At a recent TDXS meeting, veteran TDXS contester, Joe Staples - W5ASP, gave us his insight on how to get started or improve your results in HF contesting with a modest set-up.  The following discussion topics gave newcomers and seasoned contesters alike some valuable pointers on how to pick a contest, best strategies, and operating techniques. 

What Contests are there ? And When do they take place ?

How does one decide which contest to try, when is it going to be, and how to get the most fun out of being there.
The WA7BNM Contest Calendar,, is probably the best and most up-to-date.
It currently lists 318 contests scheduled for 2004. Others will be added. That’s over 6 contests per weekend!

(Also check the TDXS Links page for more sources of contest schedules and rules.)


Let’s Reduce the Confusion Factor
Eliminate the RTTY, 6M & VHF/UHF … (I’m strictly an HF Contester.)
Leave out organizations, i.e. QCWA, Lions, FOC, FISTS, 10-10, QRP, Lighthouse, etc.
Ignore those events not open to the U.S., i.e. Bermuda, WAG, RSGB, etc.

This Reduces the Number to 88 HF Contests in Four Main Categories

    Major DX:                 16
    W/VE:                     11
    State QSO Parties:   31
    Foreign:                   30

Let’s Make Some Assumptions …
    You want to operate during contests
    You don’t have multiple towers, stacked yagis, phased arrays, etc.
    You have a conventional 100 watt transceiver and maybe a KW linear
    You don’t/won’t operate around the clock for 48 hours.
    You have a computer

So What Do You Need to Know ?
    Know what contest is going to be on when you can/want to operate. That’s where the WA7BNM calendar comes in.
    Know the rules. Use Google to find them on the Internet, or ask on the TDXS Reflector.
    Know the who and where of the participants, i.e. DX, W/VE or both; Time/Band/Heading

What Do You Need to Get ?
Logging software (Use the FREE STUFF)  - Visit the TDXS Links page for logging software links.
            1.  K1EA’s CT (now with CW paddle interface)
            2.  N1MM Logger (has integrated Telnet)
            3.  Don’t mess with the rest (e.g. TR’s by far the best for SO2R CW but difficult to learn.)

Propagation Software - Visit the TDXS Links page for propagation links.
           1.  W6EL Propagation Program
           2.  W1AW Propagation Bulletins (ARRL Web Site)
           3.. GeoClock - Grey Line Maps & Long Path headings

Operating Techniques
    Always start on the highest frequency band that's open
    Search and Pounce (S&P) … pause and CQ on any open frequency (a lot of multipliers will

        answer stations calling CQ Contest, but will not necessarily call CQ themselves!). … resume S&P
    Tune Hi/Low … then Low/High on 2nd pass … more stations come and go on the low end of the band
    Stay out of big pileups early. They’ll be there & easier to work later in the contest.
    Watch for rare ones late the second day.
    Use the propagation aids, listen long path, know who might be on when
    Learn to work Split on 40 meters

    Sun Spot Cycle 23 peaked 3 years ago
    Three (3) years till the actual minimum & another 3 years before things get better
    40/80 activity will boom … be ready
    You can make it work to your advantage

    The Contests … Which and How

Major DX Contests

CQ World Wide DX
CQWW has the greatest participation, is the most highly regarded, i.e. the World Series of Contesting
DX only (VE does count), but don't forget to work US stations for Zone multiplier credit if needed.
Category Options
     1.   Serious – Single Operator/Single Band, Low Power, Assisted
     2.   Fun Only – AB, Assisted, any power, seek Band/Mults
     3.   Multi

Good DX participation
Work everyone – any Prefix worked is as good as any another for points
    1.  Unique – TB/Wires (1 Tribander & 1 wire antenna); don’t be fooled … lots of sneaky, big guns looking for easy win
    2.  Serious – SO/SB, Assisted, Low Power (Focus on W/VE & Low Bands)
    3.  Most Fun – AB, Assisted (Gather Prefixes)
    4.  Multi

    Good (not Great) DX participation
    Best done as a DX station
    1.  Serious – VY0 <GRIN>
    2.  Fun – AB, Assisted, (gather Band/Country Qs)

IARU HF World Championship
    24 Hours … Starts Saturday morning
    New Low Power category (No Single Band category)
    WRTC type operation becoming “the thing”
    Good participation … in spite of date. (Will become more demanding once 15 is gone … but less competition)
        1.  Serious – Zone 2/3 <another GRIN>
        2.  Most Fun - WRTC Style (tribander/wire/LP)
        3.  Lazy – ITU Headquarters Stations (by Band/Country)

Worked All Europe (WAE)
     Unique - QTCs
     All Band only
     Too long
     Actually only the CW portion is fun

    All Asia
        Can be interesting … if bands are open
        Often W5 has slight advantage over East Coast

    Many Categories … something for everyone
    OK for chasing Islands needed

160 Meter & 10 Meter
    Dealer’s Choice
    Ten Meter is history except for SA & few transequatorial QSO's
    Top Band – Any kind of wire with power can be fun Friday night

Foreign/Single Country DX Contests
    Canadian – RAC’s Canada Day and Winter contests easiest to do
    European – F, ON, PA, I, HB have reasonable activity depending on conditions
    Russian – Can be quite active; lots of geographical area
    JIDX – Depends entirely on propagation; reasonably active
    Scandinavian – Use to be fun when there was good high latitude propagation. At least check it out.

    Modest pace … few pileups … S&P only
    Excellent opportunity to build CW skills
    Good way to acquire call recognition ability – same Ops on during the “biggies”
    Learn propagation by band/time/heading
    Not much domestic competition
    Minimum time required – easier to schedule Operating time

    Declining Sun Spot cycle will make things more “iffy”
    Limited Band/Mode Qs
    Final results slow in coming out … Access to claimed scores better now with 3830 & Dink
    Very little peer recognition

State QSO Parties
    “You have to know ‘em to love ‘em”, i.e. you won’t know until you try !
        - CQP – probably the biggest and best – SSB w/ some CW
           58 Counties (they are all on during the contest)
         - Texas & Florida – Have been quite busy in recent years with good mobile activity.
         - Washington – once quite active, but slipping
         -  Pennsylvania - Pretty much an “in-state” event
         - MARC – Gotta be there to find out who’s where; can be great.
          I’d rather do the “Lighthouse” thingee

Domestic W/VE Contests

ARRL Sweepstakes – THE BEST!
    a.  For everyone with a radio & wires
    b.  Until you’ve gone after a SS Sweep you haven’t contested
    c.  Any time for any length of time
    d.  Be there on Sunday afternoon … we need you!

North American QSO Party
    a.      Probably the easiest and most fun contest going.
    b.     Only ten hours … starts at noon … work everyone on all bands
    c.     Team competition
    d.     Minimum equipment needed

    a.    CW – Strictly for the “swift”
    b.     Phone – Try it, you’ll be surprised how much fun it can be
                1.   Four hours (evening) … three bands (20/40/80)
                2.   QSY Rule
                3.   For starters: Listen, find a spot Hi/Low & CQ, QSO, find a spot Low/Hi & CQ again, bounce.
                4.   Change bands only when it’s about empty
                5.   Submit the score … you won’t be last !

WPX, IARU, 10 & 160 Meter and RAC contests can be operated as “domestic” contests.
All W/VE QSO's count … as well as their Multipliers.
We don’t need no stinkin’ sunspots !



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