County Hunter CW Net Procedures

by Larry Cahoon, WD3P


The main purpose of the county hunter's net is to facilitate the operations of those hams seeking to work all counties in the United State. It is also a useful place for CW emergency communications as there is almost always someone monitoring the frequencies.

As such it is intended to provide a place where mobiles and fixed stations, and sometime portable stations can know where to find each other. Usually the mobile runs the county for the benefit of the other mobiles and the fixed stations on the net. Fixed stations usually do not run their county. Infrequently portable stations do run their county. Rag chew style QSOs are discourage on the net frequency.

The operation of the net can vary as there is frequently no one person serving as a net control. However at times some one does jump in an operate as a net control. At other times someone listening in on the net provides assistance on an ad hoc basis for the mobiles and the fixed stations.

This document is intended to assist those who are new to the net and to provide some general guidelines and best practices for those familiar to the net operations. A much more comprehensive overview of the net procedures is posted at That document focuses more on the phone net procedures rather than on the CW net.

Your First QSO on the Net

For your first QSO on the net it is useful to know a few basics of how a contact is made on the net. The most important thing is to recognize that main information exchanged it the signal report. The signal report is verified between the two operations. The typical QSO between WD3P/M and KD3SX would go as follows:

Now for the exceptions. If the signal report you were giving back to the mobile were the same as what the mobile sent to you then you might reply R ALSO 577 TU . If either station is very week than the signal report is frequently repeated. For example if the mobile had given you a 339 you might reply R ALSO 339 339 339 TU.

Handling the Pileups

While a mobile run can sound like a DX pileup, and has been mistaken for one many times, there is an important difference. The mobile intends to work everyone. Sometime this is not possible as the mobile is operating as he/she travels. So he may at times drive out of a county before everyone gets to work him. There are some best practices when it comes to the behavior of the fixed stations. First and foremost send you call once and only once. It the mobile does not pick a call sign out of the pileup she will ask again. If she does pick out a call, as is usually the case, sending your call a second time only creates QRM and slows the process down. With this in mind let the stronger stations go first. As long as the mobile is giving out 599s you are not likely to work him if you are only hearing him at a 339.

Frequencies We Use

The primary frequency of the CW county hunter net is 14.056.5. When more than one mobile wished to run at the same time one of the mobiles usually will QSY down 2 kHz. We do not normally QSY up as 14.058 is the frequency usually used by the FISTS CW Club members and 14.060 is the QRP watering hole. When a mobile QSYs to 40 meters he is usually going to 7.039. Some will go to 7.238 as that is the SSB 40 meter frequency. They run CW there because their antenna will not tune down to 7.039. It frequency pays to move the VFO a bit around 7.039 as that tends to be a crowed area of the 40 meter band and the mobile will QSY a bit from 7.039 due to local QRM. When the mobile goes to 15 meters he is usually heading to 21.056.8 and when he/she goes to 10 meters he is headed to 28.056.5.

Dealing with Relays

To assist the weaker stations work the mobiles county hunters use a relay system. Some operators do not feel that these QSOs should be considered acceptable. There has been much discussion on the point. However at this time they are considered acceptable. You are free of course to not use any relays. The basic relay system lets a third person facilitate the exchange of call signs. That same third person, usually the net control, also verifies that the signal reports have been passed correctly between the two stations.

My usual advise to new people on the net is to listen in a while to see how the relays are handled and get a feel for the flow of the operation before jumping in. It is easy to get confused when things don't go quite right.

A normally success full relay goes as follows:

What if things go wrong? Depending on the net control, the mobile, and how much trouble the mobile and the fixed station have hearing each other the exchange can go down several routes. For this reason it is usually best if a new station on the list avoid the relay at first. Once they have observed how problems are handled then it becomes much easier to deal with relay and the problems they can create. As a general rule each station is allowed two tries to get the exchange right. After that relays should not be used as most would say if you can't get it in two tires you must be guessing.

