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Winter Field Day 2022 Notes for VE3FCQ

Preamble

2022 marks my first participation in Winter Field Day (WFD2022) which is an exciting amateur radio operating event. I operated for only a few hours on Saturday January 29, 2022 and Sunday January 30, 2022 but I still achieved 74 contacts and 2 multiplier points for a total score of 148. Provinces X and Regions Y. In this post I aim to share a bit more about Winter Field Day, my experience, lessons learned and personal notes to review when I give it another try next year. As a reader I hope to offer you some insights into my motivations for operating this events as well as what approach I take when operating.

If you are new to the Amateur Radio Hobby, or a newly returning ham, welcome. Please keep in mind that as of the time of this blog post I will have had my license for 1.5 years. So please assume that I may be wrong about everything technical. What I am trying to share is mainly my personal experience with WFD2022 and some of my understanding of what I think I know.

If you are an experienced operator and see some glaring issues, omissions or full on false hoods, please be kind. I am of course open to actionable feedback and corrections, but insults and shaming won’t help me become a better operator. Lets keep the comments section clean and productive.

Before we dive into the details I want to share some high level takeaways from my experience:
* Contesting is great for practicing
* My modest station will not likely rate high in the rankings.
* My overall experience aligned well with the purpose of the event
* Part of my strategy was to stick to a single band
* The other part of my strategy was to employ both the hunt and pounce technique followed by some sit and squawk technique
* Operating as single operator in a home setting still provided many opportunities for honing my operating skills
* This year I hope to move my operating out doors more often, which might include a revisit with WFD2023 operating outside.

Event Summary Details

This section highlights a summary of key details related to this event such as my call sign, station location, points earned and operating duration.

  • Station : VE3FCQ
  • Country: Canada
  • Province: Ontario
  • City: Ottawa
  • Grid:LB24PF
  • Maidenhead: FN25CG
  • Total QSO’s: 74
  • Total Multipliers: 2
  • Total Bonus Points: 0
  • Total Points: 148
  • Started Operating: 2022-01-30 15:58 (UTC) (earliest QSO Contact)
  • Ended Operating: 2022-01-30 18:16 (UTC) (Latest QSO Contact)
  • Category: 1H ONE

Weather and Sun

Historical weather for Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, for January 30, 2022 from Weatherunderground.com
* Measure: Actual (Historical Average)
* High: -10 C (-6.2 C)
* Low: -21 C (-15.6)
* Daily Average: -15.58 C (-10.6 C)
* Wind Max: 22 MPH
* Visibility: 24 (Miles?)
* Day Length: 9h 40m

Daylight Information for Ottawa, Ontario, Canada from timeanddate.com
* Dawn (Civil Twilight Start): 6:55am
* Sunrise: 7:25am
* Sunset: 5:05pm
* Dusk (Civil Twilight End): 5:37pm
* Daylight Hours: 9:41:00
* Solar noon: 12:15pm

Event Purpose

Every operating event or contest tends to have an expressed purpose. I have found that the clearer the purpose is communicated the better I can self evaluate how my activities were inline with the purpose of the event. The Winter Field Day Association (WFDA) identifies the purpose of Winter Field Day as:

“To foster Ham camaraderie, field operation, emergency operating preparedness, and just plain on the air, outdoor fun in the midst of winter for American, Canadian, and DX Hams. Don’t let those winter doldrums keep you locked up in the house… get out and play some radio!!”

WFD Rule Book 2022

About Winter Field Day

Winter Field Day (WFD) is an annual event for Amateur Radio Operators held over 24 hours of the last full weekend in January. Stations can begin setup no earlier than 14:00 (EST or GMT-5) on the Friday, with operations commencing no sooner than 14:00 on the Saturday and concluding no later than 14:00 on the Sunday. The purpose of this event is for Amateur Radio operators to test their emergency communications capability in the context of the North American Winter season.

Just like most operating events and contests, stations aim to achieve points by way of making contacts, also called QSO’s. The more contacts a station makes the more points it earns. Points can be further increased by achieving various bonus points and multipliers. Bonus points are awarded for stations operating at low power (aka QRP) and using non-commercial power (eg Battery, Solar, Generator)

Participants must choose a category for their operating station. Individuals or groups, operating either at their home or remotely. Remote operations are categorized as either indoors or outdoors. Operating remotely while indoors might include operating from a remote cabin while operating remotely outdoors might include from a picnic table, tent or shelter without side walls.

