HAM Radio 101

Fox Hunts or Amateur Radio Direction Finding—a Great Way for People of All Ages to Get Involved in Ham Radio

Let’s be honest, amateur radio is a pretty cool hobby that comes with all sorts of benefits that are bound to appeal to kids just as much as tossing a ball at a hoop, heading out to the woods for a little cabin time, or building an entire civilization from a gaming app on a smartphone. After all, hams are privy to one-on-one space chats with astronauts; get to Indiana Jones their way to remote locales; and get to build an array of equipment. Undeniably super cool stuff that easily earns any kid total superhero status at any level of participation—or it would, that is, if they knew about it. Unfortunately, not all do, but fox hunting, also known as radio orienteering or amateur radio direction finding (ARDF), is one of the ways the amateur radio community is working to change that.

What is Fox Hunting?

Some of you with an affinity for fluffy-tailed creatures may be reading this with growing apprehension. Fret no longer. The foxes in this international sport are purely the allegorical kind with no fluff at all. Instead, ham hunters who choose to participate go toe-to-toe to meet the challenge of becoming the first operator to find a series of low-powered, hidden transmitters operating on 2 or 80 meters before rushing to cross the finish line. Competitions take many forms with some contests taking place by foot, by vehicle, or even, in the case of a fixed-transmitter location hunt, from the comfort of your own shack. Depending on the environment, participants may rely on the use of handheld directional antennas, a compass, map, intellectual agility, and pure physical prowess to emerge victorious. You can even add the possibility of winning prizes if you’re so inclined. And, in our experience, kids tend to be very inclined to like prizes, so if your contest involves kids, it might be wise to keep a few rewards handy.

Club Using Radio Orienteering to Introduce Youth and Others to Ham Radio

The Sangamon Valley Radio Club (SVRC) out of Springfield, Illinois, was recently awarded a grant by Amateur Radio Digital Communications for radio orienteering activities. The grant will allow the SVRC to purchase transmitters, controllers, receivers, maps, and loads of other great items with the aim to introduce kids, outdoor enthusiasts, and the public to the awesomeness that is all things amateur radio. And SVRC is sharing the wealth. They will be holding several events with local groups like the Boy Scouts of America and Civil Air Patrol to train participants on the technical and outdoor skills needed to find those foxes. Plus, the SVRC wants to share their know-how and equipment requirements with other groups and individuals who are interested in the sport. They will be happy to connect with yours to make it happen—and if it’s a youth-oriented group that can help grow amateur radio into a new generation—even better.

Can I Participate in Fox Hunting in a Competitive Setting?

Of course! Amateur operators of all ages can enter the annual Amateur Radio Direction Finding Championship to contend with fellow hams in a fox hunt of epic proportions. The contest is a multi-transmitter, by foot race that is held in exceedingly beautiful locales across the globe. This year’s event recently took place in Borovets, Bulgaria, and was a big enough deal that we feel it’s deserving of a substantial write-up of its own, so stay tuned for more in-depth coverage of it here at a later date along with the upcoming 22nd USA Radio Orienteering Championships that will take place in April of 2023.

Some Gear that Can Help

In addition to letting you hunt down RFI, the DX Engineering NOISELOOP Portable Receive Flag Antenna Kit is a useful tool for HF fox hunting. Based off a design by Don Kirk, WD8DSB, this kit is a game changer for the direction finding of RFI on MF and HF frequencies—and it works a lot better than a tuned loop. The antenna features unidirectional and broadband capabilities and is portable to easily tote around. Plus, building it only takes an hour or two, requires only basic hand tools, and the kit includes everything you need including fiberglass tubing for the frame and handle, mounting plate, separate PC boards for the bifilar wound transformer and load resistor, antenna wire, and a coaxial cable with male BNC and stainless steel hardware. DX Engineering also carries M2 Antennas Yagis and MFJ Step Attenuators to help you on your hunt.

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