Garmin Alpha 100 and TT-15 Mini Review

All charged up and ready to go!

I’ve been thinking about reviewing this setup for a while: Garmin Alpha 100/TT 15 Mini. I wanted to make sure I knew it well enough, and that I had a definite opinion about it.

Now that I’m in my 5th season with it, I think I’m there. Before I got it, I posted some nasty comments about using, er, cheating with these kinds of things. I copped a purist attitude, basically suggesting that using a GPS collar for your dog was close to Internet hunting. I suggested that chukar hunters should keep track of their dogs, and if they couldn’t, well, there was something wrong with them, and probably something worse wrong with their dogs. I must have been in a bad mood. My students would say, “When aren’t you in a bad mood?” I’m teaching them about rhetoric, and they’re definitely getting the hang of the rhetorical question.

Anyway, I was wrong. Before I got the Alpha, one of the reasons I got in a bad mood while hunting was that I always knew where my dogs were if they were not on birds, but when they didn’t check in with me at the normal time interval (about 1-2 minutes), I knew they were pointing somewhere but I had no idea where. More often than not, I’d go the wrong direction only to watch a covey blast by me just out of range and my dogs hot on their tails. As Angus got older, but even better at finding and pointing birds, my hunting stress increased because I felt greedy about maximizing his points. With a dog that good, I felt obliged — yet unable — to be there for every one of his points. That was the tipping point for me to eat crow and get the system.

It wasn’t that hard to set it up, and once I figured out where to put it on my vest (which was harder than figuring out how it worked), my hunting stress level instantly decreased substantially. Actually, in terms of stress, it probably stayed the same, but it became almost totally positive stress (i.e., excitement). Rather than worrying about where the hell he was, the Alpha told me. I still tried to stay as close to him as always, and still took my cues from intensely focusing on his gait and tail, but when he disappeared, I didn’t have to wonder what direction or how far away he was. After getting accustomed to this, which took a few hunts, I remember laughing out loud to myself at how fantastic it was that I could actually enjoy the scenery when Angus wasn’t in my field of vision. I’d glance at the Alpha, and see that he was moving, and then go on my merry way.

Until it beeped that he was pointing: game on. Knowing where he (or Peat) was pointing allowed me to pace myself to get to him; if he was close, I’d basically run, and if he was far (200+ yards uphill) I’d run a little slower. Sure, the Alpha takes some of the mystery out of hunting, but it improved the economy of energy output, which has become more important to me as I get older and weaker.

There are lots of detailed reviews of the features of the Alpha and TT 15, so I won’t get into that too much. But I will outline how I use it not only to hunt but also to help me keep my hunting log. It took me a while to figure out my process and what settings to change so I could manage the data to my liking, so I’ll go through that here; if someone has a better idea, I’d love to hear it (I spent a fair amount of time trying to find information on the Internet, but basically struck out). To collect the data I want, I use Garmin’s Basecamp application, and created a simple Google Sheets (similar to Excel) form to chart the basics.

My Google Sheets hunting log; each season I make a new sheet (tab at lower left)

Before the Hunt

When we get out of the truck, the first thing I do is turn on the TT 15 Minis and put them on the dogs. Then I put my vest on, turn on the Alpha unit, wait a few seconds for it to boot up, and then select “New Hunt.” When it asks if I want to set the current location to “Truck” I select “Yes.” This clears the previous data that I’ve already transferred to my computer after the last hunt, and makes it easier to see my current track during the hunt (which I never, ever check, but if I were to get lost or want to find the dogs it would make it easier to see on the map screen because the previous hunt(s) wouldn’t be shown).

Select “New Hunt”
When you select “New Hunt,” it asks if you want to clear previous hunt info, etc. Hit “Yes” if you’ve already uploaded the previous hunt information.
Selecting “Yes” here does two things: sets the starting point for your hunt track, and will help you navigate back to your truck if you get lost. I’m not sure if it works for cars or SUVs, though. LOL.

Then I scroll down and select “Trip Computer.” I select the Menu icon, and select “Reset” and then “Reset Trip Data” and then “Clear Current Track.” Doing this restricts the data you transfer from the Alpha to Basecamp to that day’s hunt; if I do a bunch of hunts in a row when I’m away from home and don’t transfer them to my computer after each hunt, I don’t reset these things at the beginning of each hunt, and then when I transfer the data I’ll manually separate the hunts, which is not difficult.