Winter Field Day is sponsored by the Winter Field Day Association (WFDA), a dedicated group of Amateur Radio Operators who believe that emergency communications in a winter environment is just as important as the preparations and practice that is done each summer but with some additional unique operational concerns. “Disasters are unpredictable by nature and can strike when you least expect them. WFDA’s goal is to help enhance your skills and ready you for all environmental conditions found in the US and Canada during the spring, summer, fall and winter Preparedness is the key to a professional and timely response during any event and this is what local and state authorities are expecting when they reach out to the emergency service groups that offer their services.” https://www.winterfieldday.com/

Learn more about Winter Field Day, including the WFD rules and log submission requirements.

Alignment with purpose

In this section I wanted to take some time to reflect on my experience participating in this event and assess how well aligned it was to the purpose of the event.

First, and foremost I have to say I had fun. For me, having fun means I am able to maintain my attention, get into “the zone” or “The flow” and experience a state of timelessness. That actually matches well with my undergraduate studies in Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism and Lakehead University. As text book like as it may be, that would fit the bill for me. However, having fun does not translate into something that is too easy, nor particularly challenging, but rather something in the middle where I can see incremental improvement towards mastery but never actually achieving mastery.

I feel that I missed out on the experience of field operations since I operated inside my home. It would be easy enough to claim that the Canadian winters in Ottawa are un-predictable, and that was why I did not get out in the cold, however the truth is I had no intention of operating in the field this year. Field operations, however, are of great interest and I think would be a fun challenge. This is on my list of improvements for next year or at least future events and contests.

I think I managed some achievement in emergency operations though. While I did use “shore power” or “commercial power” I do have experience using a deep cycle RV Battery from my camper. I am currently in the process of building a home brew battery using Lithium Ion 18650 cells, so stay tuned. I think operating using batteries will be an improvement for next year. While the power may not have been “emergency power” I think there is lots to be said about the operating practice alone for emergency communications. Since the WFD rules state that broken QSO’s result in negative points it was important to ensure the QSO was complete. This meant chasing after a few stations as they faded into the static to ensure we both had what we needed.

The most surprising part of the overall purpose that I feel I achieved was camaraderie. I have have listened to many podcasts over the last year and a half, listening to stories of groups and clubs prepare for events like field day. So I could see hanging out with friends and playing radio all weekend would qualify as camaraderie. So how did this pan out for a one-hotel station? Well let me paint a picture for you.

I had been operating for close to 2 hours and was steadily building my QSO count (list of contacts in my log). I had been calling CQ for a while (asking if anyone was out there) and managing a steady flow of incoming radio traffic. At times there were even mini pile ups, which is radio speak for a line up of contacts waiting for me to respond to them, meaning I had to manage more than 1 responding station in sequence. Pile ups usually mean you are a on a role as you make a number of successive contacts.

I was starting to get tired and perhaps I should have taken a break, grabbed a snack and down some fluids. I was not copying (hearing and confirming) call signs and exchanges clearly and the band was starting to break apart. This one particular contact I was trying to copy was slipping into the static, they were a pretty weak station to start with and I had a heck of a time pulling their call sign out from the noise.

I had decided to notify them that I could not copy them and apologized for not completing the contact. Then, clear as day, I heard a second station come through. They were not claiming their spot as being next in line, but rather they were relaying the missing information to me. Often times while operating on the amateur bands two stations are too far apart or their signals are too weak to hear each other. However a station in the middle may be able to hear both signals and can act as a relay.

So get this, during a contest, a station that was competing against both myself and the other other station, could have waited until I called CQ again and grab me as an easy point and another entry in their log. They could have just as easily moved on to another frequency to pick up some other QSO’s. But instead they stuck around, listened to our exchange, picked up on the missing details and relayed them to me. I have to say that if I wasn’t already pumped full of adrenaline from the rush of the contest and if I was in a different state of mind at that point I might have actually cried. This experience highlights one of the things I appreciate about this hobby, people’s willingness to help and support a fellow operator.

This was a selfless act of kindness by a fellow operator who decided to help two fellow competitors ensure neither would submit a broken QSO in their log. I admit I did not see that one coming, completely unexpected. I was grateful. I had already given up on a number of weak signal contacts and self doubt was starting to crawl in about my operating skills. I started to wonder if fellow competitors were judging me as a rookie operator. While that may have been the case for some, it was not for the relaying station. This was the equivalent of a competitor in a marathon taking a moment to help a fellow runner get back on their feet while potentially harming their own progress.

