In tracking, as in most other things, only practice makes perfect, and those who desire to know anything about it must practice the art as well as read up the theory of it. They must be prepared to go through a lot of hard slogging work, as the Khoji was, and to educate themselves by acquiring habits of observation and concentration, and by thinking instead of jumping to conclusions. Careful thought is required all the time.
If a Scout has to do his tracking alone - that is, to follow a track alone - he should move carefully along, placing his feet just behind each impression and taking great care not to obliterate them. When he is at fault he will know within a very short radius where to look for further indications. When the track disappears on hard ground, he should mark the spot where the last impression was seen and cast ahead, keeping to the same pace, and look at the more favorable ground for further "sign."
All this time he should be placing himself in the position of the man or animal he is following, so that his direction may change to where the latter would naturally have gone. If the track enters water he should not jump to the conclusion that his quarry has crossed at that spot. He may have taken to water to cover his tracks, and he may have emerged again on the same side, or at some point on the other bank not directly opposite the point where he first took to water. Remember Tiger's track again!
This method of getting to work on a difficult track is important, and so I will quote the illustration given in Scouting for Boys:
"I have watched a tracker in the Sudan following tracks where for a time they were quite invisible to the ordinary eye in this way. While the track was clear he made his own stride exactly to fit that of the track, so that he walked step for step with it, and he tapped the ground with his staff as he walked along - ticking off each footprint as it were. When the footprints disappeared on hard ground, or had been buried by drifting sand, he still walked on at the same pace, tap- tapping the ground with his staff at the spot where there ought to have been a footprint. Occasionally he saw a slight depression or mark, which showed that there had been a footprint there, and thus he knew he was still on the right line."
In tracking, as in everything to do with Scouting, it is better to work in couples, if possible. Each Scout should then take one flank of the track. If, for instance, the track is along a road, or well-beaten path, which renders it almost impossible to distinguish any track at all, it is best for each to take one side of the road and walk along the very edge. Then if the track moves to one sick, or leaves the road, it will be possible for one or other of the trackers to spot the traces of it.
If a Patrol is out on a tracking expedition, it is usually best for the Patrol-leader and one other Scout, the Second or another specially selected for his keen observation, to take the lead, and to let the others follow at a reasonable distance behind, with strict instructions that they are to keep quiet, and to keep their eyes open, and not depend upon the two in front.
If more than a Patrol is out on the job, and following the same track, there will not be much hope of doing any very successful tracking. A crowd is far more of a hindrance than a help.
And so, as usual, for actual practice in the art it is best for the Scoutmaster to get about with his Patrol-leaders only, and set them the task of getting their Patrols interested and on to the game.
Two simple means of giving practice and stimulating interest might be suggested.
First, in town or country a small tracking ground out-of-doors could be carefully smoothed and pieces of food of different natures exposed on it overnight. The next day the tracks that are almost certain to appear on the ground may be carefully examined. The food selected should be such as to tempt the birds and animals that are likely to frequent the locality.
Second, in the country in the winter there are many fields which are marked by the tracks of the stock in them. Each Scout in the Patrol can be given a different cow or sheep, say, and told off to trace, as far as he can, the actions of the cow or sheep up to the time he came into the field, and as far back as possible. This game could only be played provided the boys do not disturb the stock itself in any way.
Speaking generally, the Scoutmaster should try to aim at giving training in tracking more or less in the way, and in the order, in which the various aspects of the subject have been treated in this book. It may be necessary, as I have said, in order to get the boys interested, to start somewhere in the middle by studying, and trying to follow the tracks of something which lives; but even then the preliminary stages of mental training, the training of the senses, stalking, and so on should be taken up as soon as possible. If habits of observation are not formed, the boys' keenness on tracking will soon fizzle out, for they will not be able to make much of a success of it.
There is more behind the subject than meets the eye. In suggesting a Badge for Tracking - the particulars of which will be found in an appendix - B.P. wrote:
"I want to encourage this branch of our work on to a better, and more general, footing. It is really one of the most valuable activities we have for developing elements of character. But it is too little used by Scouters and Scouts.
