This page is a re-write of a group of emails collected by KE1FO, in response to a question by Rick, WZ2T about the best ways to Search and Pounce during a contest. Although many of the replies are to do with the American Sweepstakes (SS) contest, the techniques talked about apply to all other contests.
From: Brian ND3F
Use a computer program with a band map, and keep it updated.
Even if you don't work a station on the first or second or third call, mark them in the band map, put a scratch pad memory on the freq, and come back later (but soon).
Never call a station that has just been put out on packet. Wait 6-10 minutes for the big guns to do it first.
Become an expert tailender. It really works, especially on CW.
Keep a second receiver on the local big gun/multiop--he will leave his CQ freq to find multipliers, and provide you with an occasional free 'spot', if you can track him.
Look in between the big guns for decent signal stations that you can work--slope tuning or very narrow filters required! Work on your timing--send your call sign during a pileup "null" (be first, last or just at the right time to be heard). When I had the newbies over for SS phone, this was their biggest problem - they couldn't figure out why folks almost always came back to
me on the first or at worst second call, but they had to call many times to get through - timing is crucial.
Don't hang around one band too long if you are not calling CQ. I treat the whole spectrum as continuous when I'm doing S&P at home. Start at the lowest band and go to the highest or vice versa. Check the band one lower or higher than you might expect - if it sounds closed, call CQ for a minute or two - you might create your own opening. We had 60 QSOs on SS phone on 160M
by going to an 'empty' band and calling CQ.
From: Charlie Morrison N1RR
Raising ur code speed: YEARS of PRACTICE / CONTESTING / Making Contacts / W1AW code Practice+Bulletins
Don't practice with speeds you can copy at 100% accuracy, you would not be pushing yourself - Practice at speeds you can not copy completely!
S&P rates are dependent upon: UR TX PWR / UR ANT / PROP.
How many times do u have to call ? If no answer, do u push the "A=B" button and tune for the next guy?
Use a second radio! During EVERY transmission on the first radio (CQing Radio) and during some periods while RXing on the first radio, YOU CAN LISTEN AND LINE UP MORE QSOs ON THE SECOND RADIO. Remember to observe the following rule: Only one transmitted signal at a time!
From: Jim Kellaway G3RTE
One of the best bits of advice is to have a good memory when it comes to S & P. Not too hard when you are in a single operator section but not so easy when you take over from somebody else in a multi op section of a contest.
What I have tried to do when organising a multi op section is to have one operator who deals with an individual band. Though of course it doesn't always work out so well.
As for the memory guess now I am over 50 I need to eat lots of fish which is supposed to be good for the old grey matter.
From: Jim K4OJ
Listen to everything you hear, sometime you don't wait for the exchange to get to the point where you hear the guys call.
A seasoned contester can know to stop the dial or keep tuning by listening to everything sent. Example: if you hear a section of NWT being sent and you already have the mult - KEEP TUNING - odds are damned good it is the guy you already worked, and if it isn't there will be a humongous pileup on him.
In a DX contest, listen to the zone being sent, if it is a new one you know you have to work the guy even if he hasn't signed his call!
The more and more you contest the more familiar the calls will be and you will know that if you tune past a station sending .....PL it is W3LPL going to town.
The more you contest the better your mind will be at processing the thought "W3LPL" - you will know without typing it into your software that you have already worked them, etc.
Above all keep tuning - don't get hooked on listening to a rare dx station - it is just a contact, the longer you dwell the fewer contacts you will make on that weekend.... keep moving.
The greatest success secret in contesting is the more you are on the air the better you will do because of it! A lot of guys recommend honing your operating skills by operating in every contest you can. This not only gets you tuned in to the rhythms of contesting, but makes your call known, too, so you become an easily recognized call!
Get plenty of sleep during the week before a contest, you have to use your head a lot during a contest, the fewer cobwebs the better. You will insert cobwebs merely by having to operate for long hours - best to start out without any pre-existing webs!
During your learning curve pick two times to operate in the smaller contests, ones where you have a favorable advantage - i.e. you know you do well on 20 but not 40, so maximize 20 meter operating to maximize your "fun". The other times to operate are those where you are not familiar with band openings and propagation.
