Upcoming Local Hunts: The next ACARA sponsored Fox Hunt is October 9, 2021, with registration at 9:45 AM on 145.150(-).
Fox Hunting Basics: Getting Started
Compiled by Kirk Groeneveld, KC8JRV of ACARA
The activity known as Fox Hunting in Amateur Radio goes by many different names across the country and has as many variations on the rules and operation of the game. Each name (T-Hunt, Fox Hunt, Orienteering, Bunny Hunt) may imply a different “flavor” of the contest. All involve the same techniques to identify a hidden transmitter location.
The Fox itself can be an automated device hidden in a park at an event, or a mobile vehicle parked along a county road, or a live transmission with clues being given at regular or irregular intervals.
At the minimum, you will need an amateur radio capable of displaying the signal strength on an “S-meter”, whether it is a bar graph display or a swing meter. The visual display of fluctuations of signal strength is critical. This is usually a HT, hand-held receiver, but can also be a mounted radio in a vehicle.
Second, you’ll want a directional antenna, like a commercial Yaggi or a tape-measure Yaggi of some fashion. Some hunt with just their HT and use their body to shield the reception, but almost all will require a directional antenna for accuracy. Loop antennas or other configurations may be helpful.
Third, a common boy-scout level magnetic compass with bearings around the ferrule or outside ring is almost essential to translate your bearings to your map.
Fourth, you’ll want a map of the area for plotting bearings and to see the most efficient path to get from your location to the next point you intend to monitor. Along with the map, you’ll want pencil & ruler, or perhaps a dry erase marker on laminated map.
Operation of the Hunt
Registration usually occurs during the half hour before the hunt begins, in-person or over-the-air on a club repeater. Teams are identified, and any rule changes or restrictions will be shared at this point.
During the hunt, there are to be NO transmissions on the Fox (simplex) Frequency except from the Fox. This is to eliminate jamming, distractions, and false readings. The hunt will be challenging enough.
Normally, the club repeater frequency remains open for questions, directions, emergencies, etc. as this allows for two-way communication. Different clubs will allow different amounts of assistance or hints.
If the Fox is an automated device, it will periodically transmit its call sign and or a signal for a brief period on a regular basis…. Example: 30 second message every 5 minutes… but it may be more regular. If the Fox is a live person, they will transmit similar messages, but may vary the period, the length, the content, etc. They may also share “clues” or directional hints over the air if they like. Any other voices on either the club repeater or the Fox Frequency should be regarded with suspicion, as it could be a competitor trying to throw you off the trail or share false information.
Generally, the Fox may not give false information, but may be cryptic, frank, helpful, or vague at their discretion. The Fox may also have a list of prepared hints or clues that they may begin to share at any time. Normally, the clues are given one at a time, and after a period once the hunt has begun…say, a half an hour.
A Fox Hunt can last as long as is needed… usually, several hours, but with a fixed end time. With skilled teams, the hunt may be won in a half an hour, but more typically will take an hour or two. Depending upon the number of players and the difficulty of finding the Fox, the hunt can take some time.
It is not uncommon for all players to either remain at the Fox location or adjourn to a local eatery or watering hole to discuss the hunt and socialize.
It is entirely possible to participate in a Fox Hunt while adhering to Covid-19 social distancing rules. You need not pair up into teams, but it is safer for the driver to concentrate on traffic and driving, while an assistant reads maps or manages the radio.
Good sportsmanship is essential. However, some clubs allow or encourage misleading information to be shared over the club frequency. (EX: “I saw Fred down by the river” or “I’m out by the airport”) Use discretion as this should be a fun, and enjoyable experience for all participating. The goal is to succeed.