Whenever I am at a large national event, like the United Kennel Club’s Autumn Oaks in Richmond, Indiana, or the Grand American in Orangeburg, South Carolina, it is common for hunters to come up to the booth and tell me the needle on the compass that points to their dog was not working correctly on their Garmin Astro or Garmin Alpha handheld while they were out hunting the previous night.
They were speaking to the “direction” the needle was pointing to their dog — that it was noticeably off and/or rocking back and forth and never giving an actual direction, rather simply swinging back and forth and letting them know their dog was somewhere out in front of them.
But, as you know, that can cover a lot of country!
This has happened to me in the past, too, and when it has it often does so when I absolutely need my handheld to perform at its all-time best. For example, I was hunting an hour south of home one night and trying to gather up a big running dog. I stopped my truck and was standing close to a set of railroad tracks, and my compass page was showing the dog somewhere out in front of me. I tried several times to calibrate the compass without any success.
My hunting partner happened to be around 300 yards away and headed toward me. I never called to her, but as I stood there in the early morning hours enjoying the stars and oncoming frost, reflecting on all the coons we’d treed and what a great night it had been, I began to hear a train barreling down the tracks in the distance. When my dog was 50 yards away I couldn’t see her or tell what side of the tracks she was on. I held my breath and the train zipped on by.
I was relieved when she walked up over the tracks with her tail up high in the air and not a care in the world, happy to see me and wondering what that sour expression on my face was all about. It is fair to say that from that night on, I have calibrated my compass on a regular basis and make a habit of doing so every night when I am any distance from home. Most people don’t calibrate their compass on the handheld until they notice it is not working properly, and if you hunt the same three or four spots around your house and do not travel far from home, you may never need to calibrate it.
For the most part, though, I hear about this issue frequently at large events where hunters are a few hours or several states away from home and their handheld suddenly seems a little “out of whack” when hunting. Sometimes they even notice it when only an hour from home.
In my experience, I think it is easiest to calibrate the compass before turning any collars on and well before you start your hunt. I personally have very little luck getting the handheld to allow me to calibrate the compass when I have one, two or three collars turned on and am halfway through the hunt in the middle of the night.
This is why I suggest making a habit of calibrating the compass when you get to your hotel room or the fairgrounds, hours before you have to think about drawing out that night, when you have plenty of time and there is very little pressure on you.
The calibration process is super simple, but it’s not uncommon for it to take two or three attempts, with the screen asking you to begin to spin, turn and then flip the unit end over end while in your hands.
Travel safe, friends.
To calibrate the compass on an Alpha 100:
* Press the “Compass” icon on your screen
* Press “Menu”
* Press the three little lines on the bottom of the screen
* Press “Calibrate Compass” and follow the on-screen instructions
To calibrate the compass on an Astro 430:
* Press “Dog,” which will take you to the compass on your dog page
* Press “Menu”
* Scroll down to “Calibrate Compass” and press “Enter” — then follow the on-screen instructions