(This is also available in the ARRL Virginia Section Newsletter for December of 2020)
Amid all the protections and social distancing of 2020, I have struggled to think of things that we can do for social gatherings and fun, but still maintain a level of safety for the New River Valley Amateur Radio Club. Activities outdoors seems to be the most promising, and foxhunts (or transmitter hunting) have been a favorite requested activity for our club. This time, I decided to do something a little more special.
I have two transmitter systems that I use for our foxhunts, both of which consist of a battery, controller, and cheap HT contained in a plastic ammo can with an ominous antenna. These are great for covering larger areas, but they are large, and once you get close, they are often found visually for the last leg of the hunt. What I needed was something small, something that would make you push your equipment, skills, and patience to the limit. The search for a cost-effective solution was started in April of 2020.
Transmitter plans using a crystal and a simple PIC controller were found from a documented, but discontinued kit. Accumulation of the necessary parts took part over the course of a few months.
The event was penciled in for November 14th, and as the date came close, it was finalized as the threat of rain was removed, and confirmation of the location was given as Randolph Park in Dublin, VA.
The morning of the 14th was met with 38 degrees, low wind, and a sunny sky. Our event was scheduled as a picnic breakfast (bring your own), followed by the foxhunt to allow our club to remember each other’s faces, and welcome any newer hams to the area should they so wish. I arrived early and hid the transmitters along not too difficult a path along the walking paths in the wooded area. The outside shelters at Randolph Park provided the needed physical distancing, and low sun seemed to warm the spirit along with coffee and conversation. Turnout was seven members, with only one not staying for the foxhunt.
A short introduction to some of the equipment and use was given to help those new to the game. I brought along extra equipment since I would be more of the instructor for this event. Two directional Yagi antennas along with radios and 4 MHz offset attenuators were the tools lent for the event. A short demonstration was given as to how to make use of the attenuators. As the demonstration revealed the frequency of the first fox, the hounds were anxious to start the hunt. Then, a hint of the evil of the second fox was given, “you must find the first fox to find the frequency of the second one.” The tale continued, “The second fox looks nothing like the first!”
Off they went, sweeping 360 degrees, back and forth, adjusting knobs, reading signal strengths, and pointing in directions. Movements were slow and deliberate as each hound swept back and forth during transmissions, and paces were quickened as the information gathered was given more credence. The sound of the fox taunting them along the way with tones of youth as if to say, “nanny nanny boo boo!” As the first hounds approached the fox, a visual was made, and the first fox was found. The smiles began to show as did the curl of my own evil a grin, knowing the second fox is a bit more cunning.
Confidence gained, the hounds read the new frequency, reset their equipment, and listened… “chirp”, [pause], “chirp”. “Hey, that’s not like the other one!” They were right. This fox gave very short bursts of FM, along with an ID about every 30 seconds. Getting used to the new sounds, the sweeping, reading, and pointing continued again. The skills gained from the first fox were quickly honed for the second, and the hounds were searching well. Seeing them work back and forth around a close area, I knew they were close. I joined to see where the search had led. It seemed to have come to a stop, with puzzled looks on the hounds faces. They showed me, “It’s showing right here in the leaves and wood, but I don’t see anything.” They were right. The one hound rustled the leaves and picked up a piece of wood only to discard it back into the pile. Another observed something odd. Picking it back up revealed some wires hanging out of the end of a hollowed piece of firewood… fox found!
A good time was had by all the hounds, and everyone learned something new. I could not have asked for a better time for a year ending event, nor a better pack of hounds.