Tips for the Casual DXer

If I was serious about DXing, I’d probably go out and buy a big linear and put a ten-element Yagi up on a 50-foot tower. I’m not all that serious about DX, though. I’m more of a casual DXer. My current station consists of an Icom IC-735 running between 50 and 100W into a 20m ground plane antenna. I work some DX when band conditions are good, and when they’re not, I’m happy working US stations.

I imagine there are a lot of casual DXers. Casual DXers have neither the time nor the money to build a true DX station and track propagation reports, but enjoy working foreign stations when they can. For these folks, I have a few tips:

  1. Use the right band. In general, you should use the highest frequency band that’s open. If the 10m band is open, get on 10. You’ll get the most bang for your buck on 10 and 15 when they’re open, than you will on 20 or 17.
  2. LISTEN! This is a corollary to “If you can’t hear ‘em, you can’t work ‘em.” I’ve worked many DX stations by just tuning around and pouncing on them when I hear them calling CQ. In many cases, I was the only one to return their call.
    Listen even when the band seems to be quiet. Sometimes this means that the propagation is such that it’s skipping over the domestic stations and DX conditions are good. I remember one evening tuning around for a while, and almost giving up when I heard a Spanish station calling CQ with a 599 signal! I answered his call and he gave me a 579 report. We had a very nice QSO on a “dead” band.
    Also, listen for really weak signals. I’ve worked a couple of DX stations whose signals were almost unreadable, but for one reason or another, were able to copy me just fine and gave me quite respectable signal reports.
    Get a good set of headphones to help you dig out the weak ones. I bought a pair from Radio Shack after reading the reviews on eHam.net.
  3. Be patient. If the DX station doesn’t come back to you on your first call, hang in there and try again. A lot of times, DX stations are interested in working as many stations as possible, meaning that they’ll rip them off one right after another. If they’re not extremely rare, or the band is not that active, the DX station will quickly work all the strong stations and after a while it will be your turn. If you tune away too quickly, you’ll never get your chance.
  4. Hone your CW skills. It really is true that it’s easier to work DX on CW than on phone. There are several reasons for this. First, there are fewer stations clamoring for the attention of a DX station on CW. Second, weak CW signals are more readable than weak phone signals. This is important if you’re using 50-100W and even more important when you’re using a QRP rig.
    You hear a lot of DX stations operating at 20 wpm or more. While most of them are courteous and will come back to a station calling at 12 or 15 wpm, it’s very satisfying to be able to work them at the speed they’re calling CQ.
  5. Work the contests. Contests can be intimidating, but your best chance for working new countries is during the DX contests. During these contests, you’ll not only hear a lot of DX stations on the air, they will be eager to work you. Making US contacts is, after all, how they score points.
    You don’t have to work the entire contest, nor do you have to send in the logs for scoring. Figure out what information they’re expecting you to exchange with them, either by listening to several contest QSOs or by reading the rules in QST or on contesting.com, then just jump in and start working stations.
    Another benefit of working contests is that it seems to help improve your code speed. My theory is that during a contest you’re concentrating more on the contest than you are on the code, and this helps break down the mental barriers we erect to increasing our code speed.

Having given you these tips as if I were some kind of expert, I’d like to be able to report that I’m DXCC with a couple hundred countries under my belt and a boxful of DX QSL cards. Of course, I can’t, though. Since getting back on the shortwave bands in August 2002, I’ve logged maybe sixty countries and have only a handful of QSL cards. After all, if I knew the exact numbers and had QSLed a higher percentage of my DX contacts, I wouldn’t be a casual DXer anymore, now would I?

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