The Great Debate: Beepers v. Bells
Pointing dog owners have long debated the merits of the various ways of keeping track of their dogs in the field. There are really only two choices: beeper or bell. The bell tends to be favored by hunters who raised dogs in the era when there was no other choice. Upland hunting writers of decades past waxed poetic about the familiar tinkling of their favorite, melodious bell and how they followed it as they traveled the autumn grouse covers their setter or pointer.
My pointing dogs have worn various bells in every type of cover there is, and I enjoy the sound as much as anyone as my dog casts back and forth, the bell reassuring me of my dog’s whereabouts. Its simplicity leaves little to be desired. In fact, when the first electronic beeper collars came on the market years ago, I couldn’t believe I would ever allow this battery-operated piece of modern gear to replace my simple bell.
But after trying a beeper, I had to admit that from a practical point of view, it had a lot going for it. Perhaps most notably, a beeper keeps on beeping when your dog is on point, whereas a bell goes silent. That fact alone can make a difference in your success because in heavy cover such as a grouse woods you’ll find your dog more quickly. I’ve even seen retriever owners put beepers on their dogs when hunting head-high Midwestern CRP fields.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from hunters who don’t like beepers is that the sound is irritating. Thankfully, most manufacturers listened to those complaints and now offer beepers with pleasant-sounding tones. Another knock against beepers was that it meant you had to add another collar. For a few years, the joke in the pointing dog world was that we would have to start breeding dogs with longer necks to accommodate their regular collar, e-collar and beeper collar. But today we have self-contained beepers that can be slid onto one of the dog’s other collar straps and then removed when not needed, so they are very convenient.
After experimenting with many types of beepers over the past several years, here are some of the most valuable features I suggest you should look for. First, look for a model that lets you choose from different sounds. Some types of beeps are more pleasant to the ear than others. A “hawk scream” beep is popular with many hunters because it is a natural sound. There’s also the theory that it makes game birds stop running because they are fooled into thinking a hawk is nearby, so they hunker down and try to hide, which provides a better opportunity for your dog to make a solid point. I can’t prove or disprove this theory, but I’m certain this feature doesn’t hurt, so that’s the sound I use most often.
Adjustable volume is also important. You need a lot more volume during a windy day of pheasant hunting on the prairie or in the early-season grouse woods. But on a still day, you’ll often wish you could turn down the volume.
Another important feature is the choice of beep intervals. For example, if you’re hunting in the open where your dog is often in sight, a beep every 10 seconds is probably all you need to keep tabs on him. But in the woods where a dog can quickly run out of sight, it’s easier to keep track of him if the beep sounds off more often, perhaps every 5 seconds. And maybe you only need to hear the beep when your dog points; a “silent” mode provides it.
My favorite model is the sportDOG® beeper. It ties together these features, plus it operates on a lithium battery that rarely needs changing, so it’s about the most trouble-free way I’ve found to keep tabs on my dogs.