Garmin Astro

Discussion in 'Upland Game hunting, Dogs and dog training' started by Steve White, Jan 25, 2009.

  1. Well i have been looking at getting one since this type of unit first came out overseas. Then Garmin introduced the Astro in the US. WItht he new improved collars I decided it was time to get one when this years tax money came in. Talking to a partner about it he could not wait for me to review it. He had to have it now. It arived, and I had to set it up , and of course got to test it. Below is my first expeiene with it.

    Pulling the unit and collar out of the box I iked the overall looks. Both units looked very sturdy and well built.

    GPS-I was really impressed by how fast it aquired position. Even while standing in my house had no problem. My old Lowrance would still be looking for a signal. Overall use is very simple. Never opened the user manual once. There are a bunch of options for having 8 buttons,but a little playing and you will work it out fine. I don't care for the double A battery use, as a battery pack would be nicer. Which would allow a truck charger then hopefully.

    Collar- looks great, charged fast, and pretty straight forward. have heard complaints about battery life. This comes from hound hunters using old standard collars with up to 17000 hours. These collars will last over 30 hrs before charging when set to a 30sec refresh rate. Been along time since I hunted that long. So charging them up should be no big deal.

    Software- This is an option that should be gotten. The Topo USA 2008 should great detail, and was easy to use.

    In testing the unit from home. I sent my daughter out with a collar in the truck. I tracked it for 1.53 miles before losing it. Then got to use it in the field the next day. Here I only got out 1.2 miles before I seen I needed to get to the dogs for safety reasons. While I was tracking at this point was comparing it ot my Tracker maxima unit. Just before heading to the dogs I had lost signal on one of the dogs on a tradtional tracking collar, and the other was just about maxed out. So with the old stuff I lost one dog, and knew the direction one was but that was it. With the Astro I knew exactly where they were.

    That coyote chase ended being in a dangerous area. Luck was with us, and we found another set of fresh tracks only 30yds from my truck. VERY NICE!! So the dogs went back out. Never got real far from the dogs. About 1.29 miles. It was nice to watch the race and see exactly where the dogs were going. Suprised the yote and dogs by showing up in places they have never crossed before. On this chase they headed for a highway crossing. So I went to that crossing. Sure enough the yote had already been there. But, wait they were on a pair. As I watched the gps the dog kept coming to the road up from where I was. Figured the dog was coming and the map was off. So I waited. The dog was in the road on the gps, and so was I. The dog however was 400yds away on the gps. Well since it was niot where I was I went to where the gps was. Sure enough ther is the dog and the yote track. he pair had split. Got the dog across while the other came on the other yote back 400yds away. So I got there and got it caught up, and back n with the other dog.

    This chase continued and got to wathc and play cat and mouse with the GPS the rest of the day. Was neat to see how far the dogs had traveled and at what speed. On this chase the dogs had gone 18.73 with an aveage speed of 3.53mph.

    Did lose signnal a few times around a mile, but got it back. Still even If I could not find it I knew where the dogs last were to egin looking.

    Well mypartner picked his unit up that night. We hunted the next day togehter so got to wathc it again, and show him how to use it. While we were checking tracks left a collar on at the truck. We tracked the thing out to 3.2 miles. Once we got the dogs on it never got that far from them.

    Overall there is no doubt I wil be buying one very soon. I find the problem with them to be is we know too much. HUH< what does that mean. Well, it's simple. The gps tells us exactly the range we are getting. With the old style tracking units it was always a best guess. Sometimes you may get good range other day not as much. Even on the best tracking days it was still a best guess as to where the dogs were. Bounced signals were worse on the best days so you went in oppiste directions. Never really knew exatly where the dogs were going. Now you can exactly , and get there.

    There are some things to think about when it come to range. The collar talks to the gps unit via a digital vhf signal with 2watts in the murs band. hat is 151, 152,154. So realistically you can expect the range you would get out of a handheld marine radio. Just like any other type of communication device atmoshperic conditions, weather , etc will affect the range. Don't forget about the selective availabilty put in by the military. Overall the SA will not affect you in finding the dog treed or otherwise. It does play a bigger rle when trying to find a 30ft hump in a 300acre lake when you are off by 200ft.

