*EDITORIAL* Contesting Strategy Tips

DP6T Team

“An Amateur Radio contest is an operating event, held over a predefined time period where the goal is……to enjoy yourself.”

The ARRL Operating Manual, 6th Edition

Essentially, success in DX contests on any band (including 11m) is determined by a number of variables.  Most guys identify these as being the quality of propagation, the size of one’s station and the number of participants.  Few take into account one of the most important factors, however, and that’s a participant’s ‘contest strategy’.

For the purpose of this article, the term ‘strategy’ refers to a method or plan chosen to bring about adesired outcome, such as achievement of a goal.  Apply this definition to DX competition and it refers to an individual contester’s approach — his techniques and routines; the processes that enable him to achieve a favorable contest placing (and hopefully acquire some of the fantastic prizes on offer as a result)!

In this article, I’ll attempt to describe two of the standard contesting strategies used by members of the Dx Adventure Radio Club (DA-RC), and other successful ham and 11m contesters.  These include ‘Running’ and ‘Search and Pounce’. 


‘Running’ is when a contester stays on one frequency calling “CQ” and works consecutive stations.  This is an effective way to make lots of QSOs but it does depend on the size of your station (e.g. your antenna, TX power, etc.) and/or how ‘special’ you are to contest participants.

Furthermore, a strong signal will allow you to attract sufficient callers and also to hold on to your frequency.

A benefit of ‘running’ is that casual contesters, or those not participating in the contest, might prefer to call YOU rather than CQ themselves.  For this reason alone, it’s a great way of amassing points.

When using this contesting strategy, your actual ‘running’ style (i.e. the smoothness and speed of your QSOs) will determine both the size of your pileup and also how long guys hang around to work you.

Effective ‘Runners’…

  • Are competent at recognising callsigns which may be buried in a pile-up
  • Keep their QSOs as short as possible
  • Use no extra words
  • Confirm the callsign and exchange (e.g. progressive or signal report) once
  • Only repeat their call with exchange when there’s an error
  • Use basic English — While many DX stations can handle numbers and phonetics they may not understand questions or other chat
  • Use standard phonetics

When ‘running’ it’s a good idea to avoid silence.  Dead air welcomes intruders and leaves the pileup guessing as to your whereabouts.  If things do slow down then try variations on your CQ call.  The other alternative is to ‘search and pounce’! (See below)

[ Please keep in mind that ‘running’ is not permitted in some events (e.g. the DA-RC 11m Sprint).  On this note, participants are encouraged to always read a contest’s guidelines carefully before taking part to ensure their operations are within the rules ].

Search and Pounce

‘Search and Pounce’ (S&P) (Also called ‘prowling’) means tuning around the band listening for stations calling “CQ” and then calling them.

Many regard it as the easiest way of operating (armchair contesting) as you can take your time to copy the callsign if necessary without any pressure (except the knowledge that time is points).  It’s also a worthwhile strategy if you’re a ‘small pistol’ as opposed to a ‘big gun’ hihi.

Contesters might also use S & P to target multipliers and so balance up their log and/or if no one is answering their ‘running’.

When using this strategy, you do need to be adept at breaking through a pileup.

You’ll also need to decide how much time you’ll dictate to calling one particular station.  Call unsuccessfully for too long and you’re missing out on valuable points by ‘S & P’ or ‘running’ elsewhere.

Of course, it is possible to use both contesting strategies at the same time.  Only if your transciever has dual VFOs that is.  This allows you to call “CQ” on one VFO and ‘search and pounce’ across the band with the other.

In either case, always listen for the weaker signals that might get buried by strong stations on nearby frequencies.  A narrow filter can work miracles to make certain you don’t pass over a precious multiplier just because there was a powerful local station 500 Hz away.

I hope this information helps.

73 de Darren, DA-RC HQ Team Member