Problems with the Meteorscatter-Sprint contest?

The Meteorscatter-Sprint contest takes place, each year, for a period of 48 hours around the peak of the August Perseids meteor shower. The rules don’t state any specific reason for the contest but, apart from providing the usual contest thrills, one assumes one of its main aims must be to promote activity?

From my perspective, it became apparent during 2013’s Perseids shower that this contest is having a somewhat negative impact, especially (but not only) when it comes to attempting ODX (extreme distance) contacts. I’ll try, as best I can, to explain…

Firstly, there is really no need to promote activity at the very peak of the year’s best meteor shower! The August Perseids is widely known to be very reliable and has been a focus of activity, including expeditions, for decades. Any promotion of activity would be far better targeted a week, or even a few days, before or after the peak: Conditions are often excellent during these times, but activity (i.e. stations “on the air”) has never been anywhere near as good as at the peak – this can only be partly due to the current sprint contest because it has been true for many, many years.

The August Perseids provides a high ZHR (Zenith Hourly Rate) at a quite predictable peak time, that makes it ideal for attempting extreme distance QSOs. However, even at the very peak of the shower, distances significantly greater than 2000km will often take a long time to complete, perhaps upwards of an hour. Unfortunately the sprint contest implicitly encourages entrants to only attempt QSOs that will take very little time to complete: It is, after all, a “sprint” and the scoring system is based purely on the number of contacts made, so it’s natural that entrants want to make contacts at the highest possible rate – who can blame them? I’m not sure it’s really possible to add enough bias in the scoring system to make it worth people’s time attempting QSOs over extreme distances, but if the contest is to remain at the peak of the shower then it should be considered… please!

The end result is that it becomes intensely frustrating to be receiving meteor scatter signals from several stations who are more than 2400km away, but have no chance to contact them because they are only interested in “quick and easy” QSOs. Of course, as it stands, once the contest is finished they are then free to try an hour-long sked, but the irony is that the peak of the shower has then passed and a QSO is not possible…

I make no bones about the fact that I’m a DX-er and therefore have my own biases. I enjoy stretching the boundaries of what is possible at VHF and I think, in general, contests are a great way of achieving that purpose. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the Meteorscatter-Sprint contest does not!

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