Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: "Hunt" by ONXMAPS iPad/iPhone App: Computers and Hunting.Finally, they caught up!

I'm 62 years old.  When I started hunting, dog's tails went straight out instead of straight up.  Leather boots, waxed cotton and wool were worn and real bird hunters had pointers and/or setters and we weren't too sure about the setters. 

Now, of course, none of that is the case.  Also, I use my iPhone and iPad and GPS as well as my BLM maps.

Typical Page in the Program
I did an article on hunting and technology and how it makes scouting and entering new areas so much easier. (See: Now the same folks that sell GPS chips for Garmin units came up with an iPad App that has almost everything you need.  Above is a screen shot of my iPad with a random area of Montana.  I shows BLM land, Block Management land, land ownership names, roads, and even satellite view of the area. You can even download maps and still use the GPS feature of the maps while not in cell coverage.  You can measure areas or distances, share the screen via email or photo, layer on a topo map, take photos of the spot you are and add text and symbols to the maps. You can mark trucks, windmills, etc. using the on board library. Not all states are included, but many of the states I hunt are. Montana (shown above, which I will be visiting for Ruffed Grouse and Blue Grouse in September), Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, to name a few.  When you download the app, the list is on it and you just tell it which state to download the data. 

To this point, I've been buying gps chips for my Garmin ASTRO and downloading the same data directly in to my computer. At about $100 each, I was putting $300+ in to GPS info.  It was a one-time cost.  This program charges $35 for each state. for each unit (once for my iPad and once for my iPhone- total $70).  Per year. You would need to do the math and look at all the features of this new app before making a decision.  For me, I think the features of this app outweigh buying the chip. Of course, anyone that goes in to the western areas without paper maps and compass and the knowledge to use them is crazy.  NEVER rely on a cell phone or handheld GPS unit to get out alive!

I just got a very nice email from Matt Seidel with Hunting GPS Maps.  (Apparently, other people than just my mom read this BLOG!)  One download can be used on two devices.  So, my Montana download with all the BMA, BLM and private ownership information on it can be on my iPad and iPhone, both. He nicely offered to  let me download another state to even up the payments I made.  You gotta love that customer service!  Also, the website dealing with all this is:

To use this feature, one would download the App at the AppStore, then pick the state to download the data to the selected device.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Rainy Day Blues...or not.

Five Days of Rain
This is the middle of August.  In the South.  It's 60 degrees and light drizzle, flash flood watches and light breeze from the south and southwest. The bird dogs are dry and comfortable and are loving this cool air.  I wonder, sometimes, if they sense the change of the seasons and what it means for them? Today, I've already worked Cap on retrieving, stroked Mama Ruby and felt for movement of the pups (nothing yet, but 2+weeks to go) and played some with the Ace dog.  I replaced one of the pads in the Dog Den 2 houses, bought some more Royal Canin puppy starter to put on Ruby's food, and started organizing my dog first aid kit with the handy shopping list +Shawn Wayment, DVM, puts out. 

Shawn Wayment, DVM First Aid Supply List

Another annual task is the re-waxing of various Filson garments that I've had and worn for 20 years or more.  Shown is my +Filson coat.  It's torn and marked and just about perfect. This is the "technical fabric" of its day, and, to my mind, it still has a place in the bird hunter's closet today.  No brier can touch it and it is so tough and just, well, classic.  

Filson Field Trial Coat, circa 1994
Cleaning guns is on the agenda, as well.  Ahh, the smell of Hoppe's #9!  Nothing quite like it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Where's my dog? Review: Garmin ASTRO 320 and DC-50 Collar.

The ASTRO 320 and DC-50 Combo

Let me be perfectly clear.  I love tracking collars.  I will not put a dog down, hunting, without one.  To my mind they have revolutionized bird hunting and how we work together with our dogs.  That being said, the latest from Garmin in the ASTRO series is the ASTRO 320 coupled with the DC-50 collar. 

