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Updated: 3 weeks 4 days ago

A GPS Solution for the Great White North!

Wed, 2014-07-23 22:21
In my previous post I examined the issues surrounding the use of Garmin's Astro and Alpha GPS tracking devices in Canada. Basically, operating them in the great white north is a no-no because the devices broadcast on a radio frequency that cannot be used without a license in Canada.
But I also pointed out that the department in charge of regulating telecommunication frequencies in Canada is interested in compliance, not enforcement. There are no squads of radio-cops lurking behind hay bales on the prairies of Saskatchewan looking for offenders. So I am sure Astros and Alphas have been used in Canada for years by people willing to take the risk of maybe getting some sort of radio-rule ticket from...well, I have no idea who would actually hand them out.

Garmin Astro in action in ...?Now, however, the latest software updates for Astros and Alphas includes a 'fix' that makes the device automatically turn the dog tracking feature off when it detects that it is outside of the US (being a GPS device, it knows where it is!). So anyone currently running an Astro or Alpha outside of the US is faced with a choice: either update the software and lose the ability to use it anywhere but in the US or leave the old version on the device and risk it quickly becoming quickly obsolete. You would also have to say goodbye to any warranty repairs since sending it in for servicing would almost certainly mean a software update in the repair shop. 
So are hunters and field trialers in Canada out of luck? Will all the fine Americans who come here every year to hunt and participate in field trials be forced to run their dogs without GPS collars (or at the very least, with them automatically turned off via the new software tweak)? 
NOPE!
Fortunately for all of us, there's a GREAT solution!!



The TEK GPS location tracking and E-Collar training system..."...provides tracking and training versatility like you’ve never had before. The GPS Collar and E-Collar come as separate, compact modules that fit together on a single collar strap. The compact handheld device provides an instant fix on up to 12 dogs’ locations all the way out to 7 miles, lets you set multiple waypoints, and even tells you when a dog is on point or treed. You can keep control of a long chase, keep track of where that chase is going, or have the ability to do both. Whether the game is birds, bears, or anything in between, you’re always in the hunt when you track with the TEK!
Earlier today, I spoke with Darrell Douglas (the handsome fellow in the video above) about using TEK devices in Canada. According to Darrell, there are currently two versions of the popular TEK 1.0 model on the market. There is an American version (product number TEK-V1LT) that uses the MURS band. It is not compatible with Canadian regulations. But there is a Canadian version (product number TEK-V1LT-C). It sends a signal out at 915MHz on the ISM band and is therefore good to go in Canada!!
But WAIT, there's more good news. 
An all new TEK 2.0 is coming out this fall. It will have a lot of cool new features including 1:100 topo maps of Canada and the US, but most importantly both American and Canadian versions of the TEK 2.0 will use 915MHz on the ISM band. That means no matter where you purchase it*, a TEK 2.0 device will be compatible with regulations on both sides of the border! And that is GREAT news for hunters, field trialers and their dogs in Canada and the US. 
Henri wants a TEK 2.0!!
(*In order to get full warranty coverage and a bilingual manual and packaging, Canadians must purchase their units in Canada or from a Canadian reseller).



Lost and Found in Canada

Tue, 2014-07-22 22:49

Back in 2009, I wrote about one of the best inventions since fire and the wheel, Garmin's Astro GPS tracking collar for dogs. Back then, I explained that the device was not authorized for use in Canada, but would (should, could) be authorized in 2014. So today, realizing that we are half way through 2014, I called Industry Canada, the department that oversees such things to see if GPS tracking collars for dogs are now approved for use in Canada. 
Unfortunately, it's not good news:Since release of Industry Canada’s 2009 policy decision, uncertainties have been raised regarding potential uptake of MURS devices in Canada, and the relative merits of proceeding with MURS implementation in light of potential negative impacts to incumbent licensees. As a result, the Department does not feel that the introduction of MURS devices in Canada is warranted at this time, and has decided to defer the introduction of MURS devices in Canada until a clearer indication of actual need is provided by Canadian MURS advocates and/or stakeholders. Manufacturers, importers, retailers, current licensed users, and all other stakeholders are asked to take note of this provision.
So, what the hell happened? Is Canada now run by a tyrannical cabal of radio frequency Nazis? How DARE they tread on my dog-given right to track my pointy hounds via satellite!

