The Rough Guide to DFing
Let us start at the beginning, what do you need. If you are contemplating taking part in Direction Finding (DF) the best advise is DONT, that is unless you are a complete sado-masochist. Serious Dfing involves having a frontal lobotomy, or at least behaving like you had, a liking for running about in disreputable looking clothes (or at least they will look disreputable when youve finished), and a mindless disregard for personal discomfort and minor injury. In reality the less self respect you have the better.
Having qualified as regards mental state, what else do you need. (Apart from someone of a sadistic bent who goes and hides). A series of experienced friends will help as you may need encouragement (not that some-one who is quite dry, calling to you who are in the swamp, saying the way in was easy really, could be called encouraging). No really, what equipment do you need. Most DFs held in the UK are either on 160m or 2m, and will require transport of some form with enough room for at least a driver and navigator. This usually entails the use of a car, but some events are run on foot or by bicycle, so be prepared.
Clothing, should be old, but tough. You dont want to rip the new Gortex jacket that your beloved just gave you last birthday, the tears dont seem to repair too well. Older clothes dont seem to tear quite so easily, and it doesnt matter if they do, and you dont mind if they get too dirty cause you can change before going to the pub anyway. Tough is a definite prerequisite, as it is better if the thorns dont get through to your skin, also they can form a sliding layer to get into tight spots. Denim is a good start, but gets very heavy when it gets wet, or old Gardening clothes too. Obviously, the number of layers will depend on the season of the year you are starting in, dont be tempted to put too much on as the exercise you get will soon warm you up. A shirt and outer tough jacket (denim or leather) will normally suffice. It has been recorded in the past where competitors on a bright summers day, set off in shorts and tea shirts, only to be faced with head high banks of brambles and nettles (the wounds and stings were something to have seen). In the summer, tough ex-army long sleaved shirts are a good compromise between protection and ventilation. (The ventilation improves the more torn it gets).
Footwear, again depends on preference, but old walking boots, or TOUGH trainers are a good bet. Don't be tempted to wear wellies, firstly they get very hot and sweaty when running, and although they may cope with streams, they get full of water with rivers etc... I say tough trainers, meaning tough soled ones, as on more than one occasion, when in the depth of the undergrowth, it has been known for thorns to penetrate right through the sole of lighter footwear. Socks should be thick and/or tough to avoid your ankles getting scratched, but again this is a preference, however, the ability to tuck the cuffs of your trousers into them is sometimes advantageous.
Now to the gear, A suitable receiver is a must, but these can be borrowed to start with, as long as you dont bust it (the owner tends to get a bit shirty about that, especially if you return it full of water). The other gear can easily be borrowed from others or commandeered from the childrens school sets. Pencil, Ruler and Protactor 360o (round one rather than semicirclur) if possible. A compass for bearings, this may be attached to the set, or a hand held type, it matters little as long as you can get a bearing within +10o. You need a map of the local area, usually an ordinance survey 50,000:1 scale, and you must remember it will get drawn on and possibly damaged (especially if you take it out of the car).
Now to the event, All events start at a set time, (obvious really, as if no-one knows when to start how is it an event at all?), and most start with all the competitors gathered in one place. This has the advantage that if you dont get a bearing, or are unsure, then you can get an approximate bearing (and sometimes a rough distance) from the organiser. Some events have a Start where you want on the Map type of start; obviously unless you arrange to meet with other competitors at a set point, you could be in a situation of not hearing anything at all and not knowing where to go. However, you could be just round the corner from the hidden station and thus have a great time advantage. This sort of start is popular with 2m events.
On 160m, actually taking a bearing can be easy, or ranging to damned difficult, depending on the strength of the signal. Best to get expert help. This accurate bearing will be one of two opposing directions, front and back, and you will not know which is which. So you will also have to use the sense system on the set to identify which of the two bearings is towards the transmitter. Again best to get expert help. On 2m you have the use of small beams with a decent front to back ratio so you dont have this problem.
Once you have a bearing, then plot it on the map. Some people use the plastic coated type of maps, and use a chinagraph crayon. There are two disadvantages to this approach, firstly, the maps are rather costly, and second, the crayon line is rather wide and could cover essential details on the map. However, these maps are reasonably immune to damage and dirt and the bearings can be cleaned off easily later. The choice is yours. The technique of lining up the protractor and plotting bearings is best copied from other competitors. In other words, its simple but easier to see done than describe here.
It is then decision time, Where to go for the next transmission? Best to judge how strong the signal was and try to get that far, but not directly on the bearing you have just plotted, as when the hidden transmitter next comes on, if you are on the first bearing all you will get is the same reading, or its reverse. If you are some way off the side (either side depending on road access etc.) of the first bearing, then you should get a cross with the first bearing to go to. In general you are reducing the distance that you are away from the hidden transmitter with every bearing you take, so the signal gets stronger and the bearings more accurate. Going where your bearings cross, you MAY be lucky, and be in the small area where the transmitter is hidden. However, in general this is not the case, but at least it gets you nearer. Again try to stay to one side of your last bearing, to get a decent cross.
When you have decided that you can get no closer with the vehicle, it is time to lock it up and run off, with your helpers, in the general direction you decided the transmitter is hidden. This is where the old clothes come in; pushing through the undergrowth, following the bearing, until it finally turns sharply, or overloads the set. This is then bush beating time, but remember that the transmitter crew are all sadists, thus this activity will not be easy (unless you find the way in that they made in the first place, but this is rare). On getting your form in to get it signed and time of arrival added, you may, if its a one station event, then relax and watch others that you beat, getting in. If its a more than one transmitter event, then you have to extract yourself and start the torture all over again. It is advisable not to start with a multi-station event, as it makes the bearing taking and plotting more than twice (or three or FOUR times) as complex.
Finally on recovering breath and sanity, return to the vehicle, find keys (lost in bushes easily, so stuff in a deep pocket when leaving the car, or arrange spares to be carried by your helpers). This is the time to repair wounds, change into decent clothes, and repair to the tea or pub. Sitting in the hostelry (pint in hand), swap stories and discuss difficulties with the other competitors. Even the great and professional make mistakes, so dont worry if you didnt find it, or came last, we all had to learn sometime, and all started from the bottom.
If after all this you still qualify as a right nutter, then turn up at the next event and try again.
Some idea of a DF event can be obtained by running a simple computer driven event in the local club room. This can be done whilst drinking the amber nectar, and staying relatively clean, however, when these have been run in the past, there is no diminishment in the excitement of winning.....
If you would like to come along to an event, just to see how its done (or not as the case may be) then contact your local radio club, and see if they do them. If not, then contact Chris Plummer at firstname.lastname@example.org and he will put you in touch with some-one local to you that takes part.