I've been a tracking collar proponent since shortly after my national champion setter decided to take a 5 day camping trip through the oil patch in SE New Mexico about 5 years ago. I tell the tale in this BLOG earlier on and won't bore you with details, but it was then a  friend recommended the new and emerging GPS tracking gear to me. At the time, it was bulky and strapped to the dog's back and I knew it wasn't for me, but, since then, as with all things electronic, the evolution's been rapid.  Now, the handheld is super reliable and the newest collar is good to 9 miles (in flat terrain, good conditions, blah, blah). I used to think several miles was ridiculous!  Now, I know any hard charging, bird finder can occasionally get a wild hair and head out.  Nine miles?  Probably not.  But, if they are just flat out lost, nine miles may not be range enough.  My dog, Bo, was picked up 22 miles from where we put out.  The farther the capability, the better.  I even bought the extended antenna for the A320, so I can stand on top of my truck and get a hit, if I need it.  (Spare me the "My dog will never leave me!" routine.  And, I do recommend the extendable antenna option......just in case.) 

I've used the Astro 220 since its inception.  The buttons are all worn smooth and I know the unit inside and out.  The 320 is worth the upgrade.  It is easier to read (for these old eyes), it is more intuitive in its operation (for the feeble minded) and it has some neat features (like sending collar information wirelessly to another 320 and putting "birds-eye satellite imagery" on the map). I'm still learning all the features, but I did notice there are numerous YouTube videos extolling the virtues of the unit.  Just Google "Astro 320" and check them out. 

The DC-50 collar is interesting.  Garmin moved the GPS receiver back to the top of the unit. The older -30 units (of which I still use one) had the gps receiver on the top and I never had problems with loss of the gps signal.  Then the -40 unit came out (I have 2) with the gps receiver in the main housing under the dog's neck and suddenly we had gps unlock problems.  I ain't no rocket scientist, but if satellites are above us, shouldn't the receiver be as well? (I know that was a cheap shot at Garmin, but I couldn't resist.  I'm sure they have the same conflict between the engineers and the end-users that exists in most tech industries. I'm just glad they fixed it!)  Another immediately noticeable difference is the long floppy antenna.  This is what communicates to the handheld unit.  I mean, this thing flops all over the place!  Garmin says it is important to keep it away from the dog- for maximum range.  It appears to be anchored and supported at the end so as to not get broken (as I experienced in the -40. Now, I carry extra antennas in the truck).  I notice Garmin ships an extra with the unit, just in case. I'm wondering about thick grouse cover and this thing whipping around and getting caught up and creating stress fractures over time.  Stay tuned for more info on that as the hunting year progresses.  I really hope it is no problem.  

Another cool feature is the "lost mode", where the tracking automatically changes over to once every 2 minutes when the collar battery goes to  25% power remaining.  I normally keep my collars on the every 5 sec mode (and that seems inadequate, at times).  If Fido gets lost and the battery starts getting low, then the every 5 secs changes to every 2 min, thereby lengthening the life of the battery. This is not the default setting and it should be!  It only takes a second to set it up on the collar, via the handheld, but I hope they change that in the next software upgrade. 

I've heard the handheld battery life is an issue.  I put fresh, rechargeable batteries in my handheld every day when I'm hunting. Wherever I go, I recharge batteries every night and start fresh every day.  I can imagine the units are power hogs, however, and I suspect that is one of the system limitations as with most electronics. 

Bottom line: Upgrade to the ASTRO 320.  As for the DC-50, if you have the money and inclination, get it. I see no reason to lay down a $150 DC40 (or several) just to snap up a -50.  I may go to a "must buy" in the future, but I want to get a full season on the unit before I commit. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Idaho Adventures

 A getaway or a scouting trip?  To my mind, that fine distinction is in the eye of the beholder. Six months ago, a friend of ours said we needed to do a rafting trip in Idaho to see the country and get out of the east coast malaise of August. In case you don't know, I hate August.  I have no use for a hot month, outside of bird season, full of ticks, thunderstorms and cutting grass. "This is a trip like no other!" she said. "Whatever." I replied.  We signed up, along with 30 other folks from this area.  Along the way, all but 5 hardy individuals dropped away citing school openings, weddings, deaths and dogs eating homework.  Ultimately, we boarded the Delta jet and looked ahead to seeing another part of the country- the Salmon and Snake Rivers and Hells Canyon in Idaho. 

