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Hints On Spooring

When getting on to very fresh spoor of man or beast, the old Scout will generally avoid following it closely, because the hunted animal will frequently look back to see if it is being followed. The tracker therefore makes a circle, and comes back on to where he would expect to find the spoor again. If he finds it, he makes another circle farther ahead till he finds no spoor. Then he knows he is ahead of his game, so he gradually circles nearer till he finds it, taking care, of course, not to get to windward of the animal when within scenting distance.

Some trackers of Scinde followed up a stolen camel from Karachi to Sehwan, 150 miles over sand and bare rock. The thieves, to escape detection, drove the camel up and down a crowded street, in order to get the trail mixed up with others-but the trackers foresaw this and made a "cast" round the town, and hit on the outgoing spoor on the far side, which they successfully followed up.

Look Ahead Over Hard Ground

In tracking where the spoor is difficult to see, such as on hard ground, or in grass, note the direction of the last footprint that you can see, and look on in the same direction, but well ahead of you, say 20 or 30 yards. In grass you will then generally see the blades bent or trodden, and on hard ground, possibly stones displaced or scratched, and so on-small signs which, seen in a line one behind the other, give a kind of track that otherwise would not be noticed.

I once tracked a bicycle on a hard macadam road where it really made no impression at all, but by looking along the surface of the road for a long distance ahead of me, under the rising sun as it happened, the line it had taken was quite visible through the almost invisible coating of dew upon the ground. Standing on the track and looking upon it close to my feet I could not see the slightest sign of it.

The great thing is to look for a difficult track against the sun, so that the slightest dent in the ground throws a shadow.

"Casting" for a Lost Track

If you lose sight of the track you must make a "cast" to find it again. To do this put your handkerchief, staff, or other mark at the last footmark that you noticed, then work round it in a wide circle, say, 30, 50, or 100 yards away from it as a centre-choosing the most favourable ground, soft ground if possible, to find signs of the outward track. If you are with a Patrol it is generally best for the Patrol to halt while one or perhaps two men make the cast. If everybody starts trying to find the spoor they very soon defeat their object by treading it out or confusing it with their own footmarks-too many cooks easily spoil the broth in such a case.

In making a cast, use your common sense as to which direction the enemy has probably taken, and try it there.

I remember an instance of tracking a boar which illustrates what I mean. The boar had been running through some muddy inundated fields, and was easy-enough to follow until he turned off over some very hard and stony ground, where after a little while not a sign of his spoor was to be seen. A cast had accordingly to be made. The last footmark was marked, and the tracker moved round a wide circle, examining the ground most carefully, but not a sign was found. Then the tracker took a look round the country, and, putting himself in place of the pig, said "Now in which direction would I have gone?" Some distance to the front of him, as the original track led, stood a long hedge of prickly cactus; in it were two gaps. The tracker went to one of these as being the line the boar would probably take, Here the ground was still very hard, and no footmark was visible, but on a leaf of the cactus in the gap was a pellet of wet mud; and this gave the desired clue. There was no mud on this hard ground, but the pig had evidently brought some on his feet from the wet ground he had been travelling through. This one little sign enabled the tracker to work on in the right direction to another and another, until eventually he got on to the spoor again in favourable ground, and was able to follow up the boar to his resting-place.

Fitting Your Stride to the Track

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.


Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell (Chief Scout, London, UK)

Date of Creation


Learn A Continuation:

to the next page: Patrol Practices In Spooring

Back in The Past:

to the previous page: The Age Of Tracks

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