“Trip Computer” screen: my finger’s on the menu icon…
Select “Reset”…
First select “Reset Trip Data”…
“Yes” will reset all trip data
Select “Clear Current Track”…
“Yes” will clear the track log, which will give you a “track” for today’s hunt that you can upload to Basecamp.
After the Trip Computer has been reset…

During the hunt

Once we head away from the truck I select the compass icon on the Alpha to make sure both dogs are registering; you can see thumbnails for up to three dogs on one screen, or you can change your display settings to Big Numbers (by selecting the menu icon), which is much easier to see the yardage information, but requires you to scroll through multiple dogs, which I find too cumbersome. I have to squint to read the yardage (distance each dog is away from me) with the smaller numbers but prefer to see both dogs at once on the same screen.

To make sure the dogs’ collars are being picked up, select the Compass icon, upper right…
This shows Peat “pointing” 32 feet from me, and Angus 60 feet to my southwest, but heading northwest.
If you press the menu icon on this screen…
…you can change the little dog thumbnails to “Big Numbers,” which will show one dog at a time…
To see the other dogs, you scroll horizontally with the arrows above the Big Number thumbnail.

The directional arrows show each dog in a different color (Peat is green, Angus is purple), and that’s easy to read at all times regardless of whether you have the big or small numbers selected. Garmin recently added a feature to the thumbnails that shows the current direction the dog is moving, which is pretty cool. For example, if Angus is north of me but coming back my direction, the purple hand on the big dial will show him to the north, but thumbnail has a little pointer showing him moving south, and his yardage will be decreasing accordingly. I like this little update because it helps me see patterns in how the dogs hunt, which can allow me to anticipate where they might be going and decide if I want to buzz them to come back or change the direction I’m moving.

When the dogs stop for more than 5 seconds, the Alpha vibrates and beeps and a message saying “Angus on point” comes up. If they remain on point, the dog’s thumbnail shows an icon of a pointing dog (cute), and shows the yardage. Peat stops a lot to admire the scenery (or eat cow manure or worse), so he generates a lot of false alerts. Angus seems to move constantly enough so that when I get an “Angus on point” message, it’s almost always legitimate.

Three dogs showing on small number setting; Champ is pointing, and the other two dogs are moving. This Garmin photo is before they updated the moving dog icon to the little directional arrow.

The pointing dog’s (or dogs’) hand on the dial points me in their direction, and I high-tail it to him, checking the yardage occasionally, and making sure the pointing dog icon still shows; sometimes they’ll start moving again and there’s a little emotional deflation when I see the tiny directional icon and changing yardage which indicate the dog is moving again. In open country, of course, it’s easier to pick up the dogs visually than in heavy sage and bitterbrush, or in tightly undulating or rock formations, so my reliance on the Alpha varies depending on the terrain.

The only other thing I regularly use the Alpha for during the hunt is to correct the dogs, usually to try to get them to come back to me. For Peat, this means beeping him, and for Angus — since he’s deaf and can no longer hear the beep — giving him a small electrical nick. You can program the three buttons at the top to do several different things, at different stimulation levels for different dogs. This is where the second “T” in the TT 15 comes in: TT stands for “track” and “train.” Thanks to Garmin buying Tri-Tronics they were able to incorporate e-collar functionality into the GPS tracking, which means we don’t have to force our poor pups to wear three collars on a hunt.

For each of the three buttons at the top, you can select from M (momentary stimulation), C (continuous stimulation), T (tone), or V (vibrate), and adjust the level of stimulation (only for M or C; tone and vibrate are at a fixed level).

Occasionally I’ll look at the map icon to check if I’m still on public land, but now that I have OnX on my phone, I usually use that since the screen and resolution are better, and it has the landowner information on it.

After the Hunt

When we get back from hunting, I plug my Alpha into my laptop, open Basecamp, and transfer the data from the Alpha into Basecamp. Then I look at the left column and double-click on the “current track” from that day’s hunt, which gives me the mileage, the duration, and the elevation gain, which I enter old-school style into my Google Sheets hunting log. Then I’ll open the track for each dog for that day, and enter their data (mainly the distance) into the hunting log. I used to mark coveys on the Alpha during a hunt, but don’t bother doing that anymore, mainly because it doesn’t matter in terms of planning a hunt, and it’s kind of cumbersome: the little bird icons end up dominating the map screen (I think I stopped doing this after marking over 100 coveys). The Basecamp app doesn’t really excite me, but honestly I haven’t spent a lot of time trying to figure it out. It’s free, and it allows me to transfer my data to the computer. You can save your tracks and other data as GPX files to use with other applications, but I don’t have the time to mess with that too much. OnX has a tracking feature that looks pretty cool, but I haven’t used it yet, although a friend easily sent me a waypoint from a spot where she found some birds…

