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GPS Dog Tracking for Hunters

The woods were dark, and as silent as only the woods in winter can be, when Jason Matzinger found the first track. Standing in thigh-deep snow, he inspected the large, fresh print with a light. A large pad, round toes, and no visible claws meant mountain lion.

This new set of tracks didn’t seem big, probably a female, so he left his weapon behind. It would still be a good run for the hounds, though.

It was 6 a.m., a few days before Christmas and the temperature was close to single digits, standard for the mountains of western Montana. The cold, early morning didn’t phase Matzinger, though. He’d been chasing cats since he was 12 and knew the demands of the hunt well. He cut the new tracks through the snow and after over an hour of meticulous attention to detail, he had a solid trail to follow. As the sun shone its first rays through the white branches of snow-covered trees, it was time to release the hounds.

The three hounds charged after the tracks, only lifting their noses to fill the once quiet woods with a symphony of bays, barks, and howls. Matzinger was left in their wake, fighting through the varying depths of snow in a hopeless effort to keep up with the “organized madness” ahead of him.

As the dogs disappeared into the woods, they were represented on the screen of Matzinger’s GPS by a colored icon with a name, position, and whether they had treed something.

It would be easy to sit in the warm truck and follow the dogs on this screen, but it wasn’t an option. The importance of the hunt was being out with the dogs, reading the trail, and following the cat to see its home and how it was living.

“I don’t want to lose what there’s to learn on the trail,” Matzinger said.

“You learn the way lions run through the country and it’s made me a better hunter.”

sleeping mountain lion
mountain lion eyes

A New Era of Hunting

The advent of GPS technology has come a long way from the first time Matzinger chased cats in Montana. Back then the only way of tracking your dogs was through radio telemetry. A collar producing a radio signal was put on the dogs and the trackers held a large antennae to retrieve the signals, signified by a loud beep, unlike the satellite signals picked up by GPS. The closer the dogs, the more distinct the beep. It helped, but wasn’t without its flaws. Collars often bounced the signals off canyon walls, or other objects, giving indistinct directions.

Matzinger said the process was cumbersome and only available for the elites.

The GPS is now more important than ever for Matzinger as he sees encroaching private properties, regardless of how far he’s running cats. Matzinger pairs his GPS with his HUNT Chip, to monitor for property boundaries when he’s chasing these cats. On more than one occasion he’s had to look up a landowner’s name and parlay with them to get his hounds off their property.

“As a hunter, you can stop yourself and say this is private land,” he said “Well you ain’t stopping hounds.”

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Not Just For the Hounds

Owner of GPS DAWG, Cody Baker, said dog hunting is made of smaller communities of hunters. Whether it’s raccoons, bears, or birds though, Baker said GPS fits the needs of anyone who hunts with dogs.

Baker said the advantages aren’t limited to knowing where you or your dog are at all times, but also knowing the terrain surrounding you and monitoring your dog’s behavior.

Watching your dog on the screen will show whether your dogs are chasing game or not, and it also shows if they have treed something or if they are pointing. Topographic maps will show you the fastest point of least resistance to your dogs.

Baker said your dog’s signature on the screen can also tell you what it’s chasing. He said different game animals run in different patterns and if you’re familiar with the patterns, your dog’s tracks will show if it’s running game or more erratic.

hunting dog collar

GPS is For the Birds

In the plains of Colorado, east of Denver, professional dog trainer, Tyler Bowman, runs long-ranging pointers across the prairie with Valhalla Kennels. He uses GPS to track their every move as they work for pheasants.

Bowman’s dogs often range in drainages and over hills and will lock on point out of his sight. Bowman said hunters used to use beepers to call long-ranging dogs back, but it meant flushing birds with no shot and spooking other birds as the dog was on its way back.

Now armed with his Astro GPS, Bowman can track up to ten dogs and range them without worrying. If a dog hunts out of his line of sight, Bowman checks his GPS, which tells him whether the dog is still hunting or if it’s locked up on a rooster. He can then work his way to the pointing dog’s exact location, which can be tracked up to nine miles away.

Bowman uses his HUNT CHIP to keep his dogs off private lands, but also to help understand what kind of terrain his dog is on when it’s out of sight and locked up on birds. Knowing the terrain helps Bowman walk up on the dog and safely plan shooting lanes.

hunting dog collar

On the Lion’s Trail

Jason Matzinger was hot on the trail of his hounds. Running through snowdrifts, the trail took him through thick deadfall, down a canyon, and across a creek bottom. He let the dogs loose around 7:30 that morning and after nine hours and seven miles, the GPS indicated the dogs were finally treed.

“If I wasn’t in the best shape of my life, I don’t know if I would have made it back,” he said.

The marathon chase took him up a hill where he crested the ridgeline, welcomed by the frenzy of barks and bays.

“They were going ballistic,” he said.

He slowly approached the tree and peered up. A tawny face and large predator eyes looked back.

A large tom, waited in the tree, to Matzinger’s dismay.

He was so sure the tracks were female, as he ran seven miles into the backcountry with no weapon. It didn’t matter though, the day was about the thrill of running with the dogs and chasing lions in winter.

He wrangled the dogs off the tree and turned them around. The sun was sinking fast, the temperature dropping and he had a hell of a hike back to the truck with a pack of dogs as tired as he was.

jason matzinger hunting dog

Written by Cavan Williams