ARDF Update: A Baker’s Dozen of Medals for ARDF Team USA


By ARRL Amateur Radio Direction Finding Coordinator Joe Moell, K0OV


USA is now a serious contender at the ARDF World Championships.

As they packed their suitcases in preparation for the World Championships of Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF), the members of Team USA were eager, but they had no idea that they would return home with 13 medals. Team USA has participated in these biennial championships since 1998, and the most medals they had won any time so far had been two, with no golds. This year, however, would be different; their practice sessions and training camps would make them better prepared than ever.

The sport of ARDF -- also called foxtailing, foxteering and radio-orienteering -- has undergone many changes since the first World Championships in 1980, but the basics remain unchanged. A championship course has five transmitters in a mapped area of rural and wooded terrain, typically 1000 acres or more. Contestants set out from the start as Fox #1 comes on the air and try to be the fastest to “punch in” at all required transmitters and then make it to the finish line in another part of the forest.

A typical start-to-finish route for all five foxes is 6 to 10 kilometers. Each fox transmits for 60 seconds at a time in rotating and repeating sequence. Hunters must seek three, four or all five, depending on their age and gender. Each person hunts twice, once on 2 meters (AM) and once on 80 meters (CW).

Serbia Hosts the World Championships

The 16th ARDF World Championships took place in the second full week of September in the ski resort town of Kopaonik, located in the mountains of Central Serbia. More than 330 radio-orienteers came to Kopaonik, representing 33 nations. There were nine men and four women on this year’s USA team, ranging in age from 27 to 71. All had earned their positions by demonstrating their skills at the USA ARDF Championships in Mt Laguna, California this June, or by qualifying in a previous year.

The first ARDF event of the championships was Wednesday, September 12. There were 10 transmitters on the course, five on each band. Six of the eleven age/gender categories hunted the 2 meter foxes, and the remaining five categories searched for the 80 meter ones.

This was the day that The Star-Spangled Banner would be heard at the medal ceremony for the first time at ARDF World Championships, and it would be heard twice! Team Captain Vadim Afonkin, KB1RLI, of Newton, Massachusetts, found his four required 80 meter transmitters and sprinted to the finish in just under 50 minutes. He was about a minute faster than second place finisher Bengt Evertsson, SM4VMU, of Sweden. This was Afonkin’s fifth consecutive trip -- and his first medal -- on USA’s team. He learned the sport as a youth in his native Russia. In 2009, he organized the 9th USA and IARU Region 2 ARDF Championships in Boston.

Bob Cooley, KF6VSE, of Pleasanton, California, also received a gold medal that day was. Cooley was in the category for men over age 70, which required finding three 2 meter foxes. He did it in 1:32:42, which was almost four minutes faster than second place finisher Viktor Baranovskyi of Ukraine.

The second day of full-course ARDF competition was Friday, September 14, when everyone competed on the band that they didn’t run on two days before. Two stateside hams medaled that day, as the team of Ruth Bromer, WB4QZG, of Raleigh, North Carolina, and Karla Leach, KC7BLA, of Bozeman, Montana, took bronze in the category for women over age 60. Team members aren’t allowed to help, or even to communicate with one another in the forest, but their individual scores are aggregated to determine the national team standings. Although Bromer and Leach did not medal individually, their combined score made them the third best team in their category on 80 meters.

Three New Events

Besides two days of classic ARDF, the Serbian organizers included three foxhunting events that had never before taken place at the world championships. Starting on September 6 was the World Cup, four days of competition for individuals, not national teams. In classic ARDF, each nation is limited to three persons per age/gender category, but there was no such limitation for the World Cup -- China sent dozens! Each person ran two 80 meter courses and two 2 meter courses. The four results were combined using a complex point scoring system to determine band winners and overall winners in each category.

USA stood on the medal podium eight times at the World Cup awards ceremony. Cooley earned two gold medals in his M70 category, for best on 80 meters and best overall. Afonkin received two silver medals in M40, one for 2 meters and the other overall. Jay Hennigan, WB6RDV, of Goleta, California, captured 80 meter silver in M60 category. Alla Mezhevaya of Loves Park, Illinois, won 80 meter bronze in W35 category and Bromer took home 80 meter bronze in W60.

Thursday, September 13 was the day of the Sprint competition. The Sprint is a short course that is intended to be a demonstration of radio-orienteering to the public. Competitors start at two-minute intervals to seek up to five 80 meter transmitters that cycle at five times the rate of classic ARDF transmitters. Once they find the first set, they run through a corridor in front of the cheering spectators to a second five-fox fast-cycle course on a different 80 meter frequency. They find their required foxes and rush to the finish.

Team USA has had only one opportunity to practice the Sprint. The first sprint course on North American soil was June 1, 2012 at the USA Championships at Mt Laguna. Afonkin won that event by almost 13 minutes. He proved his skill again in Serbia, completing this Sprint course in just 17:25 to earn a bronze medal in M40. He was less than two minutes behind Sergiy Goncharuk of Ukraine, who won gold in that category.

Orienteering for Foxes

The last event in Serbia was Foxoring. Competitors received a map with 10 small circles in the field. They used their orienteering skills to navigate to the circle locations. In or near to each was a very-QRP 80 meter transmitter for them to find. As in classic ARDF, scoring was first by the number of foxes found and second by elapsed time.

To get the foxoring concluded in time for some participants to get to their flights for home, the Serbian organizers imposed a time limit of 100 minutes, forcing many competitors to go to the finish before they found all required foxes. USA did not medal in Foxoring, but Bromer finished fourth in her category and Hennigan was seventh in his.

For more about Team USA and the 16th World Championships -- including the team roster, photos and links to the full results -- go to Plans are now being made for next year’s USA and IARU Region 2 ARDF Championships, which are open to all and will help determine the members of Team USA who will travel to Kazakhstan for the 17th World Championships in 2014.