Jim tried the receiver again with Mary Lou in sight, still no signal.  On closer inspection, we discovered that the antenna connection of the receiver had come loose--Murphy's Law.

          Mary Lou's eyes were swollen shut from the debris in them and her front legs were swollen.  Her back right foot was seeping a clear liquid from the back of the large pad.  Jim washed out her eyes before we put her into the dog box.

          When we got back to the house, I fed her and flushed her eyes again.  After two days of lying in the dog box, only getting up to take very short walks to relieve herself, she was back to normal.

          Without the aid of the tracking collar, I may have been forced to leave four dogs 540 miles from home, possibly never to be recovered.  The tracking collars are like insurance.  You have fire insurance on your home.  The chances of losing a Beagle are greater than of your home burning.

          Thanks to the tracking collar and the invaluable aid of Jim Bridges, who really knows how to use his tracking collar, Mike Parker, and Darwin Accord, I was able to recover four valuable, at least to me, Beagles.

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).