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Sounds bigger on the air! Think you can't contest just because you're a Cap Gun or Little Pistol?

Maximizing Contest Fun with a Small Station

by John Arthurs K7WP

Wow, lotsa things have changed over the last number of years at K7WP…

  In the last fifteen years, I have lived in two HOA communities, in two tower friendly environments, been on two Dxpeditions (XZ1N, TZ5A), and learned a heck of a lot about contesting (and still learning)  But, as I look back on all that, I have realized that there was one thing in particular that has helped to make me a better operator over all those years.  Surprisingly, it was my HOA experiences.

Thus, these few thoughts and suggestions come to you AOCC members who are rig /antenna handicapped, or are living in one of those Help Our Antenna areas.

  1. Make the very best of what you have.  This goes for the best of coax that you can afford, excellent coax connector maintenance, weatherproofing connections, proper resonances and trimming of your antenna(s), use of baluns properly.  Be a neat freak when it comes to wire routing and trimming. Be prepared for the contest…everything in order...don’t wait until the last minute.
  2. Realize and accept that you will not be first call, but when you are…celebrate!  Don’t waste you time calling, calling, calling. Mark him, come back to him.  Remember, you are in a contest and time is valuable.  Even when you work only a few hours of a contest, you should always evaluate and compare rates for those hours.  Push yourself for more Q’s…this is competition…and the greatest thing you are competing against is your own performance of past contests.
  3. Always search and pounce early in the contest, as L’il Pistol or Cap Gun, following point # 2.  As the contest goes on, you may be able to run…particularly in the last number of hours of the contest. Your points are important to the big guns as well…they will want you, and be looking for you in the later hours.
  4. Listen deep.  Filter down and listen between the big signals.  There are guys in there in your position who are filtered down and may be able to hear you. Give them a call…go deep.
  5. Timing is critical.  Just as in DXing, timing your call can be a winner for you.  You will never beat the big guys out, and they will usually use their power to dominate, and they are all calling at once. (From being on the other side dxpedition-wise, many of these strong sigs cancel each other out, but the guy who is slightly late in his call can stand out after the big guns finish…even if his signal is weaker)  Delay your call, and just perhaps you will be the guy.
  6. Frequency is critical.  Just like timing in # 5, if your calling frequency is slightly higher above the mob, you just might stand out enough to be heard, simply because of the being different.  Don’t go too high as you may be out of his rx passband, however.
  7. Don’t negate the power of your working conditions.  Some of the most fun, and gratification in contesting, was when my antennas were verticals…hidden in palm trees. I had an HF2V and R7 in a HOA house in Tempe.  I ran about 500w with no problems with the close neighbors.  Gosh, that was a challenge and a bunch of fun. My other HOA experience was with a Force 12 GT5 vertical dipole for the high bands, and that same HF2V.  Even worked the 160 contests from that Chandler location…fun!  I accepted my situation, and made the best of it.
  8. You may have more fun with an amp. Now, there are those committed QRP contesters, i.e. N7IR who chooses to do so, and what he does is amazing! But, Gary HAS the antenna system to put out that QRP signal in a formidable way (70’ tower with beams 40-10m)! If you are in a close HOA, you will probably be able to get away with a small amp.  I have used the AL811 @ 500w in these situations, and it really helped to make up for my antenna handicap. Think about it…
  9. Don’t change bands too soon.  Wait until propagation is best to move to a particular band.  This will generally happen naturally anyway in that the guys with the antennas will hear band openings earlier. But, calling CQ, or simply trying to call a weak signal on a band that has not fully opened will probably produce wasted time.  Let the signals come up (more open band).
  10. Move fast.  Change bands fast, tune quickly (deliberately). Yes, be deliberate in what you do. If your rig has a true second VFO, use it to check other band openings or look for multipliers. You ARE trying to beat your best score…you are competing here!
  11. Listen and Learn from the stations working around you.  What are THEY doing to be successful?  Be aware of your frequency environment…who is above you, who is right below.  This likewise breeds operating courtesy.
  12. Push yourself to stay up late …all nighters can be fun, and the nighttime propagation will surprise you even with antenna and power handicaps. Chase that greyline…!
  13. Don’t give up or become discouraged!  You WILL make those contacts if you have patience and strategize.

Today, I am privileged to have a 70’ tower with a Force 12 6BA, and a shorter tower with a Mosley Classic 33 for SA/Caribbean multipliers, with a small amp. Still far from a monster setup, but certainly a lot more than I had in the HOA environments.  It’s great…I love it…I love to contest, and DX as well.  But, I must say that I would not be as good an operator today had I not experienced my HOA episodes.  Those of you AOCC‘ers who are handicapped either by HOA regulations, economic circumstances, or other issues…please take heart and learn IN this experience.  You will become a better op by going through this!  Just TRY, GET ON, and HAVE FUN!

I would be more than happy, as would many others in AOCC, to help you with your questions regarding all of this.


John K7WP (aka.Weenie Pistol)

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