"Its object of course is to develop -
"(a) Observation: i.e. 'Sharp eyes,' the habit of noticing the smallest details, both near and distant, through using the eyes, ears, nose, etc.
"(b) Deduction: reading the meaning of details when noticed, which involves the exercise of patient research, reasoning, imagination, common sense, etc."
It is as well that the Scouter should bear these points in mind when he is thinking out activities in which his Troop might indulge, or when his Patrol-leaders have broached the study of Tracking to him.
In regard to the training of Wolf Cubs, however, a somewhat different line should be adopted. With boys of Cub age the most important point is to get habits that will be useful to them in after life well-founded. Hence it is the observation side of Tracking that should be emphasized in particular. As yet their brains are not developed sufficiently to benefit by the deduction side. Although Cubs will have the requisite imagination - too much of it in all probability - they will not have as yet acquired the patience, powers of reasoning, and common sense that are so necessary in elucidating a problem.
So with Cubs, as usual, it is best to start with quite small things, but to have these small things well done, and to leave the bigger things until they "go up" to be Scouts. In the Eighth Bite of The Wolf Cub's Handbook, Observation, Man Tracking, Stalking, and Observation Tramps are dealt with.
There is a little about the newspaper made of the snow, track reading, and man tracking; but what is really more important is the part that deals with observation, and the training of the senses.
In regard to the material contained in this book, it is possible to give Cubs training in the simpler of the mental tests, and in a number of the games and competitions suggested for the development of the powers of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Beyond that one has to be very careful lest one forces the pace too hard, or indulges in activities which should be reserved for Scouts.
Cubs can follow a short trail, but it should be of the simplest kind, not necessarily made with Scout signs - better not (that is my personal opinion, mark you!) - but with pieces of card - a quarter of an ordinary playing card makes a goad trail, the pieces are distinctive, and so can be collected on the way. The study of man tracks should be just the bare beginnings, man, woman, or child, walking or running, not much more. Animal tracks can be found in the country, and imaginations set going as to what made them, but it will be too much to expect of Cubs that they follow whatever track has been found.
As the Cubs progress, simple sand stories can be brought into the training, but again the procedure should vary to this extent. It is best for Akela to tell a story to the Cubs first of all, bringing in a few simple facts about tracks, and a few simple points which they can remember. After the story has been told, the Cubs can gather round the sand track, on which the simple yarn has been previously acted, and trace the story they have just heard from the marks on the track. As you will have realized, this is reversing the process advised for Scouts. The Scout first sees what has been enacted on the sand track, and from it deduces the story for himself. The Cub is told the story first of all, and then traces it bit by bit from what he sees on the ground.
But in their training, such intimate Cub-like activities as Dressing-up and Acting will obviously be of great importance.
In fact, the part that Akela should take in training the Pack in Tracking is to allow them to nibble round the subject in various directions so that their appetites may be whetted to make a good meal of it when they are old enough to be able to digest it.
Just one word more! Again let me emphasize that the reading of this book will not make anyone a tracker. In itself the book has no pretensions to be a handbook on tracking, it merely attempts to deal, at times very vaguely, with certain aspects of the subject which appeal to the Scout. It is suggestive in its outline of the way in which the subject should be attacked.
I am alive to the danger of accepting literature as a good substitute for actual practice, and from time to time I have tried to suggest exercises which may be helpful in developing observation and in stimulating deduction. Both these powers must be trained by the actual doing of things, and not by hearing about them.
A thorough study of this book will NOT enable the reader to become as well versed in tracking lore as he could by years of actual experience in the woods. If anyone who picks it up fondly imagines so, then I sincerely hope that he will burn the thing before he has read a word of it. Perhaps I should have said this at the beginning, just as I might perhaps repeat at the end a great deal of what is contained in the first chapter. However, if you are not too bored, just turn back to the first chapter and read it again - you probably skipped it before - and you may be able to grasp the idea that I had lying at the back of my mind when I wrote it!
Training in Tracking