Amateur Radios In The Great Outdoors

Over the past few months this blog has suffered due to a lack of posts.   The culprit?   A slight preoccupation with a new hobby that I believe has great potential in the outdoors.   Let me explain.

Several weeks back I read a blog post that tweaked my interest.   That post, along with several others like this one, helped me add a new hobby to my répertoire.   The hobby?   Amateur radio.   Now, I know what you are probably thinking.   Ham radios are for geeks who are into an old electronics hobby fast becoming outdated due to technology.   Well, while some parts of that statement might indeed ring true, such a broad characterization is completely wrong.

My mobile radio can easily reach repeaters 40 or more miles away.  With proper linking, however, it can talk to stations located all around the world.

My mobile radio can easily reach repeaters 40 or more miles away. With proper linking, however, it can talk to stations located all around the world.

What if I told you that while on your next Colorado elk hunt you could have communications virtually anywhere you go.   I’m not talking satellite communications costing $1 or more a minute.   Nope, I’m talking good old fashioned modulated radio waves using technology that has helped win wars, save lives and been around for over 100 years.   Potentially, that same technology could allow your spouse to use their smart phone and talk with you on a handheld transceiver clear across the country.   Would I get your attention then?

The deeper I got into “ham” or amateur radio the more intrigued I got with its potential in many facets of life, particularly the outdoors.   With the right equipment, the right skills and privileges, the potential exists to communicate anywhere on the globe.

I’m not really intending for this blog post to be a primer on amateur radio here in the U.S., but here are some points you should know:

  • Essentially there are three levels of amateur radio the FCC recognizes (Technician-which is entry level, General-which provides nearly all bands of radio frequency communication, and Extra-which is sort of a master level giving all privileges possible under U.S. amateur radio communications law)
  • To get your Technician certification the cost currently is $15 and requires a person to pass a 35 multiple-choice question test (must score 26 or more correct to pass)
  • NO MORSE CODE.  That’s right…you don’t have to learn a new language as was once required.
  • Books are available for self-instruction.  Classes are also given for those who wish to learn in that manner.
  • For the most part, Hams are a friendly bunch willing to help you out when you get into a bind.
  • Now for the somewhat controversial statement in the Ham world.   Radios can be purchased for as little as around $35 so the hobby doesn’t need to cost you big dollars to get going.

Well, my investment was mostly just time.   Yup, I studied for the Technician level back in May and found I wanted to go a bit beyond that.   I got “the bug” and wanted to learn more.   So, a few weeks ago I tested for my General level and that is now where I am content to be.   A full fledged new Ham with lots of fun in store developing this new hobby.

Of course, I’m certainly not advocating the use of radios while hunting or in the pursuit of game.   No, my intention is how this technology can be used for hunting camps to stay in touch with one another or hunters to stay in touch with family back home.   Some of these radios even have the ability to track a sportsman allowing a family not only to talk to them, but to know where they are at all times for safety reasons.

Handheld transceivers (HTs) can be easily packed into remote areas of the outdoors for reliable communication. Often times more reliable than cellular phones.

Handheld transceivers (HTs) can be easily packed into remote areas of the outdoors for reliable communication. Often times more reliable than cellular phones.

If you want to explore the world of amateur radios a bit more now is the perfect time to check it out.   Each year during the fourth weekend in June there’s an event called ARRL Field Day taking place in locations around the country.   Check out this map for a location near you.   The Field Day (which actually lasts for 24 hours) is sort of a fun contest where ham clubs gather and test out new equipment, attempt to make as many contacts (around the world) with other folks, but mostly they are there to show potential new hams this fabulous hobby.

Many of these Field Days coming up this weekend will even have GOTA (Get On The Air) possibilities where you can try things out under the tutelage of an experienced ham operator and ask questions.   I strongly encourage you even if this only mildly sparks an interest to go check it out.   You might discover a great new adventure awaits you that can easily be enjoyed during your time in the outdoors.

That’s it for now.   I bid you 73s de KE0AOM…clear and off the air.

