As I pulled from my driveway early Saturday morning, I tuned my in-vehicle transceiver to 146.925 mhz. Two deer hunters were chatting about outside weather conditions. While visibility was clear where I was, these radio men described heavy fog in the area near my hunting destination. It was a live, on-the-ground weather report. It was 4 am in the morning.
"Good morning, this is W9NSE-Mobile," I broke in. What ensued was a fascinating — yet typical — amateur radio contact.
One of the radio stations responding was Don KC9OAA who lived very near my hunting destination. The signal was rock-solid and the distance was about 40 miles. Don introduced himself as a disabled hunter who suffers from a crippling neurological disease. His sons deal with the same affliction. We immediately hit it off. Like me, Don is also an avid handgun hunter, and the discussion ranged from handgun calibers for deer, to how his disabled son recently took a mule deer doe out in Wyoming.
By the time I arrived at my hunting spot, forty-five minutes had passed and I’d made a new friend. The time flew by.
This evoked some thoughts about how amateur (ham) radio is ideally suited for deer hunters and other sportsmen:
1. It’s a reliable, independant means of communication. Most hunters are familiar with the safety benefits of cell phones and commercial handheld "walkie-talkies" — but these modes are less-than-ideal forms that borrow from amateur radio technology. In fact, cell phones only get signals if they’re within range of a cell phone tower; by contrast, mobile or portable amateur radio stations generate their own signal — an independant recieve/transmit radio station — and other than the equipment and license itself needed to operate — there’s no per minute charges or plans. It’s FREE.
2. You enjoy global, long-range communication. While commercially-available handheld radios popular with sportsmen advertise line-of-sight signals of up to 5 miles, over rough terrain the actual distance these radios cover is usually much shorter. However, amateur radio stations routinely communicate much further. My longest contact from the mobile station in my vehicle (in Wisconsin) was on the 6 meter frequency band with a station out in Prince George, Virginia — over 800 miles! There’s no reason that any deer hunter should ever be unable to communicate — no matter how remote an area he or she is hunting.
3. You get access to local networks. Amateur radio operators have been "chatting" long before the Internet or chat rooms were even a figment of anyone’s imagination. On-air "nets" allow amateurs to discuss any topic under the sun, but there are plenty of opportunities to discuss topics relevant to deer hunters — like weather and road conditions, local hunting pressure, rut activity, news about big bucks spotted or taken in area, etc.
Many people might assume amateur radio technology is outdated. That it’s merely a hobby for senior citizens with too much time on their hands. But the truth is, communications are as popular as ever — every teenager has a cell phone — it’s just that most deer hunters don’t realize they’re using a much watered-down form of communication that was borrowed from amateur radio. Text messaging? Amateurs have been doing that for over a hundred years: it’s called Morse Code.
As hunters realize that amateur radio is the most versatile and effective way to get a signal on the airwaves, could it be the next big trend in deer hunting? I hope so, as the reasons to invest the initial work required to acquire an amateur license are compelling.
Does ham radio give hunters a safe, sure-fire way to communicate in the event of emergencies? Absolutely! The motto of amateur radio is "When All Else Fails" and amateur stations today play a key role in severe weather spotting, and disaster relief operations when phone lines and other conventional channels of communication go down.
As you consider that in less than an hour I was able to get a local weather and road conditions report, pre-dawn hunter vehicle traffic update, a good discussion on pistols for deer hunting, and got to meet a local contact who could be there, on the air, to relay any future emergency messages, it’s easy to see why I’m a proponent of radioactive deer hunting.
To learn more about amateur radio, and how to obtain an FCC license, check out the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) for more educational resources. Be sure to consult your state’s hunting regulations as many states prohibit the use of radio to aid in the direct pursuit or taking of game. This article advocates radio as an alternate form of general communications in the field.