Just this past year I found an opening I never had before - it was at 7:00 AM local (12:00z) on 160 meters - to Japan!!!!!!! I could not get over how easy it was to work far away JA on top band, 5 QSOs in 5 minutes. You have to know two things though; it is only a few minute long opening, and they can only transmit above 1900. No wonder I never heard a JA on 160 before! It is things like this that you file away in your mental computer and when you start filling up
that cerebral hard drive your score starts to rocket. The more you operate the more you know, the more you know the higher your score!
Contesting isn't easy....but it is very rewarding!
From: Bill Coleman AA4LR
I'll pass on some tips that Randy K5ZD gave me a few years ago. In SS, acheiving 50-60 Q/hr rates while S & P'ing is quite difficult, mainly because the exchange is quite long. But the long exchange can work in your favor.
Your first tip is to tune faster. Your first objective is to find a station who you haven't contacted before. Once found, you have to call and then contact him. Don't waste any time here listening to pig farmers or ragchewers.
Once you've found a station, it may be some time before he's looking for another call. During that time, you can switch to your second VFO and tune around some more. (On my TS-430S, I hit the VFO A=B button, then continue tuning) With any luck, you'll find another station you haven't worked. Flip back and forth (My TS-430S has a rotary knob of this - eventually, it is going to wear out) and call the first station who is ready.
In this fashion, you spend more time tuning, and less time waiting for an opportunity to call, and it doesn't require two radios. If you have one of those fancy receivers with dual receive, you can eliminate the flip-flop part.
The second problem is to call and get through. Early in SS, just about everyone is going to be a new contact, so you can skip the weaker stations and go for the stronger ones. If your antenna system is good enough, you should be able to get through on the first or second call. If not, keep tuning on the other VFO or try the other station.
The third tip is knowing when to give up. After two or three tries, you might as well move on. You'll come back to them later. If someone CQs in my face, I give them one more try and then move on -- I know I'm just too weak for them to work. Come back to them later when conditions are better. Don't think about multipliers until you are about 12 hours into the contest.
Another tip is to remove redundant phrases in the exchange. Kick yourself every time you say "please copy...." Keep it simple.
The final tip is to try a CQ any time you find a clear frequency. You can acheive much higher rates calling CQ than you can S & P. I usually CQ for 1 minute, then move on if I get no responses. If I make a few contacts, I'll CQ for 2 minutes before moving on.
There is definitely some skill involved in S&P and it can be learned through lots of practice. On CW, you have to be able to 'guess' if a station is new based on just getting part of his call. This is a combination of knowing he calls active in the contest and the ability to use the check partial feature of CT. On Phone, it helps to have an ear for recognizing different accents and voices.
The "secret" seems to be:
a) knowing what to listen for
- partial calls
- special sounds of propagation effects
- unusual exchanges
- hunting for common ops on needed bands
b) knowing what to SKIP
- Weak ones on a fast scan
- Stuff that doesn't "sound" like DX (in a DX test)
- Stuff spotted on bandmap (if current)
c) doing it all quickly
- A=B switch
- Trying not to S & P on the same band for more than 30 mins
- Knowing what propagation should be to whereever
Since most of this involves listening, much of it should be practicable between contests. So the general solution is to spend a lot of time in the "chair". Doing it fast and knowing what to skip certainly aren't simple, but should come with experience.
From: Pete Soper KS4XG
Hook up rig control to your computer and use it with a logger that supports a band map. This will drastically reduce the time you waste recognizing the same set of folks you worked already. You can also easily evaluate where the gaps are. As a side effect, after the contest you can see the ratio of your S& P and running QSOs because the frequencies have been captured.
If you've got time, worked everybody, can't find a run frequency, etc, visit the potential run frequencies a lot to see if you can jump in and also to find the new loud guys that have already jumped in. Monitor as many rag chews as you can. Calling "CQ" about 1 millisecond
after the last rag chewer says his goodbyes and leaves a frequency usually works and for a short while there is a lot more elbow room than usual.
The loud stations will sometimes leave the high bands well before they close to jump on a lower band before it gets crowded. This can provide great opportunities for weaker stations to run. The rate will stink, but it may smell very sweet compared to the alternative on the other bands.