A few mornings ago I was sharing an early morning brew at the local beanery with my buddy Pete. He’s a local ham and dedicated low-power enthusiast who always seems to be working on some new and interesting project generating solder smoke. This time though, it was me holding forth about the recently concluded CQWW DX CW contest and the handful of morsels I plucked from the aether.

“Snagged Mauritius, Rodriguez Island, Corsica, and Svalbard among others so it was a good effort for me. I’m no contester, but I enjoy the big DX contests for the opportunity they provide to add to my DXCC totals. I mean, with a hundred watts and a vertical I’m no Big Dog DXer but it’s fun when the bands cooperate”, said I.

Pete interjected, “there, right there, that’s the third time this morning you used that phrase, what does it mean?” “Who is a Big Dog DXer?” “Are you?”

“Certainly not”, I exclaimed, “I’m just a newbie in this pursuit. I don’t think there’s an official definition for it, I guess it’s just my way of separating serious DXers from those who approach it more casually”.

Since there is no “official” definition I made up my own. Others may disagree and that’s okay, but I consider a fellow with 300 confirmed to be a Big Dog DXer, assuming he has the wallpaper to back it up.

I frequently bump into hams who tell me, “I have DXCC, I’ve worked more than a hundred, I mean I never sent in the paperwork because I hate the ARRL, but believe me, I’ve worked more than a hundred”.

It’s not that I don’t believe them, but quaint as that notion might be, it skips the most difficult part of the quest. Anyone can work a hundred different entities (and more) with a little time and effort. It’s easily accomplished with a decent contest station on a good weekend. But the total effort also requires obtaining confirmations and sending in the paperwork in order to qualify for the award. The confirmation being the hardest part.

I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been for an older generation of DX chasers to work a much needed entity then tuck a green stamp into an envelope and send it via postal mail to some far-flung corner of the planet hoping against hope for a return that might take years — if it comes at all.

That task has become even more challenging for those still intent on trading paper cards. Global mail has always been somewhat questionable, but it became downright impossible in many regions of the world thanks to Covid. Meanwhile card bureaus and similar services continue to close shop.

I don’t believe it’s even possible to go from zero to 300 DXCC in the 21st century without using some form of electronic confirmation, and it has to be a form accepted by the ARRL, which means LoTW. And despite the inroads made in recent years by that service, I still only see about a 60% return rate from it.

The less than perfect return rate means I may have to work the same entity multiple times before finally getting it confirmed. I can’t even begin to put into words the soul-crushing feeling that comes from working an all time new one only to discover the operator doesn’t use LoTW or sometimes any other means of confirmation either. Damn it!

(An even worse feeling comes from working an ATNO and seeing the operator claim to use LoTW, but then noticing his last upload was 11 years ago. Just kill me now!)

No doubt the same problem existed for the previous generation of radio operators whose postal cards may have gotten lost or stolen in the mail, if they ever even arrived at their final destination.

You can say you have “DXCC” all you want, until the paper is hanging on the wall it’s just air quotes made from hot air.

Those who have 300 confirmed with the wallpaper to back it up have achieved something truly difficult with radio and I’m happy to call such an operator a Big Dog DXer.

I hope to join your pack one of these days…