Resources

The DX Code of Conduct

DX Code of Conduct

Don't be a LID (poor operator)- If we all follow the code, DXing will be more fun and succesful for all. more...


Ethics and Operating Procedures for the Radio Amateur

Proper Ham Procedures

A great PDF article about proper procedures. more...

My DXCC Status
Click on the image above to see my latest DXCC statistics from the ARRL's LoTW site.

DXing for the "Little Pistol"

I've always been a low budget ham. I've never owned a tower, a beam antenna, or an amplifier. Still, I've worked well over 200 countries and nearly always manage to make at least one or two contacts with every major DXpedition out there.

I'm not bragging (well, maybe a little.) The point is: you don't have to spend a ton of money, tick off the wife, or bust the family budget to have fun as a DXing ham.

I know this kind of ham radio isn't for everyone. Some hams loath using a computer as a ham radio tool, consider spotting networks as "cheating" and don't consider modes such as JT65, PSK, or all the others as "real ham radio." That's OK. This article is for the ham like me who enjoys the challenge of getting new modes up and running, likes counting countries, collecting awards, and keeping track of their ham radio achievements.

What does it take?

1. Don't assume you can't work DX without a mega-buck station. If you can hear them, they can hear you -- nearly always. Most of my DX contacts the last couple of years have been with a 100 ft loop of wire strung between the peak of my house's roof and a tree and fed with ladder line and a tuner. My radio is an IC-718.

2. Use the tools that are available. If you do not have a computer and the internet available at your ham radio bench, you are losing out. DX spotting networks, reverse beacons, CW skimmers, etc. -- they are tools that you need to learn how to use to make the most of your time on the radio.

There is nothing more fun than casualy tuning a band and finding a rare DX station tuning up and then calling CQ. First in line is always the easiest. I love that. But nabbing all the DX you can will take more.

You have to connect your radio to a computer, use a modern logging program such as Ham Radio Deluxe, and use the technology that is available to find the DX spots and quickly jump to their frequency.

You might think you can't listen everywhere, but with the Reverse Beacon Network you can have dozens of receivers, scouring the bands for CQs on CW. It is possible to watch for new DX listings and pounce on them before 99.9% of the hams on the air know anything about them.

3. You must be band agile. A coax fed dipole, cut for 20 meters and 50 feet up might be a great antenna for 20 meters, but it won't work very well on most other bands. If you are limited to one or two antennas, make sure that at least one of them can be used on multiple bands - something like a 5 or 6 band vertical will do nicely. A simple wire antenna, fed with ladder line and an autotuner is a cheap way to get on multiple bands. An autotuner lets you QSY (frequency change) quickly and will help you nab the rare DX that was just spotted before the "thundering crowd" gets there. I've worked over 175 countries with my 100 ft wire loop fed with 450 ohm ladder line and an LDG autotuner.

4. You must be mode agile. Learn CW! You will have much better success using CW, which is more efficient than any phone mode. You'll also have much less competition for the DX. SSB pileups are brutal. CW pileups are much easier for the low-profile ham. Digital modes, such as PSK and JT65 will also bring you amazing DX, unworkable by any phone mode. RTTY, although a very old mode, is still a favorite with DX stations.

5. You need to analyze the spot information and use your ears listening to the DX.

First, make sure you have the call correct. DX spots are often wrong. Listen! Is that the call he is sending? Determine how the DX station is operating. Most DXpeditions operate split. This means they transmit on one frequency and listen at least a couple kHz. up in frequency. Don't jump on the first DX spot. Look for follow-ups with correct call, split information, etc.

Practice jumping to a DX station's frequency from your logging program, mating your A and B VFOs, switching to the B VFO to place your transmit frequency, switching back to A, and then hitting split so you will be listening on the DX frequency and transmitting where the DX is listening. Where to call? Use the DX spot info first. Look for QSX ___ or up ___ spots. Don't call on the DX station's frequency until you are absolutely sure that he is not operating split.

6. Use a memory keyer. You may be a CW expert, but in the heat of the hunt, you'll screw up or grow tired of sending your call. Set the speed to the same as the DX! His mind is most atuned to what he is sending over and over. You may be the most comfortable at 10 wpm (nothing wrong with that,) but that won't get you much DX. Match his speed! I use a K1EL keyer that has memory buttons on top. 1 for my call, 2 for my reply.

7. Know where the DX is listening. If you are hearing the DX well, go ahead and call after he calls CQ or stands by for callers. He didn't come back to you? Quick! Hit your VFO button to listen to your transmit frequency. Do you hear the station he called? Tune around a bit. You will have the most success by calling on the frequency the DX station just used for his last contact.

Calling without knowing the frequency of the DX station's last contact is usually worthless. EVERY TIME the DX sends a report, switch to your B VFO to see if you can hear the station he is sending to reply with a report. If you do, move your B VFO to that frequency and call again when the DX is done. If you can't hear the station the DX is calling, keep listening until you do.

You may find that the DX station isn't listening to the same frequency each contact. He may move up a bit each time. Follow his last call up a bit! Maybe he moves up a bit each time and then jumps down and starts over. You can only determine this by listening. Is he calling EU only and you are in NA? Don't be a LID, wait!

8. Be patient. Major DXpeditions usually spend a couple of weeks on location. Let the big guns and the impatient ones work them the first few days. By the last few days of the operation, the DX will probably be begging for contacts. Easy pickings!

9. Key DXing times for low-budget and minimalist station hams are the couple of days before a major DX contest. All the big money guys will be setting up their stations, checking rigs, antennas and amplifiers. They often set up in the WARC bands looking for QSOs. Go get them! Late in major contests is a great time to look for DX. All the mega-buck stations have worked everything they can. The DX will be begging for just a few more contacts. They will work extra hard to dig you out.

In conclusion:

You can learn a lot about how not to work DX by opening your filters up enough so you can hear both the DX station and the corresponding pile up. It is amazing how many callers are obviously not hearing the DX, calling when he calls, sending their call when he asks for another station's call or continent, etc.

It may be said that even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while, but a keenly observant one, using all his senses, never goes hungry.



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