What could be more amazing than this supportive act from another operator? Well I seem to recall this scenario happened 2 more times, where an exchange was supported by way of relay from a third party. Looking back on the experience I don’t ever recall seeing anything in the rules speaking to the use of relays, but even if sharing this publicly disqualifies my entries (Which would be pretty harsh), the experience will not be forgotten. If this event was to help operators practie for emergency situations, I could easily seen how one or more relays might need to be used to get the message through.

I’d like to end this section on an interesting observation. While there is a scoring and points system, no where in the purpose statement does it state that scoring or points are important to achieve the purpose of the event. What I like about the point system is not to compare myself to other operators, but rather that I now have a baseline to measure against for future events. To me, the scoring is a way to measure ones self improvement over ones comparative competence.

So by my assessment, I believe my experience met or exceeded the intended purposes of this event. I plan to be back next year.

Discussion

My contesting experience is very limited since I joined the hobby in 2020. Winter Field Day 2022 might be my fourth radio event or contest I have participated in. With each event I continue to find my stride and build both my confidence and skills while I continue to learn my radio setup and build up my QSO list.

I find that contests are actually a great opportunity to practice and play. My current station consists of a modest mobile HF setup from the 1970’s and a multi-band dipole wire antenna at 30ft. With this setup I do not anticipate that I will ever place in a notable ranking in a contest, however I hope that with a bit of reflection, blogging and note taking I can steadily improve my performance between events and year over year.

Planning

Little planning took place on my part for this event. For those who have never operated an event or contest, I can atest that you can get started with minimal planning. However, I can also say that with a bit more planning you can likely do much better. I was reminded of WFD2022 while listening to one of the many Amateur Radio podcasts I subscribe to. I placed the details in my personal and family calendars and discussed with my wife how we could work out a schedule that would balance family obligations with a bit of radio fun. It turned out that I only ended up operating for 1 hour on Saturday afternoon and just over 3 hours on Sunday. Operating for that 3 hours stretch was probably too long for me personally. Taking a few breaks and stretching out the operating intervals might have helped.

While I started warming up the radio I checked out the WFD2022 rules, which in retrospect I should have researched well before the event. Check out the WFD Contest rules 2022. It would also be a good idea to review the Contester’s Code of Ethics for reminders on how to share the bands during contests.

One of the biggest adjustments for my operating during WFD2022 was the exchange. I have become accustomed to exchanging a signal report and a serial number. Usually the signal report is simply a “5 by 9” or simply “59” (spoke five nine). During events and contests I don’t find many people give true signal reports. Probably because they are pretty subjective and S-meter readings are not a precise measure of signal strength or quality. Meanwhile a serial number is just a sequential number starting at 1 and incrementing by 1 after each contact. During Winter Field day, rather than exchanging a signal report and an serial number, your exchange is focused on the type of station you are and your location. This impacts what you enter into your logging software which generates a digital record of you contacts, or simply your log. Looking at a sample log also helps and could impact your strategy.

For instance for WFD2022 your exchange includes your region. There are set regions for ARRL (The Governing body in the US) and RAC (Governing body in Canada). In the event rules it gives examples of what your verbal exchange might be, such as “North Eastern Ontario”, however in the log section you will notice the expected entry is “ONE” which stands for “Ontario, North East” I noticed that while majority of contesters stuck to the phonetics of what is expected in the log, for example “Oscar November Echo”, there ere a hand full of operators who would say the full name. While I did study geography Canada I am not all that great at recalling all the state acronyms, then knowing the specific region.

So I appreciated the fact that I reviewed the rules and documentation which provided a lookup table, and it also meant I knew I had to capture the short form in my logs not the long form. These small nuances in the rules can have big impacts in how you operate and can help you maximize operating time. For example, when someone started using the long form I had to do a mental translation or look up the region, note down the short form then confirm I had the right short version. It also meant some operators wanted me to provide the long form for their logs. I am not sure what happens when they subitted their logs, because the extra spaces would look like extra collumns and the upload page would likely have generated errors for them. But I am not sure.

As well as doing some planning ahead of time to review the contest rules, you should plan for some time to wrap things up. For me, part of that process is this blog post. The simple act of recounting the event has helped solidify some concepts, like the rules, and confirm others, such as maybe I should do more planning next time. The other part too is that if you are operating in the field, you need to plan some time to take down your station, pack it up and then unpack it when you get home. The process of moving from a cold outdoor environment to a warm moist car, back to the cold and into a warm and moist house can result in condensation not just on electronics but also other pipeces of gear and clothing. Essentially operating outdoors can be similar to lauching a camping trip with the added sensitivities of electronics, batteries, solar pannels, chairs, tables, feedline, antennas and collection of connectors, tools and analyzers. No wonder, many field operators maintain their own field kit instead of moving their shack station.