Ok, calm down Mr. Tin-Foil Hatington. Radio Nazis aren't in power in Ottawa. The truth is actually quite banal. It boils down to simple differences in how various radio frequencies are allocated in the US and Canada. You see, all kinds devices that emit radio waves (and other kinds of radiation) are regulated by national laws and international agreements. Often devices that are accepted for use in one part of the world may not be operated in other parts due to conflicts with frequency assignments and other standards. 
So back in the day, when Garmin's engineer's designed the Alpha, they had to decide on which set of frequencies they were going to use for communication between the collar and the hand-held GPS device. They could have chosen the same range of frequencies that most e-collar transmitters use. If they did, the devices would be OK to use in Canada and the US. Or they could have also used the Family Radio Service (FRS) both from about 462 to 467MHz and it too, would have been OK. The "General Mobile Radio Service" (GMRS) band however would have only been OK to use in Canada. In the US, you need a license to use it. 
In the end, Garmin chose a range known as the "Multi Use Radio Service" (MURS) found from 151 – 154 MHz.  MURS used to be available only to permit holders for business communication applications in the US and in Canada. But in 2002 the American FCC changed its MURS policy and opened up for public use. Industry Canada did not. 


And therein lays the problem. MURS is open to unlicensed users in the US, but is still not open for non-licensed use in Canada. Industry Canada never did not open up the MURS frequency when the US did. And now, after 5 years of thinking about it (or more likely, 5 years of not  thinking about it), Industry Canada has decided that it will still restrict MURS to licensed users only. Their statement basically admits that changing the rules now would would piss off too many current permit holders. So MURS remains "pay-to-play" territory up here and will probably remain that way for the foreseeable future. 
Nevertheless, Astro, Alpha and other similar divices are not illegal in Canada per se. If you bring one up here, you won't be subject to a cavity search at the border and SWAT teams won't be storming your RV at grouse camp. Garmin Astros and Alphas, just like walkie-talkies, garage door openers, remote car starters, RC model airplanes, heck even remote thermometers or like any other device that emits radio waves, may or may not be approved for use in Canada or the US. It all comes down to whether or not they conform to the FCC and/or Industry Canada allocation of radio frequencies. And even if they do, they could be rendered 'unapproved for use' by doing something as simple as changing the antenna or modifying a circuit. Look what Tri-Tronics has to say about their e-collars:"Tri-Tronics certifies its products to operate under Part 95  of FCC regulations. Unauthorized modifications to your equipment could result in its not meeting specifications  and thus violating FCC regulations. Adjustments should only be performed by technically qualified personnel authorized by Tri-Tronics. To continue to meet FCC operating specifications, any replacement of circuit components (including antennas) must meet Tri-Tronics manufacturing specifications."Change the antenna... break the law?And while you are at it, you might want to cheque the fine print for your walkie-talkies, garage door openers, remote car starters, RC model airplanes, heck even remote thermometers. They may not even be approved for use either! 

Be that as it may, let me conclude by cutting and pasting what I wrote in 2009. Unfortunately, it still applies. If you have an Astro or Alpha and you are hunting in Canada, remember that: Industry Canada is interested in compliance, NOT punishment. And they are not in the business of skulking around hay bails in Saskatchewan with scanners looking for law breaking Yankies with fancy collars on their high falutin dogs. So if you bring an Astro up here and it did happen to interfere with farmer Brown's radio base station and tractor in the field, or with a hydro worker repairing a line, you may be asked to turn it off and to stop interfering with the frequency. No fines, no water-boarding.
However, if you then continued to use it, despite the warning, you could face stiff penalties. But twenty grand and the loss of your car? Nope. Unless your were following fire trucks in downtown Toronto and deliberately screwing with their radios as they tried to save a burning convent and orphanage, I doubt you would get anything more than whatever equivalent of a speeding ticket gets handed out by the radio/tv cops.
Of course, I'm just some guy on the net. I am not a lawyer and I am not a cop. I'm not even coherent most of the time. So take lots of salt with whatever advice I may provide and weigh the risk-to-benefit ratio of whatever action you may take. 


UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that the latest firmware update, for the Garmin Astro (and Alpha) now has a feature that automatically disables dog tracking when used in countries for which the radio frequencies are not authorized. 
So it seems that Garmin is willing and able to tweak the firmware from time to time in response to local laws and regulations. So why not tweak the firmware (and presumably a circuit or two in the radio) to do respond to owners and potential owners in countries other than the US? Why not update the firmware (and make a hardware update available) that actually makes the units compatible with regs in other countries?
After all, every single one of the e-collars that Garmin now makes (via their purchase of Tri-Tronics) are perfectly compatible with radio regulations in Canada and the US. Heck, even the Garmin Rhino (radio/gps unit) is compatible. Why not the Astro and the Alpha? How hard could it be?

Potential work-around: when in Canada, attach one of these to your dog?
UPDATE #2 Apparently not ALL of the e-collars that Garmin make are compatible with Canadian regulations: Steve Snell from Gundog Supply posted that "The new Pro Trashbreaker also uses MURS" so is therefore not authorized for use in Canada.

