Fox Hunting, aka Hidden Transmitter Hunting or Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) for JOTA 2010
Tips from Scott, KD5MHM
The following information represents my own personal opinions on the subject presented, based upon actual experiences with Scouts ranging in rank from Tiger Cub (7 years old) through Eagle Scout (18 years old) gleaned over the past ten years. I am not affilliated with any of the websites, companies, products nor books that may be mentioned in this article. I receive no compensation of any kind from any company or product mentioned, nor do I endorse any company or product over another. I do represent that the information is as accurate as I can provide and is based upon my actual experiences.
Fox Hunting in all its variations, is, simply put, way too much fun. Regardless of age or skill levels, everyone has a good time. I truly enjoy a good Fox Hunt. Scouts and Amateur Radio Operators around the world have been having Fox Hunts for more than fifty years, and there is no reason to stop now. JOTA is a great opportunity to have a Fox Hunt for Scouts, and all the participants at JOTA.
The basic idea is to have a transmitter, hidden like a treasure, that must be found using a radio receiver. Variations on the theme are often used to make "the hunt" more interesting and challenging. A book that I purchased that I thought was pretty good was "Transmitter Hunting" (website on the links page).
Fox Hunters use a receiver and a variety of techniques to find their way to the transmitter. The type of Fox Hunt influences the particular techniques needed for the hunt. JOTA Fox Hunts are usually on foot so a vehicle is not typically needed. JOTA Hunts are also usually in a relatively small area and as such are usually completed in a short time, perhaps less than an hour. Some of the variations (suggested later) help ensure that the hunt remains interesting and challenging.
Fox Hunters use an unusually wide variety of equipment (receiver and antenna rigs) to search for the Fox Transmitter. The type of Fox Hunt radically influences the equipment needed, probably more than it influences the techniques used. Typically, the Amateur Radio Operator in charge of the Hunt for a JOTA event also has the proper type of equipment required for their particular style of Fox Hunt.
The Fox Transmitter (covered later) sends out a "signal" (discussed later) that can be picked up by the receiver of the Fox Hunter. The Fox Hunter "tracks down" the transmitter using radio direction-finding techniques until finally finding the Fox (transmitter).
Hunts that have worked well in the past with Scouts allow many variations depending upon the time and space available. Scouting strongly stresses age-appropriateness and I'm always surprised how Tiger Cubs do as well as Eagle Scouts on a well-crafted Hunt. Age does not seem to be a barrier to younger Scouts' enjoyment and success.
Fox Hunts can be explained to Scouts as a "Search and Rescue Mission" (SAR Mission). Aircraft have for decades had an "ELT" (Emergency Locator Transmitter) that activates when an aircraft goes down. Using Radio Direction Finding equipment and techniques, rescue teams find and rescue the craft's occupants. Recently, many hikers and skiers use a "PLB" (Personal Locator Beacon) that sends out a signal that allows SAR teams to find them, again using the same techniques needed for Fox Hunting. Often, when I have a time-limit imposed for the Hunt, I'll use the SAR Mission and stress that we only have x-amount of time to find the victim. If we don't find the Fox in time, I always tell the team that they were rescued by one of the other (imaginary) SAR teams.
The following describes but a few of the Hunts that have had great success with Scouts (and adults) in the past. They are presented in no particular order and their appropriateness for a particular JOTA event is completely up to the judgement of the reader and person(s) in charge of the Fox Hunt.
A relatively inexpensive Fox Hunt using equipment that did not require an Amateur Radio Operator's license used low-power transmitters and standard transisitor radios in the FM broadcast radio band. Two small FM transmitters were built from kits and adjusted to two different FM frequencies, and two standard FM portable radios were used. After finding the first Fox Transmitter, the frequency of the second Fox was provided and the second Fox Hunt began. The idea was to have a "practice, easy-to-find" Fox that could be used for training and honing of skills, followed by another more-challenging Fox to test those skills. The Scouts were a Fox Hunt Team, and each Scout had only two minutes of hunting time before the receiver was passed on to the next Scout. With a group of eight to ten Scouts, this allowed everyone some time to hunt for each Fox. This particular style Fox Hunt also worked very well as a demo at Den meetings and Troop meetings. At the request of both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, this has been done more than a dozen times over the years. There are limitations on this type of Fox Hunt, however, that make me lean more towards the Amateur Radio versions of Fox Hunts.
