I never know what I might encounter while researching geographic oddities on the Internet. As a case in point, I came across an entire subculture of people as fascinated by counties as myself while I was putting together my recent series on the Smallest County in the United States. They call themselves the County Hunters. From their website:
There are many aspects within Amateur Radio and County Hunting is just one of them. The goal of County Hunting is to make a two way contact with a station in each of the 3077 counties in the United States. CQ Publishing offers a large certificate and plaque for confirmation of each of these contacts. The award is also available to Short Wave Listeners on a heard basis which must also be confirmed.
While I’ve got a pretty good handle on geography topics, I must profess my profound ignorance of all things relating to amateur radio, so for those of you out there who are involved in this activity I apologize in advance for the many gaffes I’m sure to make on this entry. Like any technical discipline it has its own lexicon, and it’s easy for an outsider such as myself to get lost in the stew of frequencies, call signs, abbreviations, configurations and practices. Even to my untrained eye however, it’s possible to see that there are a couple of different things going on:
- People are relaxing comfortably in their homes with HAM radios trying to “collect” as many different counties as they can. Each time they establish contact with someone in a new county it is documented and tallied. Awards can be earned for certain milestones. The granddaddy for this particular pursuit is the collection of all 3077 counties in the United States once or multiple times(1). This is a mostly passive activity. Anyone with a license, the proper equipment and sufficient time and willpower can become king of this mountain.
- However, folks aren’t just sitting around waiting for each county to pop up randomly. Otherwise the 3077 very exact contacts would become nearly impossible. There’s another group of people driving around in mobile units broadcasting at a feverish pitch as they reach each county line. They may be retirees in RV’s, long-distance truckers, business travelers, or even folks who simply plan their entire vacations around traveling to and transmitting from particularly rare counties(2). This is a highly active endeavor that requires logistics, multitasking, adaptability, time and financial resources. Many of the participants belong to the Mobile Amateur Radio Awards Club (MARAC) and take pride in their ability to keep their stations open in the most adverse conditions.
There’s quite an interesting interplay going on here, and an entire community and fellowship that supports these collection activities, including websites, newsletters, conventions and organized events, in addition to the actual radio contacts. There are also ways for those who are missing certain counties to hook up with those who may be traveling within the targeted area. Overall, it provides a reason for people to travel into some of the most beautiful and remote corners of the United States, and for the rest of the community to appreciate those spots vicariously. For a geography and map enthusiast such as myself, and as someone who hunts counties on the ground as a solo pursuit, I find that gratifying.
Best of luck, County Hunters. Hunt on!
(1) That number doesn’t include Independent Cities and some other “County Equivalents” tracked by the Census Bureau if you’re wondering why that number seems a little low compared to the generally recognized 3141.
(2) I’ve planned vacations around much more frivolous things, so I certainly won’t be casting any stones.