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   Ham radios are for geeks who are into an old electronics hobby fast becoming outdated due to technology.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 K0AOM…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.

Help Me Understand Why I Need A Year’s Supply Of Toilet Paper?

Let me be forthright in saying I am not mocking or ridiculing in any way the prepper mentality.   That being said, I just don’t completely understand or appreciate the extent many people appear to be taking this end-of-the-world survival concept.   Seriously, a year’s supply of toilet paper?   Check out this video:

Now, ever since my Cub Scouts days I have been groomed to be prepared for many of life’s challenges, but sometimes I think people take matters to an extreme.   I suppose at any one given time my household has a two month’s supply (or more) of toilet paper, but that’s only because we often shop at Costco and nothing comes in small packages sold there.   I view a video like this and afterwards I’m left wondering…just how ill prepared am I for the future?

Seriously, I am a big proponent of being prepared for emergencies, but mostly this has been to the extent of a winter survival bag in my truck, maybe a pantry full of dry goods to get us through an extended power outage after a storm, you know…the usual preparatory activities.   But call me foolish, if you will, I fail to see the value in prepping for emergencies lasting months or years in duration.

I guess people have to do what they need to do to achieve peace of mind.   Oh yeah, given this current state of our world affairs and political climate I can envision things going south quickly.   It could certainly happen.   I don’t view it as inevitable, but during my lifetime I have seen enough “surprises” taking place in this world to know nothing is completely certain from one day to the next.

Still, this possible “uncertainty” does not fuel my desire to spend boat loads of money for a year’s supply of food, medicine, various hygiene items, etc…all of which do not last indefinitely.   I get it, some people purchase insurance and if you don’t use it the money is gone.   Yet, stockpiling food and various other supplies seems like such a waste with no imminent threat I can detect.   Obviously, time will either show me as the fool I am or confirm why a prudent person can reasonably maintain these doubts.

Honestly, the extent of my “prepper” activities will probably end this spring at purchasing some heirloom garden seeds that are not hybrid varieties or some Genetically Modified Organism (GMO).   Why?   Mostly because many of these historical seeds have some great stories to them.   Not to mention, if handled and stored properly can have a viable shelf life for 10 years or longer.

In reality, a small container of heirloom seeds (I purchase mine from Seed Savers Exchange where a former high school classmate manages the store) is a good investment in the future.   Many of these seeds worked well for our ancestors during a time when all they had to depend on was themselves, so it can work that way again if heaven forbid it has to.

So, tell me where I’m wrong.   I’d love to hear your comments and rationale for having a more aggressive approach to taking measures on preparing for an uncertain future.