Fox Hunts using Amateur Radio equipment under the supervision of licensed Amateur Radio Operators allow for more flexibility because the Ham gear is legally allowed to do more than unlicensed equipment. Hams have many frequencies, power levels and antenna options available to them for use on a Fox Hunt.
On one Fox Hunt, the "signal" was provided by a Ham. Using a low-power handy-talkie radio, they talked for a time, then paused, then talked again. This was repeated until the "Fox" was found. Each transmission, they read some interesting paragraph they'd found in the Amateur Radio Handbook. We Fox Hunters all learned something while we hunted. Using the appropriate Scout Handbook, I've had good success with both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts with this style of hunt. First Aid tips are another good subject for use with Scouts. These can come from the First Aid merit badge booklet or the Emergency Preparedness merit badge booklet or any of the many sites on the web.
A fellow Ham built a Fox Transmitter from information available on the web. It worked well. A Fox Hunt at the Sibley Nature Center (Midland, Texas) allowed us to hunt in a small wooded area. Three teams of two people were fielded. It was decided that a team would set out and hide the Fox, but not participate in that hunt. Two teams were searching while the third waited. The team that found the Fox would then hide the Fox and wait while it was found. Originally thinking we would only do three hunts, we surprised ourselves. As the Fox Hunters got more adept at hunting, the teams also got a lot better at hiding the Fox. As each hunt seemed to get progressively more challenging, we lost all track of time and continued - until darkness fell! We actually seriously discussed "night Hunts", but decided that eleven hours out in the hot West Texas sun was probably enough for one day. We vowed to go someplace with more space and trees and hills and repeat the process, perhaps with more teams, but with job transfers and changes, family responsibilities and the like, no repeat has yet occurred. Perhaps the reader might try a Fox Hunt like this in preparation for JOTA and drop the JOTA Team here an email about how it went.
Not having what I termed a suitable Fox Transmitter setup of my own, and in no small part due to the fun I had Fox Hunting, I decided to research and build one. Searching on Fox Hunting, Hidden Transmitters, Amateur Radio Direction Finding and similar keywords allowed me to find a variety of circuits and kits. Most were a transmitter only however, without any ability to control it specifically for Fox Hunting. My research into Fox Hunting made it clear that some method of turning on and off the "signal" for specific time periods was a requirement of a good Hunt. Further research into timing and control, tone generation for a "signal" and the requirement for Amateur Radio Operators to identify their stations in accordance with legal requirements made it clear that there was quite a lot involved creating a decent Fox Transmitter setup. Being a computer and electronics person, I was pleased to find a controller that had the built-in intelligence needed for Fox Hunting and would work with virtually any handy-talkie I owned or transmitter I would build. Additionally, it was from a company that had another kit I had used in the past.
The equipment I use is not exactly fancy. I have a "tape-measure beam" that I built for hunts on the 2-meter band. I have a four-element "Quad" for hunting on the 70-centimeter band. I have various handy-talkies that I've used but none seems to be noticably superior to another for Fox Hunting events. One piece of gear that I don't have and intend to build (some day) is an attenuator. The attenuator would allow me to "knock down" the incoming signal so that when I'm close to the Fox Transmitter my S-Meter would not always read maximum. Another piece of gear might be an independent meter. S-meters seem to vary quite a lot, so it might be nice to have a meter that doesn't change when I use a different receiver. For my Fox Transmitter controller, I use the "PicCon" from Byonics. So far, I've had good luck with mine, but the reader should look at the specs and decide for themselves.
Links for web places that I have found useful are on the the JOTA Team's links page.
If you find a problem on the website, please let us know and we'll try to address the issue promptly.
Thanks, from the JOTA Team
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