Annoying Things About the Alpha

Aside from the high price tag, the Alpha has only one really annoying thing that I haven’t figured out how to fix: whenever I hunt with Leslie, and we get on different sides of a ridge, the Alpha sends warning messages and beeps fairly frequently, saying that we’ve lost communication with each other and with whatever dog isn’t near the respective Alpha. The warning is the same beep and vibration that you get when the dogs go on point, so I constantly have to look at the Alpha screen to see if Peat’s pointing or if I’ve lost touch with my wife. (There has to be a joke in there somewhere, but I’m not touching it.) If anyone has a suggestion on how to remedy this (the Alpha thing, not my marriage), I’d love to hear it.


I love this thing. It’s made my hunts more enjoyable and relaxing, and I’ve had way more action with the dogs because of it. It’s held up well (so far; mine is in its 5th season, Leslie’s is in its 3rd). I’m sure there’s more we could do with it; I know I’m not using all its functionality, but haven’t spent a ton of time with the manual. I purchased ours from Gun Dog Supply, which has been an excellent resource for dog stuff. They ship super fast, and have been very gracious handling the few warranty issues we’ve had with Garmin products. One of the reasons I originally went with Gun Dog Supply is that you can choose the collar strap color with the TT 15 or TT 15 Mini, which Garmin or any of the vendors on Amazon do not offer. Gun Dog Supply also has some really thorough product videos that have helped me choose between one thing and another over the years. (I’m not affiliated with Gun Dog Supply, and don’t get any discounts or free stuff from them, although I wish that were the case…).

23 Replies to “Garmin Alpha 100 and TT-15 Mini Review”

  1. Thanks for sharing. I have the regular size alpha/TT for years and use it in almost exactly the same way as you’ve described, though I don’t download each hunt and track it. There are so many little gadgets on it, I always assumed I was missing something special – but maybe not. I just got the mini for my new pup and like the size of it; doesn’t seem to give up much with the smaller size. I don’t run my with another person, so can’t help you with the problem of using contact. The pup and I are off to Montana for birds and trout this week so it should get a lot of use.

  2. Great topic! I go to U-Tube for help with the features of the Garmin Alpha. There are so many different options and even though I use mine year round, (I use the acreage calculator for work) I need help remembering how to toggle between dogs and functions. We are bringing special strong libations (Locally manufactured) with us to Idaho this year so a gathering is in order to share information on use of the Garmin Alpha!

  3. Thanks for the article, Bob. Do you struggle at all using this while on a hunt managing the terrain and holding your shotgun at the same time?

    1. Hi Mark, no, I have the Alpha on my chest strap and can see it well by turning it to the side. Having it in the center, right about my sternum, keeps it out of the way of mounting the gun.

  4. You know exactly where the dog is and you know which way the wind is blowing, so you know approximately where the birds are and you know the best approach and can often stay out of sight until you’re very close to the birds, even though you can’t see the dog. You can also, sometimes, circle far enough in front of the dog and approach it directly, trapping the birds between the two of you. Those are high tech advantages we didn’t use to have. Are they unfair? I struggle with the ethics of that. What do you think?

    1. Yeah, good question, Burk. I have to admit I’ve never considered the Alpha or GPS collars to be unfair but in all honesty that’s probably what made me diss them initially. As I learn more and get humbled each time I go after these birds, I keep facing the reality that the birds are much, much better at staying alive than I am at trying to kill them. Maybe I’m trying to rationalize my using one, but I also see them on a continuum that started with the slingshot. I’m curious to know more about your struggle with the ethics of these “tools”…

      1. I have no problem with using GPS collars to know where the dog is. I have much more peace of mind since I’ve been using my Garmin Alpha. My EP can range out 1000 yds.. The ethical problem is using the high tech equipment to be more effective on the approach to the birds being pointed. Now we don’t even have to see the dog to know where the birds are ( I can usually tell within 20 yards or less where they are by knowing where the dog is and which way the wind is blowing). That’s a huge advantage I never had before. Before GPS collars we’d first have to see the dog. So now I can easily harvest many more birds than I could before and it’s not because I’m a better hunter or better shot, it’s high tech help.

