I have purposely combined the word Stalking with the word Observe in the heading to this chapter because I have been told that Stalking does not properly enter into the subject of Tracking. Most assuredly, however, Stalking necessitates observation, and very frequently it is a preliminary stage to a long track, more especially when it has been badly done. At times, however, the position of the two are reversed and a stalk ensues in consequence of success in following a track.
My only doubt has been where to place the subject in the book, whether to place it before discussing the various details of Tracking or afterwards. I have decided to place it before for two reasons in particular. Firstly, because the ability to stalk does call for the proper exercise of the senses of seeing, hearing and smelling and of observation as a whole. Secondly, because the opportunities of practicing Stalking are more numerous and more varied in the average Troop than the opportunities of practicing Tracking, while that practice and the playing of Stalking games will undoubtedly make the Scouts eager to go on to Tracking and will thus enable them to overcome the greater difficulties of making a start with that activity.
Well, after that preamble, what is Stalking?
It is the art of approaching an object under cover or by stealth, but is more generally described as the ability to move rapidly - or fairly rapidly - from place to place, without being seen and without being heard, while at the same time seeing and observing everything that is going on. Moreover, the true art of Stalking is to exercise this ability where there is good cover, where the cover is scanty, and even where there is no cover at all.
Personally, I hold that it is necessary that every Scout should learn the main principles of Stalking before he can practice Tracking in its wider sense.
No matter what the object of the Stalk may be, three important points must always be kept in mind - the blending of colors, stillness and wind. It is necessary, at the outset, to elaborate these three points carefully.
In approaching an object, the greatest care must be exercised to obtain a background blending with the color of the clothes worn. It is an impossible task to change the color of the background, but it is possible, other things being equal, to change one's position against a more suitable background, and to start the stalk from that quarter. But it is more important to adapt the clothing to suit the type of ground over which one may expect to stalk.
This is not so difficult as it may appear at first, since neutral tints merge with different types of ground coloring. The Scout uniform is very suitable for stalking purposes, and the colors of shorts, shirts or jerseys, and scarves selected by the Troop should be chosen with one eye at least on their out-of-door and stalking advantages.
A one-color uniform, say khaki, is neither necessary nor advisable since it is a good plan to break up the color as much as possible, in order that the outline of the figure should not be so easily recognized at a distance. In Scotland, for instance, the kilt, of the hunting tartan of any clan, and a khaki or grey shirt provide a very suitable stalking kit. There is considerable controversy as to whether the general coloring of stockings should be light or dark. I have tried many experiments with very varying success, but am inclined to vote for the light coloring for stalking purposes, following the practice of nature, which is for the under parts of birds and animals to be of a considerably lighter texture than their upper parts.
The Chief Scout tells us in Scouting for Boys (see Chapter V) how to stalk without being seen too much. Experience shows that these points need emphasis and so I make no apology for reiterating some of them here in the form of injunctions!
Beware of exposing yourself on the skyline, or you will be quickly seen. It looks very nice at "the pictures" to see a Sheriff's posse pursuing a band of cattle stealers silhouetted against the sky on the top of a ridge, but in actual fact the pretty picture they make would not help towards the capture of the cattle stealers.
If carrying anything which shines, field-glasses, camera, and so on, be careful to see that the sun does not make it shine like a mirror. In my still more tenderfoot days, I remember setting out on an important and secret journey with an unmasked axe stuck into the straps of my pack. That axe heliographed my movements to all and sundry for quite two miles before I discovered the traitor!
If you think you have been spotted remain perfectly still until your quarry turns its head away, and then move slowly and quietly under cover. Even when right out in the open there is no cause for alarm, provided your background harmonizes with your clothes, and you remain perfectly motionless, or "freeze" as it is technically called. You will certainly arouse suspicion, and probably alarm, if you disappear suddenly. I shall have more to say about the art of freezing later on.
Take advantage of all cover; slightly undulating ground is frequently quite sufficient to cover your approach, if you lie down flat and crawl. Don't, however, ignore a round-about road if it is easier going and quieter than a more direct one; you will get there just as quick, if not quicker.
The actual methods of progression in stalking I will leave to the next chapter, but I might emphasize one or two other particulars in regard to stillness now.
When working through woods and undergrowth, don't brush through the small bushes but lift them aside with your hand. It delays you a little in time, but it is worth it. I remember once being after a leopard that had been terrorizing a village. I had a most inadequate weapon in hand which rather terrorized me but necessitated getting well up to the animal if the shot was to have any chance of success. I had not done so badly and was getting within certain range when my orderly, who was some paces behind, brushed rather impatiently through some scrub jungle. I did not see that leopard again!
When standing still to listen - ears are a very important part of the stalker's equipment - avoid, if possible, halting with the sun shining on any part of you; get into the shade as, otherwise, the slightest movement on your part will attract attention. All stalking animals realize this; for instance, a leopard stalking on a moonlight night invariably stops under the shadow of a bush when taking observations. The clothes he wears are also specially adapted for the purpose.
Generally speaking, in stalking try to avoid working with the sun in your face, especially when the sun is low on the horizon in the morning or in the evening. There are several reasons for this: it is difficult to get a good snapshot with the sun in your eyes, it is difficult to see and distinguish an object in the distance, and it is easier for your quarry to spot you with the sun shining on your clothes. All this despite the fact that you will be told later on that it is easier to make out a track with the sun shining towards you and so casting a shadow on the track.
The wind is one of the stalker's greatest difficulties, and nothing but long practice will enable him to get even with it. It is easy to find out the actual direction of the wind by wetting a finger and holding it up to notice which side is coolest, and so to deduce that the wind is coming from that direction, but it is very difficult to say that that direction will remain constant for any length of time.
If you are to windward of your quarry, the chances are ten to one that you will be scented, and your quarry will be off before you get anywhere near it, unless it is a human animal. The ordinary animal's sense of smell is considerably higher than ours. It is said, for instance, that an elephant can scent a man at a thousand yards, whereas a man finds it extremely difficult to scent an elephant at a hundred yards, and yet the scent the elephant emits is considerably more penetrating than ours. Perhaps this accounts for the fact that a very famous elephant catcher, Sheik Madan, who caught more elephants than any other one man, and had many hairbreadth escapes, was not five feet high!
An experienced modern explorer and hunter is very emphatic on this question of scent and has written this in a letter:
"Remember you stink most disgustingly; the wind from your person, and everything you have touched, gives off a stench that every animal flies from as from the plague. The taint of your touch remains for weeks. The snail leaves behind him his trail marked in shining slime. Remember your every movement is similarly and permanently recorded for the animal world by a well marked band of stench, obvious and offensive to every nose."
And that, said John, is that!
On level ground the wind does not vary very much without warning, while a wind blowing uphill or along the side of a hill is usually steadier by far than one blowing downhill. Among our hills and mountains the clouds of mist higher up are a sure guide as to how the wind blows.
Many Tenderfoots go out into the woods or on to the moors looking for birds and animals, and expect to see them standing out against trees and bushes as in Landseer's pictures. They should be disabused of this before they start, and taught to look for an indistinct outline, in or behind a bush, or a black or white spot in the distance, or a shining spot, the sun's reflection from coat or plumage. The camouflage of animals and birds is a study in itself and a study of peculiar interest and fascination, but it is not possible to do more here than mention it.
One of our well-known Scouters used to tell a yarn of how he started off to stalk a herd of zebra and completely lost sight of them on the edge of a wood, and did not sight them again until he bumped into the hindquarters of one of the herd.
Many insects give extraordinary fine examples of camouflage and protective coloring, as, for instance, the twig caterpillar and the thorn moth.
On reaching likely ground, therefore, the stalker should not be in a hurry to get over it - about half a mile an hour is not too fast. His ears should be constantly on the alert. His eyes should always be on the move, sweeping far and near, right and left, up and down, looking not only at bushes and trees but through and beyond them. The untrained stalker usually looks at a bush, and quite fails to see what is behind it. He should be taught to stoop down occasionally and to look under bushes, and, invariably, he should move with the utmost caution and quiet. Then he may be rewarded with success.
Training in Tracking