But the good news is that "SportDog has a Canadian version of their GPS and Ecollar combo TEK 1 and the TEK 2 coming out this Fall will also be available in Canada. They work off a legal frequency." 

YEAH!!!!Thanks for the info Steve!!



VGP, the Master Test

Tue, 2014-05-27 13:48

VGP is the tongue-friendly abbreviation for Verbands-Gebrauchsprüfung (say that quickly three times!). Translated, Verbands-Gebrauchsprüfung means "Association utility test" and refers to the extremely difficult master test for pointing dogs in Germany. 
One of my dogs, the Amazing Maisey, ran the VGP a couple of years ago and achieved a prize one despite almost losing an eye earlier in the summer while training. You can read about the drama here. I've also posted some video clips from a special VGP (equivalent) test in Austria that Lisa and I attended in 1999. You can see them here
Recently, I came across a video (in German) that features a young woman and her Drahthaar Laika participating in a VGP test in Germany. The video is featured on the Youtube channel of the German sporting magazine "Deutsche Jagd Zeitung" and is an excellent overview of the test. Even if you don't speak German, it is well worth the viewing.

Enjoy!


Lower Bag Limits Won't Save Our Sharptails

Sun, 2014-05-04 16:02
Joe Schmutz recently wrote an interesting article about the decline of sharp-tail grouse numbers in his home province of Saskatchewan. Joe was kind enough to give me permission to share it on my blog. Thanks Joe!

