Ospery, the bird of the Selous Scouts.Selous Scouts "Pamwe Chete" title block.Ospery, the bird of the Selous Scouts.
































    Trooper Reed, at point position on the patrol, was kneeling by the side of a cross-track in the thick woodland when the stick leader caught up with him He barred the way with a stick to stop the young trooper stumbling all over the ‘spoor’ (track), then pointed with the stick. “Four of them. Early yesterday, by the look of it; there are animal tracks coming and going over the top. Three wearing plain-soled boots and the other with car-tire sandals on. I’ve seen his tracks before. He was part of that band that got away from Fire force two weeks ago.”

“Well, what are we waiting around for?” asked the trooper, and started off up the track.

Reed began to laugh.

“What the hell’s so funny?”

“You’re going the wrong way. The bastards had their boots tied on backwards.”

The Selous Scouts use airborne surveillance and intelli­gence to gather information about the movement of terrorist bands, but they often have to fall back on the oldest of  hunting skills - Tracking

    You don’t have to be born to it to be a good tracker. This section, based on the Rhodesian Anti-Terrorist Operations, sets out how to find tracks, read them, and follow them in an effort to come to grips with insurgents.

Common sense and careful observation

    The operations usually starts with two trackers going off to left and right along a base line, and then making a wide circle around the area. When they find the track, their first action is to keep everyone else well away from it — too much information can be lost by friendly forces trampling all over vital signs.

    The trackers try to estimate the number of terrorists, the age of the spoor, and the direction they’ve taken. These details are relayed back to central headquarters so that it can be used with information from other sources, and so widen the overall intelligence picture.

    The man who first found the track will lead the hunt that follows, and he won’t give up that position until he loses the trail. Then the casting-about operation will begin again until contact is reestablished, and a new lead tracker takes over.

    Trackers work in pairs whenever they can but in silence. This is a very vulnerable operation that could easily be the subject of an ambush. Talking and smoking are not allowed, and noise must always be kept to a minimum.

    The signs that a tracker looks for footprints and broken or disturbed vegetation are the most important tell him the direction the quarry took, their numbers, how long ago they pas­sed, whether they were carrying loads or were empty-handed, how fast they were moving, their ages (or at least their size), their sex, and perhaps even something about their morale.


Footprints are the most important tell-tale. You can’t always assume that the people you’re following are walking in the direction that the toes point- they could have their boots tied on backwards (even when they’re bare­foot, they may be walking back­wards!). But you can tell their direction of travel by checking which part of the indentation is the deepest the deepest part shows the direction of march. The depth of the indentations will tell you whether they were carrying heavy loads or not, and so will the length of their stride. Heavily laden men take short paces.

The difference between the depths at the front and back will give you an idea of their speed a running man, for example, leaves a deep toe print but little or nothing at the heel.

    How well you’ll be able to gauge the age of tracks depends a lot on weather conditions and even the time of day. Tracks in muddy ground that have no water standing in them are very fresh; soon after they’re made, water will start to fall back into it.

    If there has been recent rain, and you can see splatter marks inside the track marks, that’s a sure sign that they date from before the rain.

    If it’s an animal track you’re on, look for signs that animals have walked on top of the human trail you’re following. Most animals move back and forth along these tracks, which usually lead from their day­time lairs to water holes, at night. If there is a double set of animal tracks, one in each direction, over the top of the human footprints, then they are at least a night old.

Disturbed vegetation

    It’s very difficult to move through the African bush without leaving signs. Bent and broken grass, twigs and other vegetation can tell you not only which way the enemy went, but also how long ago he passed. Bent and broken grass will stay green to start with, but will turn brown after a day or so. Harder vegetation will take longer to change color. Bear in mind that full sunlight will speed up the process, and shade will slow it down. Rain will affect the time-scale too.

Beware of ambush

    If a track that has been quite distinct suddenly becomes much more difficult to follow, without any particular reason such as a change in the nature of the ground, the most likely conclusion is that the enemy has become extra careful and is preparing to go to ground, either in a lying-up place or perhaps in ambush.

    If this happens, the strategy is to move in a wide circle around the area, stay downwind, and look for signs the usual trail signs, but also human scent, the smoke from fires and cigarettes, and cooking smells. Listen hard, too, for the sound of weapons being prepared and other signs of an enemy presence.

hard going

    Many factors affect the efficiency of a tracking operation. The type of ground, the character of the country, he weather and the direction of the sun (well-defined shadows help the tracker considerably), the sort of shoes the quarry is wearing, how much other traffic there is in the area, and the alertness of the trackers, can ill make the job more or less difficult.

    A smart enemy will use all the features of the country he’s crossing to make the tracker’s job more difficult. Hard or rocky ground, streams and water courses, irregular habits, backtracking, changing shoes, even swinging from tree to tree . . . These can all throw you off the scent. Be patient. If you lose the spoor, circle around and try to pick it up again. If that doesn’t work, cast a wider circle. Look for things like broken spiders’ webs; any sign that someone has passed by recently.

Look out for scavenging and food gathering

    The enemy has to eat. If he’s not been prepared for a long operation, he’ll have to try to live off the land, or else beg, steal or buy food from people he encounters. Even if local inhabitants claim that food has been stolen from them, they could be lying to protect the terrorists. Don’t follow their directions without checking independently.

    Surer signs are fruit trees and edible plants that have been raided, disturbed bee hives, and traps and snares. Look out for discarded foodstuff unripe fruit doesn’t fall from trees of its own accord.

Insect clues

    Look out for other signs, too, like recent fire sites, and urine and excrement which you can often spot by a gathering of flies, yellow butterflies or dung beetles. The enemy may even be stupid enough to leave food wrappers lying about.

    Look for freshly turned earth, and dig down to find out if anything has been buried. Remember to preserve material intact for examination, but don’t handle it with your bare fingers it may have enemy prints on it.

The advantage is yours

    Remember, above all, that the enemy is bound to leave some signs of his passage, no matter how small. Fresh scratches on rock and stones or logs overturned, tiny sprays of sand or loose dry earth, any signs of disturbance can give you valuable information. Covering his tracks will cost the enemy precious time, and he knows this. If you can press him hard, he’s more likely to make mistakes, but if you’re in hot pursuit you may miss them. Take some time. Examine all the signs carefully.

    If you have dogs to help you, your job will be considerably easier. But that is the subject of a separate section on anti-terrorist tactics.


***NOTE*** Source for this was obtained from The Handbook of the S.A.S.-How Professionals Fight and Win, by Jon E. Lewis.





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