While it will require more planning, and likely prior practice and rehearsals, moving my station to the field in winter or any time of year is on my list of compentencies to build this year. So this spring, summer and fall, I hope the COVID situation starts to stabilize, increasing my comfort level with getting back outside camping and going to parks, summits, campgrounds or even my backyard. Playing some radio in the out doors would be good preparation for WFD 2023.

Station Details

My station operated in the category of single operator (1) from home (h) located in Eastern Ontario (ONE). Therefore the information I had to send to other stations as part of my exchange was “1H ONE”. Because of propagation and many weak signals, both sides tended to use phonetics, for example I would send “one-hotel oscar-november-echo” (1H ONE). Since I was running from my house as my regular QTH I used my usual HF radio powered to 100 Watts or less from a power supply, so no bonus points were achieve for operating off grid or out of doors.

I just recently switched my main station from operating off of a deep cycle RV-Batter to a dedicated power supply. I acquired an Astron VS-35M power supply when I local ham was moving back to their native Ireland after retirement. It is a 35A variable Linear Power Supply capable of 13.8 Vdc peak output. It has both a Ammeter and a volt meter as well as matching adjustment knobs. The knobs pretty much stay put both close to their max. The supply when turned on in a quiet room has a bit of a hum and I can feel a light vibration in my desk since the shelf it is sitting on is touching my desk. But, a ham shack is seldom a quiet place and so the hum does not intrude normal operations.

The radio I used was a Kenwood TS-120S with a band selector for 80m, 40m, 20m, 15m and 10m. Unlike other events, for WFD2022 I decided to stick to 40m for the duration of the event. The TS-120s is an older radio, circa late 1970’s and represents one of the earlier solid state mobile HF rigs. Check out this 1979 Advertisement for the TS-120s. A note of interest for me was the inclusion of the “NB” button or “Noise Blanker”. Before learning much about this radio I thought it would be good at getting rid of surrounding noise and radio frequency interference, maybe an early type of noise cancellation. In fact, I later learned its primary purpose was to remove the “hum” of the alternator in your car when operating vehicle mobile. The contest limited power this year to 100 Watts or less. Since the TS-120s is rated at 100 watts Max it fit the bill perfectly.

To impedance match the radio and the antenna system I am using an MFJ Deluxe Versa Tuner II. I don’t know how old mine is, but it looks identical to the MFJ-949E Deluxe Versa Tuner II currently being sold by DX Engineering. While the TS-120s could likely handle the VSWR of my 50 Ohm radio, 50Ohm coax and 75 Ohn dipole resulting in SWR of maybe 1-2:1, I find using the tuner also helps to attenuate local man made interference (QRM) including some strong local AM Broadcast stations.

Connecting my antenna impedance matching unit (some call this an antenna tuner) to my feedline leading to the antenna I have a 75 Ohm Low Pass Filter. I probably don’t need this, however it feels like it belongs in the system, even if it does indicate 75 Ohm. Some day I hope to build some dedicated band pass filters for 80, 40, 20, 15, 10 as well as am AM broadcast band blocking filter to antennuate local noise. Until I spend some more time messing around with the system and re-doing my measurement the low pass filter will stay.

My feedlines consist of various RG-8A/U or similar, 50 Ohm coaxial cable with a couple of male-male barrel connectors to extend their lengths. While in theory this might result in some loss, in practice it does not register on any of my testing and sensing equipment. The coax feedline exits the house through a cold air intake for the furnace after running through 5-6 ftp of steel HVAC pipes as part of the cold combustion air sink for my furnace room and travels up a 30 ft mast to a home brew tri-bander dipole for 80, 40, 20, 15 and 10m. Because I am using HVAC pipe as par tof my exit out of my house coax seems to be the best choice since balanced feedline does not like to be close to metal.

For managing logs I have been using PyQSO. I tend to look for, use, learn and contribute to Free and Open Source Software and I operate Linux based operating systems on my computers including (Ubuntu Linux)[https://ubuntu.com/]. So PyQSO is a nice lightweight logging software. It has its quirks, but works for me most of the time.

My PC was built as a bare bones kits many years ago. I won’t go into the details here since the computer is only used for logging and maybe a peak at QRZ.com or the Inovation, Science and Economic Development Canada website to perform call sign lookups.