In 2013, the Ministry of Environment responded to declining sharp-tail grouse numbers by reducing the daily bag limit from 3 to 2. There was a time when the grouse were so numerous they were taken for subsistence without a bag limit. Then, in 1985, the existing limit of 5 was reduced to 3; now 2. If this trend continued in a straight line, the limit would be 1 in a dozen years and sharp-tail hunting closed in 2040. What would it take to reverse that trend? When the Ministry announced the reduced bag limit, they called on hunters, naturalists and landowners to report observations. Of course, isolated observations only go so far. What grouse need most is action.
Having hunted sharp-tails, and other upland birds in Saskatchewan for many years, I believe that severe winters and wet and cold weather during early summer brood rearing can cause ups and down in grouse numbers. But, I've also observed loss of habitat that is always a down. I decided in 2013 to respond to the Ministry's call and record number of hours hunted, grouse seen and bagged, GPS locations and food found in the grouse's crops. I have hunted grouse in various parts of parkland edge (northern grain-belt) in the western half of the province. In good years, I've found grouse in decent numbers in small grassland patches such as abandoned farmsteads, shelter belts and sloughs surrounded by cultivation, as long as larger grassland areas were nearby. The large grasslands held grouse more reliably and that is where I went in 2013, to community pastures.
In 14 hunting forays over 7 days and out of 20 hrs hunted with 2-5 dogs, 1 saw 137 flushes, 7 per hr. Twenty of these birds, I figured, had landed and were flushed a second time. This left 117 individuals of which I bagged 12, 10%. I hunted over new areas each time and likely encountered different individuals. The age ratio was 4 adults and 8 juveniles. l used Large Munsterlander dogs, a versatile breed with medium range and speed. I estimated area covered by observing that the dogs covered approximately 150 meters on either side of me. This yielded a density of 9.5 grouse/km2. A more detailed report has been submitted to Nature Saskatchewan's journal, the Bluejay.
As the Ministry's press release rightly states, wide research had been done on sharp-tailed grouse - Saskatchewan's provincial bird. The last detailed studies were by Wayne Pepper and Adam Schmidt decades ago. Surveys done by conservation officers remain largely unanalyzed. My calculated 9.5 grouse/ km2 was among the highest densities I could find anywhere. It proved to me what I suspected all along. When you give the grouse the habitat they need, they do just fine. So, what habitat do they need?
The recently eaten foods found in the crops of grouse also tell the habitat story. By total volume of all crops, 21% was grasshoppers, 59% fruits, 19% wheat & canola, and 1% buds. These foods were taken from late September to early November, and illustrate changes in habitat and food through fall. In summer, grasshoppers and other insects are a high protein favorite. After the first few frosts when grasshoppers disappear, nutritious berries are a staple. Once the young grouse can fly well, the hen leads them to surrounding fields for grains. Through the winter; all available dried and frozen fruits are finished off, and shrub and tree buds become a staple - that's when hunters often see grouse up in trees. This change in food shows the impacts of habitat loss too. When grasslands are cultivated, all or most of the grass and shrub cover disappears. Grasshoppers may be available in crop borders, but if these are sprayed with pesticides they can harm the grouse, especially the young. Grains and weed seeds are nutritious, but when these are covered by deep or crusted snow, the grouse can't reach them. This is when sharp-tails switch to tree-buds; something the introduced grey partridge and pheasants do not. 
Watching the dogs use their noses to work scents left behind by grouse can help us understand what grouse need for protection. Except for spotting flying grouse or marking a shot grouse fall, dogs use scent to locate the birds, not sight. Mammalian predators likely do the same, while raptors use sight, a grouse that crawls under a dense matt of grass where the wind is still, can be very difficult to find for a dog; or a fox.  This dense grass cover is also important for a hen whose nest she needs to hide for as long as 40 days: 10 days for laying, 22 for incubation and 7-10 more before the grouse chicks can fly short distances to try and escape. Every grouse hen has to count on luck that no weasel, skunk, fox, coyote or farm cat walks by so close that she has to flush and reveal her nest or brood's location. The ranchers use the pasture for summer-to-fall grazing near water sources. The rest of the pasture without standing water becomes their "grass bank" in most years. The ranchers know that in Saskatchewan dry years happen every so often. Instead of buying feed, which is even more expensive in dry years, they store some grass. When this grass is needed they can take water by truck to those areas and let cattle use the native grass that may be old but still has some forage quality in it. This grass-bank grass is mixed with some new growth. Some new grass will grow even in a dry year where the soil has been shaded and dead grass held needed moisture. It is no accident that I found high numbers of grouse here. The grouse know that their survival depends on grass, and so should we. Eighty percent of the grouse's prairie habitat has been altered for crop production, municipal services, resource extraction, transportation and the like. 
Of the 20% that remains, much is in the southwest, the dry sage grouse country where sharp-tails tend to be less frequent. Also, much of it is used for season-long grazing, if that is what the ranchers prefer to do. The greatest hope for grouse hunters lies with community pastures, the federal and provincial variety that makes up 4% of prairie. Here the ranchers and pasture managers could be the grouse hunters' allies. Sure ranchers know to look after grass and grow cattle, but managing for cattle alone, or cattle and grouse together, are slightly different ways of managing grass. Recently, the PFRA pastures that have been managed for decades to the satisfaction of farmers and hunters have been put up for sale. Were the cattle industry in better shape financially they'd be gone. Other big-money interests have offered to buy them, and they're just waiting. This is the hunters' high time to get involved.
What I'm describing is for that last 4% of prairie to be held in the public trust and used for grazing, but also with a multifunction-arrangement in mind. For this we need to bring key parties to the table, including the provincial government, producers, industry, conservationists and hunters. Jointly we can develop a win-win solution that ensures continued public ownership and sustainable management of our pastures for the benefit of all Saskatchewan residents. It's been the mixed farmer primarily who used community pastures. When the grain operation on the mixed farm got busy, the cattle went to the pasture where the pasture manager looked after them. At the same time, the pasture manager made sure that oil and gas disturbance was kept to a minimum, hunter access was managed, grazing was adjusted to fight back invasive species, and the bulls, fences and windmills were looked after year-round. These guys see things in grass from their horse that goes over most of our heads. These pastures can be the ace in the hole for grouse hunters and naturalists. We can stop the relentless erosion of grouse bag limits, we just need to decide and come together on it. Sure we need to save money where we can, but not trade grouse for an uncertain heritage fund. The pasture manager's salary has come 50% from pasture patrons and 50% from the public purse for public benefits that were estimated by economists to be 2.5 times more than costs.
I'm happy to let some of my taxes and hunting license fees go to paying pasture managers. More importantly, the oil, gas & gravel royalties that come from pastures but go into the government's general coffers are huge. Are we so poor in Saskatchewan that grouse hunting has to go? Will deer be next? 
The so-called pasture transition is not going as smoothly or quickly as was hoped. Conservationists and naturalists have asked some serious questions (e.g. http://pfrapastureposts.wordpress.com/) and especially the pasture patrons have asked to be heard (see: http://www.cppas.co/) Where is our government's leadership? Bag limits  are the environment ministry's responsibility, pastures belong to agriculture. It could be our government's legacy to create a Heritage Rangelands division, or something, to bring the many interests to the table while we still can. The majority of pasture patrons want to keep the pasture managers and we hunters should help them succeed. Even if I personally will be unlikely to hunt grouse in 2040, let's make sure own kids still can.



Happy Birthday HENRI!

Sat, 2014-04-26 16:04
Silvershot's Pocket Rocket "Henri" is 6! Time to celebrate...


6 years of cuddling   6 years of daily walks  6 years of running    6 years of playing   6 years of pointing     6 years of backing  6 years of fetching   6 years of chillaxing   6 years of hanging out with buddies
 6 years of being a stud-muffin
 6 years of crazy eyes (and passing them on to his offspring)  6 years of kisses    And 6 years of putting smiles on our faces  Happy Birthday Henri!!!