    Range can be extended with the use of external anntennas. This increases the line of site, which is how all radios work. So the truck mounted radio is a must buy. They have also come out with a handheld antenna. This attaces by a cord to the unit and you hold the antenna in the air. I will be looking for a telescopic model as well. Not offered by garmin yet, but maybe the ham world will have something.

    I have heard of guys getting range out to 12 miles in the mountain areas. Think about it in that respect. You are up high increasing line of sight.

    The foilage of the sumer may affect the units like anything else. Still these units are far better than the GPS of 5yrs ago. Like I said above my old Lowarnace is still trying to find me in the house.

    I will be buying the unit, and testing it more. Also a few old guys that I hunt with will have them. Seeing how they have trouble with tv remotes. I will know them in and out shortly.

    I for one will own and put the trust of my best friends in them.

    Please if you have any questions feel free to contact me.
  2. Great report on them Steve. Thanks for taking the time!

  3. + I was wondering about the antenna , looks a little rigid to me - not sure if they make a small thin wire style- thinking on getting one but have heard good and bad story's much like everything else Range was a question. that keeps coming up- - just wonder how the stiff antenna would hold up in forests and wood lots.

    Maybe more of a open farmland type of hunt would work out well but than you might not need one if the sections are fairly sparse of any woods or timber-

    Not sure how well it would work in a mountainous arena,, on the ridges,, I can see good things, but Down in the gorges - well, just not sure if they would get out- -- as well. still waiting for more evidence.

    Looks intriguing thou.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 26, 2009
  4. Steve

    Steve Staff Member

    That's gotta give you a real piece of mind when your dog is running who knows where.
  5. Nighthunter- Not sure which antenna you are speaking of. If it is the one on the GPS. It is relly no differnt than any other HT anntenna. Durability should not be a problem. On the dog collar it is also very flexible. Not as flexible as the cable type ones on other tracking collars, but not rigid either. The old style DC20 collars were bad that way, and part of the reason for the change.

    As for the mountains, and such. The reports I have gotten they seem to work better in those areas. Reason is line of sight. The information on the dog is transmitted back to you via a digital VHF signal in the murs band. Range wil be as good as any handheld marine or vhf radio in the 2m band. The collars transmits with 2 watts of power. So it will be slightly better than the low power setting on your HT. Using the optional antennas will help your range mostly due to the line of sight. With the mag mount for the truck the added ground plane also helps with that. In this case you will also find reception to be better in the longest direction of your ground plane. Just like with cb radio. If you ever owned one you may recall this. If you had a antenna mounted to the back bumper your recieve, and transmit were strongest to the front. Worst off the back. A mag mouunt in the middle of the roof did well front to back, but was reduced to the sides.

    I have done some looking for the connectors to increase, or change antenna styles. By doing so a guy will also increase range. A telescopic antenna on the unit. A longer antenna on the truck, and even hooking it up to a base station anntenna. have yet to find the connectors, but I will find something. Even if it means buying a mag mount and cutting the cord to add a longer 2m antenna to the unit.

    I'm a active hunter always trying to stay close to the dogs. So really the range won't be that big of a problem. This unit will help keep you on top of the dogs a whole lot better than any tracking unit out there. No bounced, or reflected signals. No guessing where they may be with just a loose direction of where they are. Most of the time I am able to stay close to the dogs. The times when they have gottne away for me. It was because of running around trying to figure out where they were going. Now that is a thing of the past.

    People say it will get better. I really can't see how. The FCC limits the power they can transmit from the collar. If they were to change bands then they could increase that. The flip side would also be a heavier collar due to the transmitter weight. Shorter battery life with the higher power being a larger draw. Just like 5w vs 1w on your HT. They could increase the antenna length a little to help the range. problem with that would be damage to the anntenna in the brush. If it was longer guys would alos fold it over into the collar like we do now with the collars. Which by doing so cuts the range down.

    other companies overseas have been working on units that transmit the info back via cell towers. problem with that is tower coverage, which we all know about. Another problem is the network used. Overseas they use one network. GSM, GDM, I forget the the letters. Here in the US we use the gsm, and cdma. Also believe there is a third one. That is why if you have one carrier your phone don't work well in other areas. All cell companies don't have agreements to use their towers. Around my area we are primarily cdma with Alltel. So when guys from IL come up with sprint phones they do not work well. Another thing would be a monthly charge would be involved in the US. No way would be be able to use the towers for free like in findland.