Operating Strategy

As an operator, I have been experimenting with many operating strategies. During events like Winter Field Day I get the opportunity to try on new approaches to see what fits. As a rookie with less than two years of operating experience I don’t feel I have my own operating style yet and my strategies are sill maturing. I pick u lots of ideas through podcasts, youtube videos and listening to operators on the air. In this section I’ll share my approach at a high level that seemed to work for me during WFD2022.

When I walk into my shack to play some radio I start by flicking the red switch of my Astron power supply and then my TS-120s. While they are “warming up” I get the logging software ready on one monitor and pull up the event rules on the other monitor. I position the Radio and the impedance matching unit where I can easily access them. I switch the matching unit to bypass mode, and tune to the middle of the band I plan to use. Over the last year and a half I have been keeping notes on what Transmitter and Antenna matching settings work best so I don’t need to do a full tuning procedure.

Having some pre-sets gets me started but I still tune to the middle of the band, ensure the frequency is clear, announce my presence on the frequency and ask if the frequency is in use. If the frequency is clear, I switch over to the matching unit’s dummy load and do a quick tune using the CW mode on my radio and slowly increase power. This gets me to the ball park. However I find that I still need to do the same procedure on-air to truly match the feedline and antenna that lays beyond the matching unit. I ensure the band is still free and do as brief of a tune up as I can on-air. Then I release the frequency. Now my system is matching and maximum power from the radio is now traveling down the full system.

Since my regular operating tends to be in the evenings after my toddler son goes to bed I tend to spend lots of time on 80m. If I operate during the day I will travel around on all the bands from 10 to 80 but focusing on 20-80. For past contests I think I likely moved around the bands too often. For WFD2022 I decided to try sticking to one band to see how it goes. I chose the 40m band.

While this may have limited the number of contacts I might have received, it did afford me the opportunity to become “band aware”. Band awareness is when you can start to sense or visualize what is going on with the band, not only who is operating on that band but what the behaviour of the band is. This is something I had not purposely tried before.

The 40m band is divided into into various allocations for different operating modes such as CW, Digital and Phone. Because I am only operating HF Phone (Voice) using the Single Side Band (SSB) mode, I still had a large segment of the band to use. To help visualize the band I use the RAC Band Plan info graphic for 0-30 Mhz. I find the color coded sections for the various modes help me mentally visualize the band. I keep this band plan handy when ever I operate HF.

As I look back on my logs to write this blog I now see an error in my ways. As I spent a lot of time on 7.176 Mhz, I realize now I was too close to a segment of the band reserved for TV. I should have moved up closer to 7.178 Mhz. Read more about this lesson learned in Being Band Aware ON the HF Frequencies

Deciding to work only the 40m band during this event meant that I did not need to adjust any antenna and feedline matching. Unless you have a perfectly matched system, operating using only a single antenna, running QRP (low power) or have an automatic antenna matching unit, when you change bands you often need to re-tune the system. Even in my case where I have written down the ideal settings to match the system, there are many factors that can cause your SWR to be significant even with minor adjustments. For example, I have learned that small changes in turning the impedance matching knobs can mean the difference between 100 watts out or 10 watts out. So staying on a single band helped me decrease the time consumed in fine adjustment tuning.

So my rig is warmed up, I have committed to the 40m band, found the centre frequency of the band, which is also where the antenna should be resonant and I have taken a few moments to do some “tuning” into a dummy load and fine tuning on air. I am now ready to play.

The TS 120s has a number of knobs, switches, buttons and big inviting frequency dial. Modern rigs (radios) have even more bells and whistels on them. What I find though is that there are really only 3 settings I adjust often. These are the AF Gain or AFG (Audio Frequency), RF Gain or RFG (Radio Frequency) and the frequency dial that interfaces with the Varialbe Frequency Oscilator (VFO). The AFG and RFG share the same real estate. The AFG sits at the middle of the knob while the RFG is a ring that surrounds the AFG. The VFO dial sits centre of the console. Anyone can turn on a radio to listen or talk. Talking might be scary for some people, as it was surprisingly for me, but it does not take much skill. One skill though that will get you far in this hobby as an operator is the ability to pick the weak signals out of the strong noise of the band. To do that the operator needs to find the right balance between the AFG, RFG and VFO settings. I have a long to way to go befor I get in my 10,000 hours to master this balance.

The purpose of WFD2022 like other events is to have fun while making contacts. There are two primary states when operating a radio, you are either transmitting or receiving. To make contacts you need to do both, but rarely do they both happen at the same time. If you are receiving, you are looking for signals. If you are transmiting you are making signals. When my radio is on I am either hunting and pouncing or sitting and squawking. Before deciding on doing either I take a walk along the band, its time to spin the dial.

