Thoughts on Working DX

This is the copy of an article by Jim Duffey, KK6MC, (aka Dr. Megacycle). You can find the original "Thoughts on Working DX" on KK6MC's webpage.
line
I would share some thoughts on DXing with you. I am not an avid DXer, but I try to work it if I hear it. Here are some tips that I find useful. They may or may not apply to your situation, but I think somebody may find them useful.
 
If you don't already have it, get a copy of Bob Locher's (W9KNI) book on DXing. It is chock full of good tips. In a quick perusal of my Ham Library (Located in three different locations in the house) I was unable to find my copy, (Who did I loan it to?) but I am sure that somebody can provide you with the exact title. It is chock full of tips that will help you work DX. (Note: The book title is "The Complete DX′er".)
 
You have to be on the bands to work DX, so get on as much as you can, even when the bands are rotten. If you have trouble getting on, encourage yourself by putting a piggy bank on your operating desk and dropping a dollar bill in it every time you start an operating session. You can pay for an Elecraft K2 in a little over a year and a half of daily operating this way.
 
Get on the bands at unusual times. Go to bed an hour earlier and get up an hour earlier to operate around sunrise. The bands are different then and you will have entirely different DX to chase. Also you can take advantage of greyline propagation. Instead of going to bed on Friday or Saturday night after returning from a night out, brew a pot of coffee, get on the air, and operate in the wee hours.
 
Nearly every DXer will tell you that listening is the key to DXing. I agree, but you need to get on to listen so I emphasize getting on first. You need to listen with a purpose. Develop a listening plan. I start on the highest band open, since absorption will be lowest and a QRP station will have the best chances for getting a contact. I start at the low end of the band and go up. Listen to every station on the band. Determine where the station is and who the station is talking to. Finding a domestic station working DX is almost as good as finding a DX station. Listen for keys to DX; weak signals, fluttery signals, signals with a poor note (no wise comments from those of you who attended Tuthill), and domestic station with excitement in the fist from working a new one. After you have gone from one end of the band to the other, reverse directions and listen again. If I have not uncovered unworked DX after a few trips up and down the band, I go to another band. Not every DX station has a pileup, so I think that this way of listening is more effective than merely looking for a pileup.
 
It helps to keep a list of those stations you have worked and those you have QSLs from as you listen on the band. You can do this on paper, or some computer program will track this information. If you hear a station you need and can't work him right away it helps to put him in a memory, or note what frequency he is on, so you can work him later.
 
DXers, like you and I, are creatures of habit. If he was on a certain band at a certain time one day, the chances are good he will be on at roughly the same time, and band, on another day.
 
Knowing when to listen is helpful. If you don't have or use a propagation program I suggest getting one and using it. It will tell you statistically when the band is open to where. It doesn't do much good to look for DX on a band that doesn't support DX. Also, monitoring the NCDXF beacons help to tell you if the band is open, to where the band is open.
 
If there is a DX packet cluster in your area, monitor it for DX alerts. This information is also available on the Net, but is less localized, so you need to wade through a lot more posts to find something useful. Before the DX Clusters were around, many stations annoounced DX on the local repeater or gave a friend a phone call when a new one came up. You might get some of the more avid DXers in your area to help you out this way.
 
Now would be a good time to upgrade if you don't have an Extra Class license, as there is lots of DX in that lowest 25 kHz. With high CW speed no longer a requirement for the Extra, those DX rich portions of the band should be within every QRPers reach.
 
As you found out in the IARU contest, contests are a good source of DX. Thirteen new ones in a weekend is a good accomplishment, particularly given the summer conditions. There are several fall DX contests which should have better conditions. If you are looking for countries, do not expect to operate the contest as you normally would. Search and pounce, and only work those new ones you don't have QSLs from. In the early stages of the contest the pileups will be horrendous, but you may have some luck working them, particularly on the higher bands. At the end of the contest the big contest stations, even the rare ones, will be begging for contacts and there will be relatively little competition for their affections.
 
Some contests are better than others for new ones. The ARRL DX contest is good, as it is the World working the US. The CQ DX contests are good as they take place over holiday weekends so you can plan your sleep around the contest. When 10 m is open, the ARRL 10 m contest is very productive for new ones.
 
Many of the big gun contesters set up a few days prior to the contest, and they can often be worked then. This is particularly true for those big gun East Coast DXers who go down to the Carribean and operate from exotic islands with special stations during contests.
 
Some big contest stations don't QSL contest QSOs as they work so many stations in a contest, so work those countries you don't have QSL cards from as often as you can (different statiosn/bands of course) in hopes that at least one will QSL.
 
Many contesters run multi-multi stations, which means that they have a station going on each band around the clock, whether the band is wide open or not. You may be able to take advantage of this by working long path during a time when the band is not normally open and there is not much activity. It is surprising where 10 m can be open to at 0300 (local) in the morning when somebody is on there.
 
Being a contrarian also helps a bit in contesting. A big contest takes a lot of the competition off the streets. Working DX on the WARC bands during Sweepstakes is a good strategy, as most avid contesters are also DXers, and the competition is gone, but the DX is still there as they can't work Sweepstakes! This also works to some extent during regular contests; those DX stations who are not contesters are still on, usually on the WARC bands, and the competition for these stations is reduced as most of the potential competition is off working the contest.
 
DXpeditions can be useful, but I would concentrate trying to work them during the later parts of the DXpedition, as the big guns are usually out in force during the first stages.
 
In a contest or DXpedition, I would advise against telling the DX you are working that you are QRP. That is extraneous information to him. He is trying to put as many stations in the log as possible as quickly as possible, and the QRP information slows him down.
 
The WARC bands are good hunting grounds as they seem less populated with DX chasers than the normal bands, but there seems to be as much DX on these bands. 10 MHz, or 30 m, is a particularly good band for QRP DXing. The power limits, 250 W, and the fact that most stations have modest antennas, means that the spread between the loudest stations on the band and the weakest is not that great.
 
There is often DX available on the SSB portion of the band when none is heard on CW, so if all you want are new countries I would also operate SSB in addition to CW. I know this may be heresay, but it is true. If you want DXCC, mixed mode is as good as CW only.
 
I would take a look at your antenna patterns with a program like EZNEC to see if you have any nulls in your antenna patterns. You can't work DX if you can't put a signal in the DX station's direction. Depending on what antenna you are using, you may have a peak toward a particular direction on one band, and a null in another one. You may wish to erect another antenna to fill in any nulls.