Stalking decently by day is bad enough, but it is still more difficult when it comes to stalking by night, and yet there are so many valuable lessons to be learnt out of a night stalk that it is an essential part of stalking training as a whole.
The first point that should be brought out is that it is foolishness, amounting almost to criminality, to send a young Scout out in strange country on his own. All of us have rather a fear of the dark. The trees and fences become magnified, sounds become intensified, the ground becomes more uneven, until gradually we feel a sinking sensation inside which warns us that it is time to take a grip of ourselves. But when we have become accustomed to these apparent changes we begin to appreciate the subtle beauty of the dark and become "quick to read the noises of the night." Let the young Scout become accustomed to the change by degrees, first of all in companionship with the others of his Patrol, and then with one pal, before he starts to stalk on his own by night.
The game known as "Night Scouting," where the effect of darkness is obtained by the wearing of crepe masks, is especially valuable in practicing for real night work. The Scouter can see what is going on all the time, and so can the other Patrols who are waiting their turn to play. The Scouter can criticize, advise, and admonish as the game proceeds, and teach by practice which is always better than theory. The others can see the mistakes that are being made and can profit by them.
The great difference between stalking by day and stalking by night is that in the former the stalker relies on his eyes in order to approach his quarry, while in the latter his eyes are of very little use to him Because of this more dependence has to be placed on the senses of hearing, smell and touch.
Loss of sight brings with it loss of direction, and uncertainty of the line one is taking. You can experiment with this in the daytime and see how a person who has been blindfolded practically invariably diverges to a flank after a certain distance, and how as soon as the divergence has commenced it becomes greater and greater until the blindfolded person eventually walks in a kind of spiral. This is the reason, too, why one so frequently hears of people getting lost in the jungle or in mist.
To remedy this inevitable tendency it is necessary to take precautions when you start on your night stalk. If it is a clear starlit night you will experience no difficulty, as the stars will give you your direction provided you take your bearings when you start. Even in the dark, try to make a note of the landmarks that you pass, taking care to glance back at them after you have passed so that you can see their different appearance from the other side.
If there are no stars to guide you, then your difficulties are increased. The wind may help, if it is constant, and if you note its direction at the start. There may be a slightly stronger light in the west, or in the east, it depends on the time of night, which will give you a rough indication of direction.
But in the main you will have to depend upon the senses of hearing, smell and touch to help you and guide you. At night, when there is a stillness in the air; a man's voice, the bark of a dog, or the rumble of a train, will carry a long distance as compared with these same sounds by day. If you place your ear to the ground, or against the end of a stick that is touching the ground, you can frequently hear footsteps a long way off. At first you will find it difficult to identify the exact quarter from which a sound comes. In this case it is a help to close up one ear and listen with the other only.
On the other hand the noises that you make will be correspondingly intensified, and so it behooves you to be very careful as to your own movements. The methods of stalking you utilize will be the same as those by day, but you will find it more difficult to keep your balance, and will find the obstacles to your path apparently greatly increased. If you want to make a simple experiment to prove how the loss of the sense of sight disturbs the power of balance, stand on tiptoe and, still standing no tiptoe, shut your eyes; almost immediately you will discover a tendency to overbalance forwards.
At first you will find that you are certain to make more noise as you stalk, in which case do what you can to move only when there is a covering noise in existence, such as the wind in the trees, or, if you are in a thickly populated country, the noise of a motorcar passing down an adjacent road.
When you are up against others in a night stalking game, once you are within touch of each other, it is best to keep as low down as possible. The dangers of the skyline have been referred to before; they are especially grave at night, so that if you are stalking in more or less open country in the upright crouching position and an opponent is stalking flat, he will probably be the first to spot an enemy.
The sense of smell will aid you not only to discover an enemy or your quarry but also to fix your whereabouts if you are in known country. The Gauchos, of South America, can find their way at night by smelling and tasting the grass from time to time. The skippers of many trawlers and fishing boats can tell their whereabouts by smelling the sand and mud brought up from the sea bottom. Smoke, whether of tobacco or of a fire, can be smelt an incredibly long distance at night. In The Refugees Conan Doyle comments on this: "There is little wind and so I think that we may light our pipes without danger. With a good breeze I have known a burning pipe fetch up a scalping party from two mile distance; but the trees stop scent and the Iroquois nose are less keen than the Sioux and the Dakota."
On the other hand, a scratch of a match or a spark fire can be readily seen.
The sense of touch will enable you to feel your way in the dark. The Chief Scout reminds us that Burnham, the great American Scout, who made his way back to the main body when Wilson's party were massacred on the Shangani in Matabeleland, did so during the nigh by feeling his way along the track made by the party in coming.
So encourage Scouts to walk out at night and practice by listening for sounds and learning their meaning, by looking at the stars and the lighter horizon, by distinguishing shadows from objects at a distance, by using their sense of smell to find out what is happening round about, and by feeling and identifying different objects in the dark
One can learn a great deal of what is happening round about just by lying doggo, whether by night or day. At night it is an easy task to lie hidden, provided you keep still, and keep your senses alert to what is going on in the animal and bird world. By day it is more difficult. But even then you will be surprised to see how soon the wild inmates of a wood cease to pay attention to a motionless figure, and go about their ordinary business as if no interloping observer were near.
Although strictly speaking Stalking implies movement, still there are times in which more can be observed by staying in the same place, and by lying in wait for birds and animals.
Bird photographers now adopt "hides" in which to conceal themselves, so that their involuntary movements are not noticed by their feathered friends. At first these hides were very elaborate affairs, stuffed cows, artificial trees, and so on. Now it has been realized that a rough shelter of boughs or sacking suffices to allay the birds' uneasy qualms.
A hide built in the nearby woods or on the moors will act as a good observation post to any Scout who desires to study natural habits. And it is to be remembered that a knowledge of these habits will help him in his stalking too, for he should be alive to the warnings given him by animals and birds. Startled birds, for instance, spell danger, and practically all varieties have an alarm note which differs from their ordinary calls. A hide up a tree is good, provided the hider realizes he is not hidden when he sits across a branch: he must conform to the lines of the tree if he desires to escape notice, and lie along a branch. A study of trees will help the choice of the most suitable to use for hiding purposes.
I have endeavored to show that from the Scout point of view stalking is a useful exercise in itself, bringing out qualities of eye, ear, nose and brain which will prove useful in after life. It appeals to boys and men of all ages, and in the actual practice of it there is a definite purpose in view. It may be just to get over the ground unseen: it may be to pit one's wits and abilities against those of another fellow: it may be to observe bird and animal life: it may be to make sketches or take photographs. Whatever the object is, it does not include the capture or killing of any animal or bird; so far as we are concerned, the gun does not enter into the picture, our snap-shooting is done with the camera only.
A great advantage in taking up Stalking practice is that the smaller boy is not handicapped in any way; in fact, if anything, he has the advantage for he has less to conceal! Stalking games and practices can therefore be utilized without the necessity of having to depart in any way from the ordinary Patrol as a unit, even if the ages of the Scouts in the Patrol do differ.
The art of stalking is not easy to acquire, but comes only by much practice, and so one must not be disheartened by apparent failures, for each failure teaches something that will be remedied next time. Although at first it will appear impossible to get through a wood without being seen or heard by any of the others, after a time more proficiency will come, until at length success is achieved.
Training in Tracking