While I struggled to make myself heard in the opening minutes of the contest I did hear evidence of extraordinary rates from several contesters in the US. Only 15 minutes into the contest some had serial numbers above 40 and 50, apparently S & P since they were calling SP stations. It was amusing to see these callers asked to repeat their numbers, which were unexpected so early in the contest.
Is this for real? I don't see why not. Skilled operators can have a very high S & P rate by in select times and places. I've done it myself back when I was QRP and surely not the biggest gun on the bands! I have achieved rates as high as 4 per minute on SSB and 3 per minute on CW, sustained for 5 or more minutes. It's intense and hard work, and in my case done without assistance from skimmer and DX spotting networks.
Let's look at how it's done. It requires skills that can be learned, if you are willing.
Speed and the big gun
You don't have to be a big gun to achieve a high S & P rate, but it helps! Ideally you want to get through on the first call while sending your call once and fast. Big antennas and power help with that. Fast contacts ensure that you are soon hustling to find the next station to call.
Less time spent in a QSO is a key ingredient to achieving a high rate. But don't sacrifice accuracy.
Even if you're not a big gun you should strive to be quick. On CW don't go slow! Send at the other guy's speed even if you have difficulty copying that fast. Assume they can copy as fast as they send because it's almost always true. Presumably you already copied his call so you're already mostly there and you need not feel intimidated.
On SSB it helps to use voice memories. There is a risk of talking too fast and poor enunciation when you're in pursuit of a high rate. Send a recording that has been thoroughly vetted for intelligibility and rapidity to avoid the need to repeat your call. Use phonetics and don't use unconventional phonetics.
At the end of the QSO don't stick around. As soon as I hear the "TU" being sent I am spinning the dial or clicking on a spot. Seconds count so don't waste any. Even when I tune in the next station I will not stick around if they are struggling with a QSO since that, too, wastes my time. Self spot it and move on. You can come back later.
With assistance you can save time between completing one QSO and pouncing on another station. Skimmers are best for this since many stations are not manually spotted if most people consider them to be uninteresting: for example, not rare and not a desirable multiplier. Skimmers aren't subjective so they'll tell you about everyone you have yet to work.
Clean slate: call first, copy later
At the start of the contest and every new band thereafter you have a clean slate; that is, every station you hear is workable. This is an opportunity to pump up your rate since you do not need to know the other station's call sign before you call: it cannot possibly be a dupe! (Well, except for the minority of contests where you can't work a station once per band.)
As soon as you hear the tail end of a CQ or QSO just jump right in and call. You can fill in the call after they work you, when they will typically close with "TU QQ9XYZ". This is a great way to increase your S & P rate, perhaps doubling it. There is no rule that says you must copy the call sign before you call them.
Occasionally the station won't sign afterwards but that is insufficient reason to defer calling before you get the call sign. Stuff the frequency in a VFO and move on to get it a minute or two later if you must. This is low risk, high reward operating. Go ahead and live on the edge! If you still fail at getting the call (they might even QSY) you can wipe them from the log. In my opinion they are at fault for not frequently signing.
By now you must have realized that these techniques can be considered aggressive, even very aggressive. However, this is about being aggressive in pursuing QSOs for a bigger score, not belligerence against other contest participants.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone and try it sometime. Watch the clock and count the seconds between QSOs. Meeting and overcoming challenges can be rewarding. The tension you feel comes from pushing hard. That's a good sign. Soon enough you can relax and return to normal operating.
Why do it at all?
Other than very short contests it can be argued that all this S & P hard work is unnecessary since rates eventually slow for everyone and you have the leisure to work stations later on if you haven't worked them earlier. You cannot count on this. Working them sooner rather than later can make the difference between working them and not working them at all.
In a contest where you must S & P you should therefore strive to do so at speed and as early in the contest as you can. Here are a few reasons why:
- They might not be on later. Most contesters operate far less than the maximum allowable time.
- Propagation can quickly deteriorate. If you haven't worked them yet you might be able to work them later.
- Getting the relatively easy ones out of the way sooner gives you time to hunt down and work more multipliers or focus on marginal bands (e.g. 10 and 160) where you need to spend more time to make each QSO.
Give it a try
I sometimes imagine how useful it would be to have a training tool like Morse Runner for S & P rather than just for running. Fast, accurate S & P is necessary for building up your contest scores, even if you are a big gun. It can also be a lot of fun.