    Just a few more things to think about.

  6. Ok, so after some more review I have some more problems with solutions.

    First is the charging of the collars. The charging port on the collar is exposed to the world. It's a simple fix for us at this point. Simply take a innertube from a bike, cut it and run it over the charging ports. Much like what we use already for magnets on most collars. This will keep dirt water, etc fro causing problems

    Second- The collars seem to be out of balance. What we have found on the DC-30 is the tend to ride up on the side oppisite the antenna. Which will cause the collar to tell you the dog is treed, or sitting. At first I thought this was due to the snow depth, but have seen it on flat ground as well. So we will be adding weight to the collar on the oppisite side to balance it out. Was going to use lead, but a helath concern came up. Since lead is known to cause cancer in CA would not want to hurt the dogs. LOL. So we will be adding steel/brass most likely by expoxy to the collar to balance them. When I find out the exact weight will let you know.

    I have also made some progress in the anntena connection in order to increase range. So far most of the options require extra connectors/adapters which in turn reduce the signal. Rule of thumb is -5db for every connection. So am looking for less connectors. For a in the field use there may be no alternative to what Garmin already offers. Really am looking for a better option for the truck mount. Right now it still looks like cutting the wire on an adapter then splicing to the antenna. Down to 10 bucks from 40 so lots of progress if that is wher it ends up.

    This is all radio range stuff based on line of sight like everything else. What most do not know or forget is line of sight is 7miles due to the curvature of the earth. So anntenna height increases that. Obstuctions like hills, buildings, etc, reduce it. It does ot matter what type of collar, box, etc you use they all have to conform to the same rules. Nothing out there has the ability to go through a mountain to see what is on the other side. Only SUPERMAN can do that.

    I am on a mission from GOD, so the best range will be figured out how to obtain. I have my sunglasses on, and a full pack of smokes!!!!

  7. Look out man on a mission from god! I need to get up there and get some hands on with that thing! When does the next class start LOL!
  8. LOL WD- Wish I had my own unit yet. Still waiting for the taxes. By the end of FEB. Till then I have beating up on the ones friends are buying from me. Since most of these guys cannot program a VCR. I need to know them back and forth!!!

    Well I got a few more things for you all. First is the compass. If you get it anywhere near a magnet it will get thrown off. Reverses polarity. So if you still have no faith in it, and are runnign your old collars at the same time. Do not put it in the same pocket as the collar magnets. Also have seen it get thrown off by the magnets on those flip over finger mittens.

    Second is the antenna adapter. This one really erks me, as I have spoken to 4 differnt people at garmin. Being given a part number for the adapter and all. Well withthe last unit I had come in a portable lang range antenna was also ordered. So I got to looking at it. I though man that looks familar. Took it over and hooded it up to my maxima. Huh, a sma connector not mcx as Garmin had told me. This changes everthing, and will make it easier to find better rubber duckies, telescoping scanner antennas, and hook ups to better truck mounted antennas. Now it will be very easy to get an antenna like used for a marine radio or scanner ahd hook up. What I will do is get a 2m antenna and tune it to 152.500. That way it will be close in all ranges of the channel used. Most 2m anntennas come with a cut chart.

    More will come as I find it out.

  9. So - Steve - your ultimate goal using the Astro is for long range?

    I have the Astro both DC20 and DC30 units and will not leave home or run the dogs without it!

    The DC30 is an immense improvement over the DC20. Though I do place a DC20 unit on the dash of the truck. Works great trying to find the truck while I grouse hunt and as I try to get my self lost following the dog. The DC30 told me that most times the dog was on point behind me or in areas I just covered. It was thick in dem woods! :)
    Oh even though the beeper collar was sounding point - I am directionally disabled - even with my hearing aids! The Astro least pointed the way to the dog without me fumbling to see if I was going in the right direction based on sound.

    The Treed, Point, Sit funciton I don't worry about much. If the Astro beeps at me I know the dog is on point and go at it. Did try to set that correctly. Would like point only.

    I like the use of the chip and put in 1 gig. This allows me to download the Topo of the areas I hunt. Easy to do with the use of my lap top which always goes with me.

    I have had no trouble what so ever re-charging the unit at all. In water or mud or what ever I have no problem with the slide in port for charging - so I do nothing special with that. Any debri just wipe it out but so far have found none.