To get a lay of the band, I like to start with a spin up and down the band, just to get a feel. During contest or event weekends you can hear the pileups. Not as words that you can make up but rather tightly packed and often evenly spaced chirps and beebs. When I hit an interesting patch I slow down and note the frequency, not exactly, just generally. I move back and forth at an increasingly slower speed. Still too fast to tune in clearly but slow enough to distinguish if there are multiple signals or only one. I look at the readout and make a mental note to come back. Up and down the band I spin the dial a few more times.

Now that I know there is action on the band I like to start with a bit of hunt and pounce. I like to think of a good hunt and pounce session as hearding. I start with a big broad arc, a curve even. Then over time I create a tighter circle until I find a good signal.

While moving up and down the band I have three settings to keep in mind. The AFG, RFG and VFO. The broad search starts with the AFG turned to slightly above 1, where I can hear the static, and the RFG is wide open at 10. At this setting there is lots of static and you can hear many signals. But it is hard to pick the signals out from the noise. But that is OK. I find in this setting you can find the stronger stations. The static is there but strong stations come in clear. You may have to turn down the AFG a bit. So I travel up and down the band picking out the strong signals and picking up a few contacts. These are the easy prey sitting outside the heard.

Next I try to find another slightly weaker signal. To bring it out from the noise I tune the VFO for maximum signal, which likely includes maximum static. I wait for them to start talking, and then move the RFG down to maybe 8 or 9 and the AFG up slightly to 2-3. I play a bit with the VFO for maximum signal again until they come in clearly. Then I travel up and down the band with these settings picking out the medium signals. Each time I bring down the RFG and bring up the AFG and fine tune the VFO. This way I can pick out the weaker signals.

Hunting and pouncing is perhaps the more straight approach compared to sitting and squawking, but it comes with one drawback. During a hunt and pounce you are actually looking for others who are sitting and squawking. The drawback is that there are usually more hunters than squawkers. So the competition is high. With many hunters targeting one squawker and only one hunter can contact a squawker everyone else needs to wait. This type of a traffic jam on the airways is often called a pile up for good reason. With all the hunters talking over each other, the frequency is a big pile of confusion. If your station has a strong signal (not necessarily high power) you tend to be at the front of the line. Stations with weaker signals are at the back of the line.

The major draw back to hunting and pouncing is that it take a lot of energy. A lot of concentration to listen for the signals. Controlling the AFG and RFG settings to find the right balance. For low power stations (100 watts or less) like myself I need to compete with the strong stations. But the thrill of the hunt is exciting, it is fun and the feeling you get when you “bag another qso” is fantastic. The whole process can generate a pretty intoxicating high. However, eventually the high wares off and the energy subsides. Time for a drink, a snack and a change of tactic.

Sometimes, as a hunter, you come across a squawker that is squawking so much the don’t stop to listen for the hunters. I have heard a number of operators run through their call lightning fast, as though they are merely following a protocol or a perceived rule. At the end of the day as long as you announce your callsign at the appropriate interval, the amateur airwaves are governed more by convention and tradition than rules and regs (of which there are still many). Some squawkers might barely leave a few seconds between each call. So they won’t be able to hear me calling them. I can relate to how they are feeling, I feel it too. A need to rush, a rush to silence, which many people find uncomfortable. So they fill the empty void with another round of squawking.

As a hunter you are highly likely to find contacts but you might need to take some time. I try to hang out in line and bag the contact so I don’t have to come back. I find this to be a great way to build my confidence and start off the contest strong. But I find that the real fun starts when you find a nice quiet spot on the frequency, sit on down and start to squawk.

Sitting and squawking is when the hunter becomes the hunted. Unlike big game hunting, in this match up the hunted wants to be found and the hunter wants to release its prey and move onto the next next thrill of the chase. The whole thing is actually quite humane, amateur radio operators make it out, relatively unscathed. A squawker needs to follow three simple steps. First, you spin the dial. You want to get far enough away from other squawkers that they don’t flood your calling frequency and you want to make sure your calling won’t flood theirs. On SSB voice I understand that 3 kHz is a minimum distance where 4 or 5 kHz is even better. You don’t want to move too far away from other squawkers, because where there is squawking there is hunting. Second, you need to squawk, squawk, squawk for any passers by to hear. Then you need to stop and listen to see if you attracted any of those hunters.

Step 1 Spin The Dial:
So I find a nice spot on the frequency nestled between two other squawkers several kHz off to either side. As I worked the 40m band along side other operators I felt that I started to learn who the “big guns” were and where they were operating. I started sitting off to the side of their frequency in hopes that other operators may pass by my frequency on the way to or from the big guns. I definitely started to get a feel for the 40m band that I may not have had if I was busy switching bands continuously.