      2. Interesting point about GPS helping you easily harvest more birds because it gives you an advantage on the approach. I guess my experience is a little different, at least I think it is. When I can’t see the dog, the GPS does tell me “where” he’s pointing, but I still have to find him, and it’s not always pinpoint accurate: if he’s in sage, even the Alpha can’t show me exactly where he is; I still have to get a visual on him. Of course, without it I’d have no idea he was even pointing, or in what direction. I think the ethical consideration is related to that; it gives me lots more opportunities to shoot over a pointing dog. When he’s in the open and I see him, it’s not an issue — it’s old school, right? I wish I had kept a log before I got the Alpha so I could compare harvest rates pre- and post-. My sense, though, is that, for whatever reason, I harvested more birds before I got the Alpha. I also shot a lot more (and missed more). But as you say, it gives me more peace of mind during the hunt, which — even though I’m not coming home with as many birds — makes me enjoy the effort more.

  5. I also had to eat crow when it came to dog tracking/gps systems for bird dogs.
    I had my epiphany about gps tracking collars almost 4 years ago. I was standing in sagebrush trying to figure out where my closer working Pudelpointer was at the moment. I stepped up on a rock to try to see better, and a covey of Huns flushed about 50 yards away. I looked at the area where they came from, and I could see my dog’s pink collar at the edge of that clearing. She had been on point a mere 40 yards away, but with the height of the sagebrush, she might as well had been on the moon.
    I bought my Astro that day. I sold the Astro the following season and upgraded to the Alpha. I could not imagine turning a dog loose to hunt with out one now.

  6. Great post. Thanks for offering this. One element I wonder about is connection to other Garmin products. For instance, if I get a Garmin running watch, will it sync? Also, does it tell weather? Finally, does it have a bluetooth so it can sync with phone? I want my cake and eat it too!

    1. I have a Garmin running watch (I think it’s the vivoactive HR) that I downloaded an app to that reads the Alpha info about dogs’ direction and distance. It works pretty well. Not sure about weather, but I’m sure the higher end (Fenix) Garmin watches have weather apps on them. Most smartwatches have Bluetooth and will sync with phones; mine does.

  7. Like the review. I have an alpha with a tt15 collar for a few months now and I really like it. Just bought TT15 Mini which I like even better. The only thing I can’t figure out how to change big # to small #. The option is missing on my handheld.

    1. I think you can change from BIG to small numbers (and vice versa) on a couple screens. I just turned on my Alpha and collars, and couldn’t find the “Small Numbers” or “Big numbers” option in the menus. So I went to the Alpha manual, and learned that “List sync on” needs to be active. So, from the main screen, select the dog compass icon at the top, then select the menu (the horizontal bars at the bottom of the screen) and it should say “List sync off”; select that and it should change the display to either one dog (Big numbers) or both dogs (Small numbers) if you have more than one collar. Even if you only have one collar, this should work, and I’d definitely choose Big numbers if I only had one dog. If you’re tracking more than one dog with big numbers, it gives you arrows to scroll horizontally to see other dogs that you’re tracking. I hope this makes sense.

  8. Bob,

    Great review and I’m sold on the benefits of this technology. I have a Brittany pup that I am currently training on my own in preparation for the fall season. I see you bought the TT15 mini instead of the full size. How big are your dogs? Do you have a problem with the receiver being directly on the top of the collar or does it ride to the side of the neck to fit? I like the idea of a smaller less bulky unit, but after seeing my pups parents… I think he will be in the low 40lb range.

    1. Hi Ryan, if you’re not planning on hunting successive 10-hour days without being able to recharge your collars, I’d definitely go with the Mini. The only effective difference is battery life. If you put the Garmin above their normal collar and tighten it properly, it won’t pose any problems. If it’s too loose it will rotate. My dogs are 35-40 lbs., but even if I had a huge GSP I’d still get the Mini. Others might disagree, but that’s my take.

  9. After another year, do you still like the Alpha?
    Does the touchscreen work when you are wearing gloves? If not, has that been a problem for you?

  10. Thank you for your review. Now, we have two Alpha 100, two TT15, and a miniTT15. We struggle with the same out of communication issue between the two Alpha’s. Mostly it just works, but when it doesn’t, it’s annoying.

    For others who find this, review, about the minis vs non-mini: to get the TT15 snug on our little female griff, I had to pull the collar to a hole under the GPS strap, which my wife couldn’t manage. Our pointer has a slightly bigger neck and the standard collar fits him, but so does the mini. So, I wish I had bought two minis instead of mixing the two, because the charging clips are different.
    Of course the little girl managed to scuff up the collar in her first run, so I have a spare, almost new TT15 that I need to sell. (A friend looked at my Alpha and said, “‘Spare’ is a strange name for a dog.”)

Chirp away

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: