I am using the word "trail" to designate a track that is made artificially, as opposed to the track that is made by the feet of an animal - human or otherwise. This is not a correct interpretation of the word, but my difficulty is that I wish to make a distinction between the tracking of human beings, or animals, or birds and the following of other signs on the ground or elsewhere.
The Scout is interested in developing his senses, sight, hearing, touch, smell, and his memory when he has to utilize these in order to take him from one place to another. We have seen how in Stalking appreciable development of the senses must take place as practice is gained. Now we want to discuss another means of development which brings movement into play.
In discussing Observation I have mentioned the necessity of working progressively, and of consolidating each step as far as possible before going on to the next. At the same time it is necessary to avoid drab repetition and to secure interest in training by providing a sufficient variety of different activities. To digress slightly, the most important secret of success in Scouting is to secure and sustain interest by providing variety in one's scheme of work and play.
In utilizing Trails, therefore, it is as necessary to work progressively, to go from stage to stage, and to provide variety.
The most elementary form of a trail is that made by scattering paper on the ground so that those behind can follow, that is to say, a paper chase. I have spent many of the most enjoyable mornings of my life paper chasing but on horseback. The slight tang in the air of the Indian cold weather morning as the sun was rising, the mist that made the first mud wall loom like the side a house, the streak of white paper leading to, and over it, the fidgeting of two score horses between the flags that marked the start, the rush to outstrip the ruck and so get safely over the first jump at the word "Go," are all memories to be preserved. And, despite all that, I must say that a paper chase makes a poor trail for Scouts to follow. The reason is not so much that it is untidy - we should pick up more paper than we throw down - as that observation is more or less at a discount. On foot it is a very simple matter to see the paper, so that speed becomes the only consideration. If a paper chase is used as a physical exercise well and good, utilize it, but you must understand that it has not much use as training in observation.
A further definite stage is reached, however, by the laying of a wool trail. Odds and ends of wool are cut up into pieces two or three inches long and are used in place of paper. Several benefits accrue thereby. By using different colors of wool, separate trails can be used for each Patrol more or less running along the same line and converging on a common point. The wool can be placed on bushes as well as on the ground, and be tied to branches or twigs overhead, thus training in all round observation.
When we come to tracking proper we will not always find all the signs we are following on the ground, so that practice in looking up as well as down is a good thing. If each Patrol is required to collect the pieces of wool as they go along, then more emphasis can be laid on observation and less on speed, and so the younger, weaker boy is not handicapped.
Progressive methods in this kind of trail can be utilized by scattering the wool thick at first, and gradually relocating the number of pieces put down and increasing the interval between each. An important point to remember is that anything strange, say an early flower, can be brought to the notice of those following by laying a piece of wool alongside it.
The next stage, possibly, is the introduction of Scout signs. The signs can be chalked on posts or trees. I must confess that I am not an advocate of the use of chalk to any extent - or made in the dust or mud with a pointed stick or the toe of a shoe. At first the signs should be made at frequent intervals and of large size, and then the distances between each sign should be increased, and their size decreased.
We reach another stage when we make the Scout signs with natural material, such as stones and twigs, and add other signs than those learnt in the Tenderfoot Text, such as war and peace signs.
Tracking irons can be utilized so long as it is clearly understood that they do not leave the trail that the animal himself would make. With the track die of, say, a roedeer you can make a series of marks which it is possible for others to follow, but the marks you make will just be the similitude of the impression made by one foot of the roedeer at odd intervals; you will not be able to imitate the complete track of a real roedeer, because you will not be able to place that die just as the roedeer himself would place each of his feet. In laying a trail with tracking irons it is best to start on easy, soft ground, and work up by degrees to hard, stony ground. In any case the distances between each successive mark should be quite short.
The last stage, so far as our progressive steps are concerned, is the laying of what is known as a nature trail. That is where the Scout in front leaves indications of the direction in which he has gone by tying small bunches of grass together, by breaking a twig, by turning over a leaf, by placing an oak leaf on a holly bush, and so on. It is a difficult trail to follow and should be laid quite short.
