Fall 2008 Issue

Homing In

A Decade of ARDF in the USA

By Joe Moell, KØOV

The first ARDF Team USA in Hungary at the 1998 World Championships. Left to right are Gyuri Nagy, HA3PA; Marvin Johnston, KE6HTS; Dennis Schwendtner, WB6OBB; Dale Hunt, WB6BYU; and Jack Loflin, KC7CGK. Nobody brought a mast for the American flag, so WB6OBB, who is blind, offered his white cane. (Photo by
Barbara Johnston, KE6OTF)

In 1998, amateur radio hidden-transmitter hunting in the USA was almost exclusively a vehicular activity. A weekend hunt in most places meant hours of driving in a well-equipped vehicle. There might be an on-foot “sniff” at the end to get to a transmitter a few yards off the road, but that was the extent of foxhunting on foot.

Back then, only a handful of North American hams had experienced the kind of transmitter hunting that was predominant in Europe and the Asian mainland. In those countries, hams had combined radio direction finding (RDF) with map-and-compass orienteering to create a sport that challenged both the mind and body. In some places, particularly Russia and former Soviet bloc nations, it was being used in physical-education classes for youth in schools and by the military for field training.
This international on-foot-only sport had acquired several names, including foxtailing, foxteering, radio-orienteering, and ARDF, for Amateur Radio Direction Finding. Official rules were put in place by a committee of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU). A course has five “fox” transmitters in a large wooded area of at least 500 acres, and usually much larger. Participants start near one end and proceed to the other end, punching in at each fox along the way.

Radio-orienteers must pay constant attention to all bearings, because each fox is on for 60 seconds, one at a time, in sequence. For instance, when #1 goes off, then #2 comes on and #1 won’t be back for four minutes. A continuous transmitter on a separate frequency is near the finish to aid hunters who have lost their place on the map.

The first foxtailing events were on 80 meters with CW transmitters sending “MO” followed by dits indicating the transmitter number (MOE, MOI, MOS, MOH, and MO5). Later, a separate contest on 2 meters was added to each meet, with CW tones on AM carriers. This was before the popularity of narrowband FM on 2 meters, but AM predominates on VHF at international ARDF events to this day.

Starting with separate divisions for all men and all women, the organizers began to add categories for youth and “old timers,” as regular participants reached the ripe old age of 40. All women, regardless of their age, were placed into a fourth category.

National team members must work independently. No assistance or cooperation of any kind is allowed on the courses, except for injuries and other emergencies, of course. Team scores are aggregates of individual member scores. Use of GPS and other navigation devices on the course is forbidden.

A Good Start in Hungary

The first ARDF “world” championships in 1980 attracted participants from only 11 European countries. Asia was not represented until four years later, but activity grew quickly there, especially in China and Japan. In the mid-1990s, over 20 countries were participating, but IARU officials bemoaned the “black hole” in Region 2 (North and South America), where no foxtailing was taking place. That was about to change, because some hams on our West Coast had tried ARDF, liked it, and wanted to move it into the mainstream of American ham radio.

An informal ARDF Task formed in 1997 with the goal of hosting the first IARU Region 2 ARDF Championships in Portland, Oregon during the summer of 1999.1 This would be combined with the sixth Friendship Radiosport Games, a sister-cities event with participation by hams from Khabarovsk in Russia, Niigata in Japan, and Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.

In early 1998, the ARRL Board of Directors formally recognized the desirability of developing ARDF in the U.S. I was appointed to be the ARRL’s ARDF Coordinator. There was no formal job description (and still isn’t one), but it was agreed that I would lead the promotion and development of ARDF in the U.S., working closely with radio clubs and organizations here, as well as with IARU and other member societies in the scheduling and promotion of foxtailing events.

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