A QRP Fox Hunt Primer!
by Lloyd Lachow, K3ESE

For most hams, the phrase "Fox Hunt" means a radio direction-finding activity. Not so, however, in the QRP community! In our Fox Hunts we hunt for real-live "Foxes" --  volunteer operators running five watts of power.

The format of the Hunts continues to evolve over time, but lately it's been two Foxes per week, for twenty weeks in the winter and 10 weeks in the summer. The Summer Hunt has been on 20 meters, and the Winter Hunt is on 40 and 80 meters. The operators who try to work the Foxes are known as "Hounds," and when they successfully work a Fox, they are said to have acquired a "pelt."

Each week, the Foxes announce, on the  QFOX  reflector, the fact that there's a Hunt, that they're the Fox, and sometimes give some details about their equipment, QTH, etc. The Foxes occupy two spots, usually one above and one below the QRP  frequency (3.560 on 80M, 7.040 on 40M, and 14.060 on 20M). Typically, the Foxes begin each  Hunt working "split." That is, they transmit on one frequency and listen for responses on another. The usual split for Foxes is from 1 to 1.5 kHz up from the transmit frequency. There's a good reason for this, which I'll get to in a bit. Toward the end of the Hunt, the Foxes typically switch to simplex, or same-frequency, contacts.

The Fox starts things off by saying something like, "QRZ FOX DE K3ESE UP," or something similar, and then listens for the Hounds. When the Fox picks out a Hound's call, he calls the Hound and gives his exchange, like this: "W1AW TU 559 MD LLOYD 5W W1AW BK." That includes, besides the Hound's call, his signal report and the Fox's QTH, name and power level. The Hound, who must be using no more than five watts of power, then replies with something like: "TU W1AW 559 CT HIRAM 5W BK," sending all his info only once, as the Fox will ask for fills if necessary. If no fills are needed, the Fox sends something that indicates that the QSO has ended, which can vary from "QSL TU QRZ FOX DE K3ESE UP," to "E E," following which the Hounds begin to send their calls again.

These Hunts originated with the QRP community's "QRP-L Internet QRP Club" and are now sponsored by the Colorado QRP Club. The QFOX reflector at  htttp://groups.yahoo.com/group/qfox/  is the places to find out about the Hunts, to discuss any issues that come up, and to talk about what did or didn't work out well, and why, afterward. The Foxes also post their logs on the list, prior to their being published on the Fox Hunt website at http://www.qrpfoxhunt.org

Besides the fact that the Hunts are so much fun, they also serve a purpose! These Hunts provide an ongoing, practical way to hone the operating skills which are at the core of being an amateur radio operator, in a friendly, nurturing environment. Code speed too slow? That's ok - the Fox will slow down for you if necessary, and his exchange is simple and easy to copy, as it's repeated many times. Don't know how to work split? Just post a question to the reflector, and you'll get a clear, straight answer from the more experienced hands.

As a Hound, this is a great way to perfect the ability to work a station in a pileup. The most successful Hounds excel at one thing: listening, the chief skill of any radio operator. They learn when to send their call, and when not to. They also learn to monitor the Fox's activity, so they can be ready to transmit at a time and place that will be likely to be heard by the Fox.

As for the Foxes, they get to experience what it's like to be on the receiving end of a pileup! It can be daunting, at first, when conditions are good: after that "QRZ FOX?," they can face a wall of sound that just doesn't seem to contain any useful information... but it gets better, and easier, with practice. If conditions are good, the sound of the pack of Hounds would drown out the Fox's reply, which is why the Fox asks the Hounds to avoid transmitting on his frequency.

Hounds work independently of each other in competing for pelts, but also can band together in groups of five operators to form teams for the 40M Hunt. The Teams then vie for top team honors at Hunt's end.

Sometimes it seems easy to get a couple of pelts, and sometimes it's impossible! The variables include propagation, location of the Foxes, and the equipment on each end. Some Hounds regularly do very well with less than a watt, or with simple wire antennas, while others opt for the full QRP "gallon," five watts, and some use beams on tall towers.

Try Fox Hunting, QRP-style, and you may find, as did I, that it becomes an eagerly-anticipated event, each week - especially nice during the dreary months of Winter!

- K3ESE -

Click Here for Chuck Adams and the beginning of it all! 

Click Here for some more 1994-95 Fox Hunt History! 

The QRP Fox Hunt Committee wishes to thank the Colorado QRP Club for their generous sponsorship of these hunts! We especially want to thank Marshall, at MorseExpress, for all of the web assistance he provided CQC and the QRP Fox Hunt since their first appearances on the Internet!

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