In this last stage especially anyone who is laying a trail for his Scouts to follow would be wise to get a third person to lay it for him and see if he himself could follow it, before setting his Scouts on the job. When you lay a trail yourself it seems quite easy to follow, but when you try to follow a trail laid by someone else it is not nearly such an easy matter! I have lost many Patrols, and had to scour the country to find them again through setting trails - which were obviously too hard for untrained Scouts.
So far I have just fleetingly mentioned the main stages that might be adopted in the laying of trails, but have not discussed variety. Naturally it is only possible to indicate a few of the varieties that are possible, and to leave it to you, with these suggestions to go upon, to think out others.
Luckily for both you and me, I have been permitted to reproduce an interesting and instructive article that appeared a year or two ago in the Ulster Scout under the title of "Some Unexpected Fun." Here it is:
"When we first started tracking we found it both disappointing and dull. We could not make a success of the tracking irons. We found a small iron cross driven into the bottom of the stave as good as the irons, and not so troublesome or so expensive. Still we found it dull. In our district turnings or cross roads are very far apart, and as we had not then (1908) the use of any place but the roads, we had to tramp a long distance if we wished to include a few turnings. This led us to consider the possibilities of chalk tracking in the town. It proved difficult in a way we had not expected. The town boys soon saw what we were at, and they either rubbed out or altered the signs before the trackers appeared.
"The amusement of the small crowd that used to gather at the corner can easily be imagined. We were made to look very foolish, and we did not like that. But 'he laughs best who laughs last.' Imagine the astonishment of the town boys when they found that by rubbing out the sign they ceased to hold up the trackers! We managed this by making two signs, one as usual at the corner, another some twenty yards down the street to be followed. The latter was made by a second Scout who was more or less unnoticed because of the deliberate fuss made by his chum at the corner.
"Later on we dropped the conventional signs. The town boys saw two Scouts come along, stand at the corner for a time, and then pass on. They were followed later by other Scouts who looked for a sign that apparently was not there. The town boys did not find out for a long time that the first Scouts when standing with their backs to the wall made one, two, or three dots with chalk, meaning turn right, left, or straight on. They were all the more puzzled because the Scout who first saw the sign would go to the opposite corner, call out loudly, 'Here it is!' and then all would bolt off in the opposite and right direction. After this we turned our attention to wool, usually the remains of a ball or an old sock. This we wound round a bit of wood two inches deep, cut it along both sides, and tied into small bundles. At first we used bright colors, and left at least three pieces at each corner. Later we used dull colors, and left only one piece. The town boys rarely found out what we were looking for, and if they did they were unable to interfere.
"But the greatest fun was still to come. Standing at their usual corner, the town boys saw two Scouts come along and pass on without stopping to make any sign. Trackers appeared, found some sign and passed on. The first Scouts had a small paper bag from which they dropped a small quantity of sawdust, or sand, or crushed brick. We had still another method. Two Scouts came along, one apparently looking for something, the other sharpening a small stick. We can excuse the town boys for not finding out that the Scout sharpening the stick was laying the trail with his chips. They did find out that 'A Scout is not a fool'!"
That short article conveys its own lesson, but I will rub in three points. First, difficulties stimulate our imagination and are there just to be overcome. Second, two persons should preferably lay a trail. Third, the signs made should not necessarily attract the attention of anyone but a Scout!
Another variety of trails may be mentioned - Treasure Hunts. Whether there is any treasure at the end of the trail or not, it does not so much matter, the main point is that a certain number of diverse clues have to be followed up. The Treasure Hunt written out as a story is especially valuable, as not only can it lay a trail, but also it can test the trailers by giving them certain activities to do. A story is written round some historical or legendary person and blanks are left on the written page for the trailers to fill in from their own observations. The clues used to indicate the trail can be many and various. In town they can take the form of street names, shop signs, post pillars, statues, trees, fire plugs. In the country trees, gates, view points, conventional signs, sticks and stones can be used.
There are two points that still need mention, one is the importance of obliterating any marks that are made on the ground or elsewhere when the trail is followed. If left they may mislead other parties, and, if blatantly made, are apt to become an eyesore - and the other that permission should always be obtained when it is desired to lay a trail over private land. Most owners of land will give the necessary permission readily enough, but it may go hard with the trespasser; and quite rightly, too.
There is a great amount of fun to be got out of laying and following different trails, and they have great value in training Scouts to take up the more difficult practices of tracking proper later on.
Training in Tracking