ARDF Update: Radio Foxhunters Find Their Champions in Ohio
By Joe Moell, K0OV, Contributing Editor
ARRL Amateur Radio Direction Finding Coordinator
No shack potatoes here! These radio-orienteering enthusiasts took to the beautiful woods of the Buckeye State in pursuit of transmitters and medals.
They came from 15 states and four foreign countries. In their suitcases were radio sets, antennas, sun block and running shoes, but they left some room in hopes of taking home a medal or two. They were the hams and future hams -- ranging from age 12 to older than 70 -- who went to Southwest Ohio in the third week of May for the 10th Annual USA Championships of Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF).
Some arrived early for the optional “training camp” where they would get practical lessons in the sport, also called on-foot foxhunting and radio-orienteering because it combines radio direction finding and map-and-compass navigation in the woods. And what woods they were! It would be hard to find another place in the USA with more and better-mapped forests for this growing sport. Four separate sites were used just for the two training days.
ARDF is done on 80 meter CW and 2 meter AM in separate events, each with five “fox” transmitters. A course is typically three miles from start to each of the five transmitters (in optimum order) and then to the finish. Your mission is to find your assigned three, four or all five foxes, depending on which of the 11 age/gender categories you are in. Each transmitter is on for one minute at a time in a five-fox cycle that repeats. You must find your way on foot with just your direction-finding gear, the map you’re given and your compass. GPS help is not allowed.
This was the second time that hams from all over the country have come to the Buckeye State to strive for ARDF medals. The first time was in July 2003, with participants bunking in dormitories on the Miami University campus. This time, the headquarters was an inn nearby in Franklin, Ohio, with more participants from more states.
A Worldwide Sport
All-on-foot transmitter hunting began informally about six decades ago in Europe, gaining so much in popularity in so many countries that the first World Championships were organized in 1980. The five-fox cycle and other rules were established by a committee of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) to standardize the sport so that it would be the same in all countries, as hams trained for international events.
There are two sets of gold, silver and bronze medals in the USA Championships. Everyone competes for one set, while the other is just for Team USA’s competitors. This makes it possible for stateside hams to win two medals in one try.
Heading up the organizers of this year’s events were Bob Frey, WA6EZV, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Dick Arnett, WB4SUV, of Erlanger, Kentucky. Both have earned medals at previous USA championships and each has represented USA at the World Championships in 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006.
Both WA6EZV and WB4SUV wanted to compete this year too, so Bob teamed up with Brian DeYoung, K4BRI, to plan and execute the 2 meter event on Saturday. Dick, who was told nothing about this course, ran that day with all the other competitors. Sunday’s 80 meter course was laid out and set by WB4SUV and Matthew Robbins, AA9YH, allowing WA6EZV to compete on that day.
Competitors received 11×17 inch color maps 10 minutes before their scheduled start times; they could fold them or mount them on a flat surface if they wished. Large map boards made from discarded political campaign signs were provided for those who wanted them.
In accordance with IARU rules, competitors are individually timed. They start out on the course in groups at 5 minute intervals, with the starting horn coinciding with fox #1 coming on the air. No two people in a group are in the same age/gender category, and since each category has a different set of three, four or five foxes to find, there are no follow-the-leader problems.
ARDF scoring is primarily by number of transmitters found, and secondarily by elapsed time. There is a limit, usually three hours, after which a contestant is disqualified. This makes it important to keep track of your time on the course. If you have found all but one of your required transmitters and time is getting short, you have a decision to make. Do you go to the finish and be listed after all those who found all the foxes for their category, or do you press on for that final fox and risk losing it all by being a few seconds -- or minutes -- over the limit?
Saturday’s 2 meter event was in Hueston Woods State Park, about four miles east of the Ohio-Indiana border near the town of College Corner. Heavy rain the previous evening had made the trails very muddy, but that didn’t slow down Bryan Ackerly, VK3YNG, of Ferntree Gully, Australia. His marathon training made him the fastest of the day, finding all five 2 meter foxes and getting to the finish in one hour and 24 minutes. USA’s fastest in that category was Ian Smith of Somerville, Massachusetts, who finished just 20 minutes later, at 1:44.
Stateside hams won almost all of the other overall gold medals in categories for men and boys on 2 meters: Addison Bosley, KJ4VCV, of Erlanger, Kentucky, was first in M19; Matthew Robbins, AA9YH, of Cincinnati, Ohio, got the gold in M40, and George Neal, KF6YKN, of Maspeth, New York, was best in M50. Two years ago, George became the second Team USA member to capture a medal at the ARDF World Championships. Long-time orienteer Bob Cooley KF6VSE, of Pleasanton, California, won first in M60.
No Americans competed in the new category for men over age 70. That 2 meter gold went to Per-Axel Nordwaeger, SM0BGU, of Bromma, Sweden. He was the course-setter of the 1994 World Championships in Stockholm, and he is still a leading competitor for his country as he turns 72 years young this year.
In the categories for women, 2 meter overall gold medals were captured by Lori Huberman of Cambridge, Massachusetts (F21), Susanne Walz, DG4SFF, of Reutlingen, Germany (F35), Judy Taylor, WD8EOP, of Huntington, West Virginia (F50), and Ruth Bromer, WB4QZG, of Raleigh, North Carolina (F60). USA gold in F35 went to Jennifer Harker, W5JEN, of Austin, Texas.
The 80 meter event on Sunday took place in the Miami University Natural Areas, a mix of wooded and developed parcels located just north of the main campus. Harker’s Run meanders through the middle of it, a creek that was twice as deep as usual due to of the recent rains. One could still wade across in many places, so WB4SUV and AA9YH decided to put the creek in the corridor leading to the finish line. Spectators had great fun watching some foxhunters tear through it as if running on water. Others stopped, considered their options then carefully walked through.
Eighty meter signals aren’t reflected from hills and wet trees like 2 meter signals can be, so bearings are much more precise and competitor times are usually better. At just 53 minutes and 30 seconds, Ian Smith had the best five-fox time this day, beating VK3YNG by 15 minutes.
With AA9YH not competing in the M40 category because he designed the course, that overall gold went to Matthias Kuehlewein, DL3SDO, of Tuebingen, Germany, followed by USA gold winner Leszek Lechowicz, NI1L, of Bridgewater, Massachusetts. All other category gold winners were the same as on two meters except F50, where no medals were awarded.
World Championships Coming Next
The best performers in each category of the championships in Ohio and the championships last year near Boston have been invited to join ARDF Team USA and travel at their own expense to the 15th ARDF World Championships in Opatija, Croatia in mid-September. USA’s team roster is being finalized at this time. Members of the team are attending training events in their localities, including a pair of two-day events at Mt Pinos near Frazier Park, California.
I will have the results of Team USA’s trip to Croatia in an upcoming “ARDF Update,” as well as the announcement of next year’s USA championships. Our national championships are open to all, so now is the time to start learning the sport and helping the promising radio-orienteers in your own area to get ready.