While I was a member of the QRP-L mailing list for a couple of months in the fall of 2003, I noticed there is a lot of interest in Fox Hunting. I wasn't all that sure about all the intricacies of the activity, and I thought maybe others who visit my web site may be in the same boat. Therefore, I'm providing sort of a primer on Fox Hunting as written by Lloyd, K3ESE who is involved in the organization of Fox Hunts and is also very good at operating in them.
Now let's hear from Lloyd:
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 ("Foxii,") which are 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. The Summer Hunt has been on 20 meters, and the Winter Hunt is on 40 meters. The operators who try to work the Foxii are known as "Hounds," and when they successfully work a Fox, they are said to have acquired his "pelt."
Each week, the two volunteer Foxii announce, on the QRP-L reflector, the fact that there's a Hunt, that they're the Fox, and sometimes tell what frequency they'll be on. They'll also often give some details about their equipment. The Foxii occupy two spots, one above and one below the QRP calling frequency, which, on 40M, is 7.040 MHz. Typically, the Foxii begin each two-hour Hunt working "split." That is, they transmit on one frequency and listen for responses on another. The usual split for Foxii is from one to 1.5 kHz up from the xmit frequency. There's a good reason for this, which I'll get to in a bit. Toward the end of the Hunt each week, the Foxii 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 gives his exchange, with the Hound's call at the beginning and end, 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 are inseparable from the QRP community's main online forum, the QRP-L email reflector. The "list," as it's called, is the place to find out about the Hunts, to discuss any issues that come up, to sometimes find spotting help during the Hunts and to talk about what did or didn't work out well, and why, afterward. It's also the place where the Foxii post their logs, prior to their being published on the Fox Hunt website, http://www.cqc.org/fox/index.htm . At the end of each Hunting Season, the Top Hounds and Foxii are recognized for their accomplishments with certificates and congratulations all around.
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 Foxii, 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 usful 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. 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 Foxii, which changes from Fox to Fox, and the equipment on each end. Some Hounds regularly do very well with less than a watt, or with simple wire antennas, while most 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!
Well, after reading all that info I feel I know all about Fox Hunting now. I hope you feel the same and as Lloyd suggests, you'll give it a try. I may even do so myself sometime although I feel I've been Fox Hunting for some time myself, but my quarry hasn't been foxii, but rare DX stations. The techniques are much the same in both activities.