Change In The Outdoors Amazes Me

Did some thinking last night.   Thinking that spans nearly 50 years of life spent in the outdoors.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve garnered is how the outdoors is in a constant state of flux.   What I mean by that is nothing stays the same…just give it a decade or two and the outdoors can take on a whole new appearance.   Different sights.   Different sounds.   In general, a different vibe.

Case in point.   Last night I heard from a neighbor how a bear has been marauding bee hives less than a mile from my house.   In fact, bear sightings over the past few years in my area has gone from highly unlikely back 40 years ago to now almost a common occurrence.   New local sightings are being heard weekly in a somewhat diverse area leading one to believe we are not dealing with just one or two wandering bears.   The likelihood of many bears certainly exists.

Now, you might think this should not be odd…after all, I live in Minnesota.   True enough, but I live in the heart of the ag zone where bears have not traditionally hung out.   No more.   In my lifetime I have gone from no bears to bears now in my back yard apparently quite regularly.

And don’t think these changes are limited to just bears.   When I was a mere 6 years old I had my first encounter with a red fox.   Back in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s fox were big in these parts.   Red fox were most predominant with an occasional gray fox thrown in just for good measure.   Not so today.   Oh, sure, you still see an occasional fox dashing along some fenceline…but the sightings are rare.   You know why?

There was a time a sight like this would not have been witnessed on my farm, however, that is no longer true today.

There was a time when a sight like this would not have been witnessed on my farm, however, that is no longer true today.

Because now we have coyotes.   Yup, the dreaded coyotes.   When I was a young trapper starting out the only coyotes I had seen were in magazines showing trappers from out in the Western states.   Then about 30 years ago they started showing up and BOOM!   It’s to the point their population is out of control!   Hardly a night goes by I don’t hear coyotes howling within earshot of my house.   The packs sound large and sometimes real close.   And guess what.   As a teenager I would have never hear those song dogs anywhere close to my property.

Oh, I could go on and on.   Growing up pheasants were so abundant that aside from shooting barn pigeons I honed my wingshooting skills by walking the sloughs each October.   No more.   Pheasants have all but disappeared.   To see a pheasant sighting is rare indeed.   These days even though it is legal to hunt them I wouldn’t even think of shooting one.   In fact, I derive more pleasure out of just watching them try to scratch a life during these difficult times for their species.

Indeed, growing up pheasants were abundant and wild turkeys were…she we say, not even on the radar!   Then a few birds were transplanted about 40 years ago and BOOM!   Today, the wild turkey population is everything the pheasant population used to be.   As a teenager it would have been a dream to think I could ever turkey hunt ON MY OWN LAND.   In fact, today there are so many turkeys around these parts I would not think of hunting anywhere else.

Change happens in the outdoors in other ways, too.   As a trapper, I am amazed how the river that runs through my farm changes so much from year to year.   Sure, if you look at a map its not that the river is moving…but the character of the river.   A location where I might have placed a mink trap last year might be totally unappealing to mink this year.

The river changes.   The woods changes.   The critters that run around…at least in time…tends to change.   Makes me wonder…as an outdoorsmen who also feels like he is part of the outdoors am I changing, too?   I suspect I am.

Change.   One of the many reasons the outdoors stays exciting and challenging to those who enjoy it.

Random Sights From The 2014 Minnesota State High School Clay Target League Championship

Wow!  Surprised to see it has been over two months since I last posted to this blog.   Sorry about that.   Life has pulled me in some different directions, which I will explain sometime soon.   In the meantime, I have a little photo display from last Friday up at the 2014 Minnesota State High School Clay Target League Championship at Alexandria, Minnesota.

As one of the fastest-growing high school sports in Minnesota, a total of 3,948 high school athletes participated in this 5–day shooting event.   In fact, it has grown rapidly to have such significance that even Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton showed up last Friday to visit.   Governor Dayton said, “… this place is just filled with parents and coaches and kids who are learning something they can do for the rest of their life and do responsibly.”   Indeed they are, Governor!

I was not able to attend this fun event, but my close friend, Todd Rost, was one of the team coaches for Faribault Bethleham Academy and wanted to share these images with the blog’s readers.   Check out the fun and competition:

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