    One charge last me better than 2 days of hard hunting. But do like the car charger and each night top off all my collars.

    The web/velcro harness for the DC20 was lost a few times as it came right off the dog. Just needed to use the GPS handheld and back track. With a bit of searching I found it each time. But the DC30 now fixes that.

    I like the fact I can see my buddies dog as we all program each others mutts as we hunt.

    Oh I dropped a DC20 in my buddies vest - unbeknowst to him! - was fun watching where he was too. Called him a Woos as he walked around a big wet area. I plodded thru and shot the bird!

    It won't be long and many will find out it is a great training tool it can be. If you are into blood tracking or blind retrieves of anyind this is the thing for you.

    Turn the Astro on - mark the spot you leave feathers or the start of the blood trail - start your drag or mark each spot you drop blood and mark you end point. Or jsut mark start and finish.

    Now add the tracking collar - take the dog to the starting point and sit back and watch the progress of the dog along your trail via watching the Handheld unit you have. You can tell if the dog has found the dead bird and see the dog coming back to you way before you have a visual. You can see how close the dog follows the track you just laid and can tell if the dog is running up wind or downwind of it.

    We have even used the tracking collars in our water work as most of the time we can't see where the dog is. We can now and see just how much of the bog/marsh/lake the dog is covering. And we have marked each dead bird out there so we know if the dog has made conact. If the dog comes back without the bird we know we have a problem to which we address accordingly. Great tool and it will only get better as we learn to use this unit better.

    I wrote Gramin - would like to have the Astro combined with the Rhino (radio - walky-talky) Then I have all three in one little unit. Would save space in my vest for sure.
    Dog tracking ability via a compass, a GPS so I can see where not only I am, but also the dogs, and a radio to talk to fellow hunting parnters.

    But that is my wish list.

    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 17, 2009
  10. JW,

    Yes, getting the most range out of the unit is important. Since i am a hound hunter, and at least 80% of the guys that have bought them from me, or use them are hound hunters it is important.

    A hound can get a long ways out from you real quick. Not uncomon to be several miles away in a few minutes. I think a lot of that is going to change with the Astro. With the old tracking unit it was a lot of guess work. You could be chasing bounced signals, go in the oppisite direction, and guess wrong. All the while you are figuring it the dogs get further away. No more guesing with the Astro.

    The first biggest complaint with the hound guys has been range. Well the reason really for that is they never knew how far the dogs really were. They assumed great distances could be tracked. Most of the time using huge antennas. Most of these guys have no concept of what line of sight is. That it still applies to the old stuff. The longer range they would see was due to the antenna. The old collars still have the same range. They ssumed things that were not true. If a guy had to drive around a section 12 miles to get to the dogs that was the range. Really it was just 3 miles across the section. We have found in tests that the range of the unit without an extra antenna was better than some trackers. Adding an external antenna made the range as good if not better than the best tracking boxes out there. Without taking in the whole aspect of guessing.

    The portable long rang antenna is a must have. Hooking a telscopic antenna directly to the unit is a very bad idea. Still waiting on the slow boat from hong kong to deliver the longer rubber ducky. Being slightly longer it should help range a little. Won't give the added range of the PBLRA, but may make enough differnce to be worth it. The truck mount is not for everyone. It will come in handy for the hound guys moving more often over long distances, or searching out a dog that got away.

    The battery issue is from the lazy guys, 30hrs of battery life is plenty. When asked of them how often they have dogs on the ground that long it mostly became a mute point. Then it was brought up about camping, and charging multiple collars. Lots of ways to skin that cat.

    That Rhino is a good concept. Problem with them is the GMRS/FRS channels the use for the public right now. That is one of the shortest ranged units you can get. Lucky if in ideal conditions can get a 1/2 mile out of them. Don't get me wrong I have gotten 2 miles out of the service. Using a high power business radio during the winter months. We use radios a lot. From our hunting with hounds for bear, cat, coyotes to deer hunting. I need help with dogs 2 miles in, or a person in my deer camp needs help the same distance. Nothing beats the FM VHF radios. Law enforcement is using the rhino to help in search and rescue, and tactical situtaions. The ones they have though, are one the FM VHF channles they use. Incresing the range alone, and then adding the whole tower thing in. Don't think I would want it all combined due to battery life and all the extra clutter on screen from more unit icons. I use a radio chest harness. It keeps all my stuff right in front of me hands free. Will get a pic of my daughter with hers on, and post it for you.

