The basic idea is to maximize your number of contacts, and do it in a manner that gets you the most points for each contact. Remember, base contacts are worth 2 points each, mobile contacts are worth 5, and portable contacts are worth 10 points each. Each point is an entry in the drawing for the prizes. Plan ahead. Have a well thought out game plan that focuses on all five of the following topics. Each offers ways to improve your number of contacts and points:
1 - Antenna Improvements:
If you're a base station, you probably already have a good antenna mounted in a high location. Keep in mind, the recommended signal polarization is vertical, however a horizontally polarized 2 meter beam (generally used for SSB) may still work well in this contest. Though it’s commonly understood that cross polarization may result in a signal loss of 20 db or more, that was measured in free space with no signal reflections. In real world situations, especially when “the other” antenna is not perfectly vertical, a horizontal beam may perform quite well.
If you're mobile, you probably have a quarter wave magnetic mount antenna on your vehicle. It's significantly better than a rubber ducky, but using a higher gain antenna (such as a J-pole) or a directional antenna (such as a beam or quad) will increase both your transmit and receive range. Elsewhere on the contest web site are plans for several inexpensive 2 meter antennas that you can build. They are small enough to be transported in a vehicle and temporarily set up and used for this contest. They can also be used to increase your range for other 2 meter ham radio activities. Consider building and testing one or more of them before the contest.
If you are portable, that rubber ducky antenna that came with your HT is your biggest liability. Check the antennas suggested elsewhere on the contest web site and strongly consider building and testing one (or more) in advance. You will be surprised at the increase in both transmitted and received signal levels they provide. Even if you decide to use your "rubber ducky", consider adding an 18 inch piece of wire to your as a counterpoise. Called a “Tiger Tail”, it will measurably increase the efficiency of your antenna. See the antenna construction section for more details. Remember, you can transport you antenna in a vehicle, take it out and hold it when using it with your HT, and this will be considered portable operation. Lastly, if your antenna is at body level your body may act as a shield. Try reorienting yourself if you hear a signal that you can't contact.
2 - High locations:
VHF signals tend to travel in a straight line. Discounting unusual conditions such as ducting, sporadic E, meteor scatter, etc., VHF signals bend only slightly around the curvature of the Earth, so ranges are usually limited to somewhat beyond line of sight. Keep in mind that exceptions to this rule of thumb are common. One way to improve your chances of making contacts is to go to locations that are relatively high in elevation and offer unobstructed views towards the horizon. You may be able to operate mobile if you can get your car to a high location, but many more locations are available if you are willing to go portable. Consult topographic maps to find high areas around you that will help get your signal out. Keep in mind that the top level of a parking deck may be a great place to operate from. Also, if you or a friend live in the top floors of an apartment or dormitory that can be an excellent place to make contacts from.
Hams who specialize in VHF operation regularly turn to high elevation locations to operate from. A web site, Summits on the Air (SOTA) has useful tips and a database of high elevation locations around the world. Go to http://www.sota.org.uk and spend some time researching tips and locations in Ohio for this contest.
Additionally, topographic maps can be found online and printed to help locate high elevation locations. One web site (there are others) is: http://www.mytopo.com/maps
Many Ohio counties have publically available (online) GIS (Geographic Information System) sites that, among other things, can produce topographic displays showing elevation information.
3 - More power:
Another way to improve how far your signal is heard is to increase your transmitted power. Higher power does not improve your received signal (as a better antenna or higher location does) but it can sometimes be the difference between a successful contact and noise. With base and mobile rigs, high power is often 50 or more watts. Due to the line of sight issue, the law of diminishing returns starts to set in as you increase power beyond that. For portable operations, most HTs top out at about 5 watts on a fully charged battery. In this case, a power booster or "brick" amplifier may significantly increase your ability to get a signal out. If you decide to use one, remember you will have to carry enough batteries to power it if you want to make portable contacts. If you power any part of your station with your car battery (unless you take the battery out of your vehicle), it's a mobile contact.
4 - Mobility and location:
According to the rules, you can contact the same station for a new valid contact if at least one of you is in a different grid square. In this part of the country, a 6 character grid square is roughly 3 by 4 miles, so it doesn't take a lot of travel to get to a new grid square. In fact, if you can locate yourself at the intersection of 4 grid square corners, you can contact each station 4 times by simply moving from one grid square to another (and if you're walking, you're portable, maximizing the point value of each contact).
Note: Location can determine the validity of a contact, particularly later in the contest. You can help avoid duplicate contacts when you call CQ if you follow your call sign with your operating mode and the last 2 characters of your grid square. For example, W8XYZ in grid square EN91ca would call 'W8XYZ portable ca calling CQ Squares contest'. You might also want to announce you're in a new location for your first several CQ calls after moving to a new grid square.
How do you find your grid square location? Check the section on the contest website that describes the Maidenhead coordinate system. It includes the names of apps for the Android and iPhone smart phones that use the built in GPS unit to tell you your grid square location in real time. Don't have a smartphone? The contest website also identifies several web sites that let you see and print maps that have grid squares on them. Figure this out in advance and print maps for where you are operating. You can even use a GPS unit and record the latitude and longitude of a location and go look it up on a map to determine what grid square they are in.
5 - Operating style: Hunt and Pounce or Run Mode?
In most ham contests participants operate in one of two styles called "hunt and pounce" and "run mode". The choice of which style to operate is based on experience, how many other contesters are active on the band, and personal operating preferences, but both styles are necessary and provide the opportunity to make contacts. You can change modes whenever you feel like it.
"Hunt and pounce" style involves tuning your radio through the contest frequencies listening for a station that you want to contact. When you hear them call "CQ Contest", you come back to them with your call. If they hear you, they respond with your call sign and the two of you exchange necessary information (the "exchange") for the contest. When the contact is complete, you resume scanning frequencies and they remain on the frequency and continue calling CQ.
"Run mode" style involved finding an open frequency, confirming it's open by calling "Is this frequency in use? W8XYZ" (assuming you're W8XYZ). If you get no response, you start calling CQ until "hunt and pounce" stations find you. If someone comes back and tells you the frequency is in use, find another frequency and try again.
Successful contesting requires a mix of styles. Most new contesters prefer "hunt and pounce", but run mode often yields more contacts per hour.
Set up your rig properly:
Set the tuning increment to 5KHz. While some contesters may be using the channelized 15KHz spacing, others may be using 5KHz steps. When you hear someone, tune for the clearest signal before transmitting.
Turn off PLtones and Tone Squelch
Make sure you're in simplex mode - the frequency display should not change when you hit transmit.
Make sure you're on a high power setting (especially for HTs)
Know how to adjust your squelch and set it just above the noise. For weak signals, be ready to open the squelch and listen for stations "in the noise".
Don't forget to bring:
Logging tools, either a laptop with the logging software or paper field logs that you can print off the contest web site.
Grid Square maps (if needed).
Topographic maps with high elevation sites marked.
A clip board.
Several pens and/or pencils.
Weather appropriate clothing and boots.
Extra charged batteries (if you're portable)
Coax adapter to couple your radio to your antenna.
Android or iPhone (if you have one) with QTH app and don’t forget a charger cord
And most importantly, have fun!