Step 2 Start the Squawk:
“This is VE3FCQ, on 7.176. Is this frequency clear?” I wait a few seconds, no response. I start in with a classic squawk. “CQ Winter Field Day, CQ Winter Field Day, CQ Winter Field Day”. It is often debated how many CQ’s you should do. Common convention is 3, but that is usually just a regular “CQ, CQ, CQ” quick and sweet. For an event or contest I like adding in the name of the event, as do many others. “This is VE3FCQ, calling CQ Winter Field Day on 7.176 from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada”. So there is a fourth CQ and event name, followed by frequency and location. I started adding the frequency to my CQ’s after noticing some contacts were a few Hz or kHz short (or so I think). I sometimes check how closely our frequencies match by using the RIT setting on the Ts-120s. This is a technique used mainly by CW operators “running split”. When running split, CW operators will receive a few kHz off of their transmit frequency. For Phone I don’t think this is common practice, but it helps me tune into stations that might be a bit off.

I finish off the call with “calling CQ winter Field Day. Standing By”. So a 5th CQ and event name followed with a standing by. And I wait. Nothing. I go again. “CQ Winter Field Day, CQ Winter Field Day. CQ winter field Day, standing by”… and wait. I will alternate between short and long forms of the CQ call. If I just finished a QSO I will start with the short version. If I get no response, I will go with the long one. If you followed the Hunting and Pouncing process as I did, you will know that it takes some time to tune in a station. So the longer your CQ call, the more opportunity you give others to tune you in. If there is no pile up you need to make enough noise that when someone spins the dial and hears a beep, chirp or whirl, yours needs to be strong enough and interesting enough to come check out. So go ahead and Squawk, Squawk , Squawk.

Personally, I need to consciously focus on my speed and I try to slow down. I often get caught up in the moment and start rushing my call. I try to keep it slower than I would normaly talk until I feel it might be too slow. This is when I try to go for one more unit of slowness. To help me, I created a script to follow which I have used many times. I am now starting to find that my CQ calling is becoming habit at a pace I can sustain. I am actually finding it strangely meditative. A hypnotic rhythm that sometimes adopts some strange accents I don’t use in normal speach. A bizarre mix of Bob and Doug McKenzie, from Canada Eh! Mixed with some Bill and Ted, topped off with a southern drawl and a western twang. With morse code operators this is referred to as their “fist”, no idea what we call it for sidebanders.

Step 3 Listen:
I mentally put down the mic after a long CQ. I wait. I have a drink, maybe crunch some nuts. I take a breath and if there is still silence I start the second step again. It might take 2,3 or even 10 attempts at calling CQ. If I mkae it through a full ten, then maybe it is time to head back out hunting or at least spin the dial. Maybe you need to check to make sure your antenna is still hooked up. 10 CQ’s is a long time on a full band. But I never expect my first CQ to be answered.

Usually after of a couple of CQ’s I’ll have attracted one or two hunters. Maybe even three or four. But during WFD2022 I found myself in some real pile ups. Managing pile ups is something that I get excited to work on. I find the I can usually copy the whole call sign or just one letter. I dont’ find many in between. I hear many operators work through pile ups smoothly. They can manage traffic by keeping multiple callsigns in cue in their head. Sometimes they can pick out that there are multiple calls from one region or pick out a rare DX, or an activator on a summit or in a park. Watching these pros work a pile up on youtube, or listening live on the air is a beautiful thing.

Wrapping Up:
After a while my log built up with call sings and exchanges. I should have taken more time to step back and let others take over the frequency. If I scheduled more time operate I would need to schedule in these types of break.

So that is my strategy in a nutshell. Spend some time moving up and down the band to get a feel. Concentrate some energy on hunting and pouncing before claiming a frequency to sit and sqawk on.

Given the same amount of time on a given frequency with the same rig, antenna and power, I am pretty confident that during and event or contest I will gather more QSO’s by Sitting and squawking than by hunting and pouncing. However, on any given weekday or non-contest or non-event weekend or if I just don’t want to contest, I feel my best bet for making contacts on HF would be to hunt and pounce on existing conversations, look for other CQ call outs or join a net. This would need some validation by way of an experiment though.