    The Astro is with out a doubt. The best thing for tracking dogs since tracking was started. Won't be for everyone. Some folks can't use technology. If you can't program a VCR, or other things. Then it may be hard to use.

  11. About the only concern I have is losing the dogs in heavy mast woods or ceader swamps where it's hard to get signals through. I know some guys run the DC-30 and then thier johnson collars also. Where we hunt I don't think range would be a issue as we can get fairly close to the dogs in most but not all cases. I need a new system but still undecided what to get. What's your price Steve? PM me if you wish!
  12. There are 2 types of signal going on with the Astro. The gps signal from teh satelite, and the digital FM between the unit and collar.

    If you notice all complaints about range and such. Are directed at the FM siganl. Nobody has had a problem with the GPS yet. Some guys are saying they don't trust the GPS from past issues. I agree. My old one stinks. Used a brand new etrex last summer. Night and day differnce.
  13. Well folks, have had some more time to play with the units and get feed back on them.

    First I must say that this is a new product. So everyone that uses them has been trying to find the faults, and such. Thing is most of the same faults with our other tracking equipment come up. Ones that have been learned to deal with.

    Not much new to really reoprt. Still here some things about the range issue. Still there is nothing out there that can break the laws of physics for this type of tracker. All current trackers abide by the same rules, so the distance is the same. The one big differnce is the ability to know exactly where the dog is. No other tracker can do this. You want more range use a bigger antenna. It is as simple as that.

    Until we get the ability to recieve satelite signals range will not change. There is another system in the works and possibly due for release in June by Tracker Radio. The HUGE problem with that system is your signal is transmitted by cell tower. So if you do not have cell coverage forget about it. Then there is the whole monthly cost thing on top of it.

    Feedback, or blowing up the units. Well I have discussed this with Garmin several times. As of Monday the 2nd of March Garmin says they have not had a unit come back due to this. Nor have the heard of a problem. I talked with both dealer tech support, and consumer tech support. Although they did suggest not transmitting on/ or near the units with hi power radios near the same channels, IE marine. This is the same warning that most of the tracking companies will give you. We have all seen some feedback in our tracking units due to this. Not as much in the 200 Freq stuff, but some. IF you use the 150-152 collars you see it more. I can wipe out my tracking units when keying the mic on my truck radio. I yell at someone for it every year! Being that the circuity is more advanced, and delicate I could see a problem with pumping 25-80 watts of power to the unit. Simple fix is to turn the unit off if you need to transmit on the big radio.

    Collar screws- Some have had a few loosen up on them. So it is a good idea to add some loc-tite to them if they do. They do come with Loc-tite on them and are set to a depth. Screwing them down hard is not a good idea. Could strip them out. Have been told this affected the range. There is no way possible for this to happen!!

    Software- Map chip vs Software. Well it's software hands down. A preloaded map chip is on a region basis. So if you live or hunt on the edge you may need 2. If you go to other areas you may need more. The map chips are what they are. No updates to the maps whatso ever. So if the maps are updated you need to buy a new chip. The software can be updated as needed, and you can load the maps for where ever you may go at any time. A huge no brainer! Also beware. There are some dealers out there that are making map chips for you. Although these may cot you less, they are illegal copy's. If you have a problem your are well, you know.

    Updates- There are 3 things that can be updated. The GPS unit, The Collars, and the Topo software. Right now there is an update for the GPS unit and the Topo Software. As of today the current software version for the GPS is 2.70. I forget the version for the Topo software. These are nessacary to due as it fixes glitches in the systems. Be aware that when updating the Topo software to not have the GPS hooked up to the system. Updating is a simple process.

    I am still playing with antennas and such but overall the Portable longe range antenna is the best option on foot. A trcuk mounted antenna will help in it's needed times as well. Like tracking them in a pouring rain.LOL DO NOT CONNECT A TELESCOPIC ANTENNA DIRECTLY TO THE GPS!!!!!!!! These are too long and will cause you to break the unit connector.

    There really is not much more at this point I can tell you. As I explore better antennas, and software updates come out will let you know.