If you are going to use relay, it is much better to ask for a repeat than sent a signal report that you are not sure of. A reply of 339? should never be sent. If only confuses everyone and breaks the rhythm of the exchange. Beside the question mark tell everyone you are not sure of what you heard. When you don't know, or unsure of what you heard simple sending AGN works best.

When the mobile station gets it wrong:

Notice the net control first lets the mobiles error slide by. This speeds up the operation of the net. If the fixed station correctly gets the exchange that the mobile comes back with then the net control returns to the fixed station and has him/her resend the signal report. If you both get the exchange wrong then the net control will return to the mobile and start over. Usually he/she will break the flow after the mobiles incorrect answer and say NIL WD3P/M AGN.

When the fixed station gets it wrong:

Any of the three parties can terminate the attempted QSO. The net control usually will only do that when two attempt have been tired. The normal message he sends it NIL SRI QSP? The fixed station can terminate the QSO by sending QTA. The mobile station will usually sent NIL NO CPY.

Normal Net Operations

Under the best of circumstances there is someone acting as a net control. This is particularly true when there is more than one mobile running counties on a given day. A net control assumes the responsibility to see that all of the mobiles are recognized, to run them effectively when they are ready, and to keep the members of the net informed about what counties the mobiles are expected to run next.

The list below outlines the normal sequence of operations of the CW net:

When the mobile QSYs from the usual net frequency on 20 meters to 40, 15, or 10 meters there is almost never a net control. The mobile runs the county on his own. Most of the time the mobile will show up on the expected frequency. However on 40 meters he may move up or down a bit to avoid QRM as 7.039 can be a very busy frequency. Be patient when the mobiles QSYs to the other bands as some mobiles have to change their antenna or do a bit of tuning before they can run the county. Others have a pretuned antenna on the other bands.

When There is no Net Control

Unlike the much busier phone net the CW net runs very smoothly even without a net control. In this situation much more of the responsibility for smooth operations falls on the shoulder of the mobiles and the fixed station to show a little discipline.

There are several best practices that facilitate the running of the net in this situation

When the Mobile Changes County

Sometimes a mobile will drive out of the county he is running in the middle of his operation. If he has been running only a couple of minutes he or the net control, if there is one, will announce the new county and he will continue his run in the next county. It is considered poor practice for one mobile to tie up the net frequency too long. So if the mobile has been running for several minutes, he or the net control, should see if any other mobiles are ready to run. If someone else is ready then usually the current mobile steps aside for the other mobile. He may QSY down 2 or he may standby until the other mobile is finished his run.

Interlopers on the Net

As sure as the sun rises someone will come upon the net and attempt to work the mobile and not be aware of the customs of the net. Usually the mobiles take this in stride. The first error they make is to neglect to verify the signal exchange. When the mobile recognizes this he just accepts the QSO and moves on. This is in the tradition of the DX QSO. He is in the log and if he send the mobile a card he will get one in return. No one gets upset.

The second most common error is when the fixed station who stumbles across the net attempts to have an extended QSO. He will pass along his name and QTH. Most mobiles will pass back their name and attempt to move on, usually with a 73 and a quick QRZ. At other times they will give a very brief explanation that this is the county hunter net and move on with a quick QRZ. We always want to treat these people with courtesy as they may be a future county hunter.

Some Best Practices

Each CW operator on the net has his own routine and way of doing things on the net. While the mobiles all do not do things the same way the goal of each is to run the counties efficiently. The mobile operator runs the show while he/she is running the county. So it pays to play by their rules. The fixed stations should cooperate to this end. Several "best practices" have evolved over the year. Here are a few:

Q Signals and Other Abbreviations Used on the Net

The net uses a number of Q signals and abbreviations. Even some of the Q signals have special meaning on the net beyond what would normally be expected. Below is a list of the common Q signals and abbreviations and their meaning on the net.