Moving forward I continue to give myself permission to be a rookie, to continue learning and continue to mess up. I know that some hunters leave before I get to them. If I could say who is up next that might help encourage them to stay around. But at the same time I know the feeling of when the crowd goes home and there is alone hunter responding to my CQ and I can’t hear them. That does not feel good and I’d want to move on too. If there is a pile up in progress and I don’t know or remember who is next, I may just ask for a new call sign, “Are there any callsigns I missed?”. Sometimes one comes back, sometimes a tsunami of calls come back, and sometimes, static. Back to the long call.

With the contest over it was time to close the AFG and open up the RFG. The hum of the Astron and Ts-120s go silent. The operating position is closed up, monitors turned off and the door closed. As the door to the shack closes, regular life starts to come back into view.

So that is it, my first field report from my first experience with Winter Field day. The radio is quiet now. As the heavy mechanical switch of the Astron is flipped, the hum fades away, now gone as is my energy. Its time to go out into the fresh winter air and pick up my son from Grandmas. I feel pretty tired from my radio play but as soon as I enter my moms house, my son doesn’t care I just made 74 contacts and 2 multiplier points while radiating energy around the world. Doesn’t he understand that Dad spent good money to direct energy into warming the skies and burning off the clouds with RF for fun? Nope. Nor does he care that Dad’s brain is mush from filtering our static, moving knobs and spinning dials. Nope. My 18 month old son greets me with a loud scream, a big smile and runs towards me knowing he will get a huge hug. Now that Dad is here it is time to keep playing. So off come the boots and the jacket and down to the floor I go to learn what new game he and Grandma came up with today. Slowly my energy is recharged, a smile creeps across my face and I start to remember what drew me to this hobby. The same curiosity, excitement, newness and surprises that my toddler son experiences every day. The same stuff I am getting out of amateur radio as a 42 year old kid. And for a while, life just makes a lot of sense, the past and future go fuzzy and the here and now come into perfect focus.

Event Debrief

Since I operated as a single operator this year, my evaluation will be of myself. I like the approach of looking at what worked well, that I should continue doing; what did not go well that I should consider to stop doing and what should I consider to start doing next time.

Continue

  • Get on the air and make some noise
  • Start with some hunt and pounce
  • Progress to sitting and squawking
  • Radio, Matching Unit and Antenna seem to be good.

Stop

  • Setting up at the beginning of the event.
  • Skipping personal breaks to refresh

Start

  • Planning
    • Create an Operating Calendar for other events and contests for the year
    • Schedule Band Times
      • Saturday Afternoon: 40m
      • Saturday night: 80m,
      • Sunday Morning: 20m,
      • Sunday Afternoon: 40m,
    • Markable band map to indicate where other operators are set up
  • Station
    • go remote, at least backyard using battery power
    • Remote station with a temporary shelter
    • Operate from camper.
    • Try NVIS Antenna
    • Second receiver (eg SDR as Pan Adapter) to wait for openings
  • Operating
    • take more breaks
    • Try for a satelite contact
    • Try some VHF FM contacts
      • Yaggi.
  • Debriefing

Prologue

So you have made it to the end. Congratulations. I hope that these notes provided insight into either the hobby of Amateur Radio, the possibilities that contests present for practice, and maybe a little insight into my own operating style and personal experience.

If you made it this far I will go out on a limb and say that if you did not find the article useful you at least found it entertaining enough to stick it through to the end.

What ever your reason for getting this far, I invite you to subscribe to my news letter so you can stay in the loop when I share more experiences as I continue my adventures in Amateur Radio.

I’d also appreciate it if you took a few moments and provided a few comments in the comments section. This lets me know that someone actually read the article. Maybe share some thoughts that popped up while reading this. Did you remember a long hidden memory? Or maybe you have a piece of advice to offer. Maybe you want to share a link to your own Winter Field Report.

If you are on Social media, please reach out through Twitter to follow and connect with me @ve3fcq

Thanks for taking the time to read, connect and share.

Name here is,Dave,

VE3FCQ from Ottawa Ontario Canada

Put Yourself Out There and Get On The Air

Best Regards and 73

Other References

  • How to Hunt and pounce(https://www.mapability.com/ei8ic/contest/sandp.php)
  • SSB has Bandwidth of 2.4kHz to 2.7 kHz[https://www.electronics-notes.com/articles/ham_radio/voice-modes/single-sideband-ssb.php], so lets call it 3Khz.

2 replies on “Winter Field Day 2022 Notes for VE3FCQ”

This article was very informative, going deep into the basics of setup and operation isn’t something you hear about so much these days, but it is an excellent way of guiding newcomers. Especially important is the details of the human element being a key to both success and enjoyment of the activity.

Looking forward to more of your observations.

73 ve2jgs

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