The crew and guide above the rapids.

We arrived in McCall, ID, at one time a logging and ranching town in northwest Idaho now a welcoming, pleasant vacationing spot in the mountains.  Situated on a large lake, McCall has plenty of nice eateries, stores and even an indoor hockey arena.  For example, we ate at Romano's, an Italian restaurant on the lake.  The waitress greeted us with, "I hope you are hungry!".  The food was great and served promptly, and it complemented the incredible view across the lake to the mountains.

That evening at 8:30pm, we met our crew: +Tricia Warren, owner, guide, and river boss,  and Brad, Cori and Glen.  We were given dry bags to hold our gear and agreed to meet at 7:30 am the next morning ready for an adventure!  The company is  +North Star Expeditions based in McCall and they specialize in guided, multi-day rafting trips down the Salmon and Snake Rivers, through Hell's Canyon.  In addition, they also guide  "cast and blast" trips down the Snake River, through Hell's Canyon.

After a couple hour drive to the "put in", we loaded onto the paddle boat with Glen as our guide.  In addition, Tricia and Teresa were in another, bigger "oar boat" and Brad and Cori took an additional oar boat with all our supplies and camping paraphernalia on board.  Brad and Cori took off ahead of us in order to secure a good campsite alongside the river.  We would meet them around 5 pm. for dinner.  While we were running rapids and exploring, they were setting up camp, tents, cooking, etc. 

Preparing for the Rapids

The first day, we stopped at an archaeological dig manned by students from Oregon State University (Go Beavers!).   Then it was on to numerous Class I through Class IV rapids.  I may be wrong, but I think there may have been one Class V in there, or maybe the classification changed to a higher one during the Spring rains when the rivers are up and really flowing.

During the float, Glen and Brad kept pointing out Chukar noises along the river. Finally, I heard the little rascals!  Then, we started seeing them.  Group after group, the birds would be "chuk, chuk, chuk"ing away on the side of the hills, then come down to water.  Probably never bothered by a man or dog, they were totally unimpressed with our little armada. The guides told me about the "Cast and Blast" trips they offer in late September and early October.  They guide down the Snake River and fish and hunt Chukar and Hungarian Partridge (Huns).  Given the numbers of birds I saw, that could be a nice trip. You would take your own dog, gun, etc., but the guides can take their own dogs, as well.  I was unavailable for that time frame, but I think it might be an awesome trip!

Each evening, around 5 pm, we drifted in to the the campsite Brad and Cori prepared for us. We cleaned up, dressed in dry clothes and commenced to tell some tall tales about this event or that rapid.  Our tents (all gear supplied by North Star) were set up already and all we had to do was pick one and get in. Plenty of tall tales got told- cliff diving, water wars, archaeological sites, historical legends, etc. Then the food was brought in from the dutch ovens, River Potatoes, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, grilled steaks, grilled salmon, grilled vegetables, corn on the cob, fresh salads, etc.

Relaxing After Dinner

After 4 days and 3 nights on the Salmon and then, Snake, Rivers, we arrived at Heller Bar, take out point in Asotin, WA.  At this point, the Snake River is the boundary between Washington and Idaho.  We got out on the west bank in Washington. At one point, we were in Idaho, Oregon and Washington states, all on one trip. We saw Chukar, Bald Eagles, hawks, Big Horn Sheep and lots of Smallmouth Bass.  Salmon still run up these rivers and their numbers are on the rise, but the first run of the year was over and the second not yet started, so we missed seeing them. Plenty of wildlife!  

Would I do this trip again?  Yes.   I would pick another section of the rivers, and I may just do the Cast and Blast one year.  If this trip is any indication of the way North Star takes care of their customers, I'm 100% in favor of another trip.