Geeks everywhere are about to lose it; the Apple Watch delivers today and now everyone can be Dick Tracy. The annoying people talking into their bluetooth earpieces are about to be replaced by even more annoying people talking to their wrists. As much as I want to hate these gadgets, wearable tech is here to stay for a reason: It takes something we already use and adds functionality that elevates the device. And I honestly can’t hate that.
While hunting, traveling light and having duplicity is one of my highest priorities. A watch is a natural fit for doing more than just keeping time. But the Apple Watch is just too metro, too dainty, too indoor. Enter the Fenix 3 from Garmin, likely best known for their navigation equipment. Garmin appears to be migrating toward a total outdoor experience for the adventure seekers already using their GPS gear – a move that seems to be a good fit.
The Fenix 3 has core functions that take it well beyond timekeeper. Maybe most useful for the bird hunter who likes to wander far from camp or vehicle is the ability to mark waypoints. In the event you get turned around in the sandhills or a new grouse covert, a few clicks through navigation prompts will have your watch highlighting direction, distance and estimated return time to your jump-off point. Well-designed beefy buttons with good spacing let sausage fingers still smoothly steer. When hunting in new areas I often tally waypoints on multiple devices (see duplicity). But there is a level of convenience to having the capability on an arm without having to dig in pockets or packs for other tech. For the directionally challenged there’s no longer an excuse to keep the truck in sight. Walk until your legs are jello, your wrist will show you the way home.
This watch is multi-sport capable: biking, climbing, hiking, swimming, skiing — hoping an app update may one day even include hunting as a category. By starting a ‘hike’ the Fenix 3 will keep time, speed, distance and your actual path. Other basic sensors include altimeter, barometer, temperature and step counter. Another feature extremely useful for hunters is sunrise, sunset and moon phase indicators.
You can extend the functionality of all this tracking by pairing it with your smartphone via the Garmin Connect app to monitor days afield. Garmin Express is the desktop version of the service which allows you to set up wifi connections for the Fenix 3 and add other devices. There still seem to be some minor kinks in software, but the amount of data and tracking is really pretty astonishing for something wristwatch sized.
How is all this data relevant to bird hunting? Say you have a particularly good day afield. Once you upload the data to Garmin Connect you’ll be able to see all the details that were part of that day. It combines location, weather conditions, time, distance, elevation and overlays that on a map. Add a comment about your bird dogs or number of flushes and you have the ultimate journal for your hunt just by wearing the Fenix 3. One can even share activity via email with hunting buddies, on social media or on a blog – if you don’t mind everyone knowing your honey hole.
I have become a fan of utilizing the Fenix 3 this off-season to help track fitness levels, then being able to smoothly transition to days afield. I expect more apps will be developed for increasing functionality, new watch faces and widgets all available through Connect IQ.
Maybe one of the most exciting new developments, Garmin released an action camera called the VIRB which incorporates video and still photography along with similar data collection of their wearables. The Fenix 3 can be used as a remote for the VIRB camera, talk about adding functionality to a watch.
I have no interest in talking to friends via my wrist. But a watch that helps track fitness levels and days afield in so much detail is too cool to ignore. All this functionality comes at a price; the Gray model I selected will set you back $499. The Sapphire model which incorporates the metal band and indestructible sapphire lens will cut you an extra $100 — given some of the terrain I hit, I may wish I would have gone for the full boat.
Now I just need to save up for the VIRB Elite Action Camera. Sure, the whole package will end up costing more than a new autoloader. But my old shooting stick should work just fine this year and now I’ll have video and data records of all the places I drag it. Maybe I’ll even accidentally hit the share button a couple times. Stay tuned.