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
































Scouts hot on the follow up.

      Tracking involves more than just following a string of clues. You must constantly update and enhance your mental picture of the target until you can begin to predict his next move. This skill needs great concentration and attention to detail, and comes only with many hundreds of hours’ practice.

If you have been practicing the techniques already shown, you should now be following simple trails with some success. But there will still be questions: how old is the sign how do I know the target wasn’t walking backwards or with his shoes tied on back to front?

To answer any such questions when you are learning to track, you must return to ideal conditions. In your mind, build a picture of how the target you are following makes tracks under many varied circumstances. You can then adapt this to the more difficult conditions you face 90 percent of the time. You will also need to experiment with the different soil and vegetation types in your locality to understand how they register the impression of a foot, and how they weather under different climatic conditions.

Reading a clear print

    By now you know that clear prints are not the norm but occur sporadically along the trail, in places where the ground will accept a clear impression. These areas are known by trackers as ‘track traps’, and can be either natural track traps such as puddles and cowpats or man-made track traps: deliberately prepared patches of ground where the target or enemy troops have to pass or are likely to pass. Such ideal spots often contain a wealth of information, so get into the habit of using them.

    The following are major features you will need to be aware of. To practice reading these signs, set yourself some problems under ideal conditions.

1 Lines of force

    These show as ripples or fracture lines within the track. They radiate from the major point of contact in exactly the opposite direction to the direction of movement. The faster the target is traveling, the more force produced, the greater the lines of force, and the further back they occur. When a target is moving very fast, sprinting for example, the whole track impression can be thrown backwards, very often breaking up. Pay careful attention to these lines for both speed and direction.

2 Soil scatter

    Soil is sometimes thrown out of tracks by being kicked or picked up by the foot. It is usually to be seen in front of the track, in line with the direction of travel. This is especially true of tracks in snow.

3 Risings

    These are where the ground has risen outside the track in response to pres­sure generated within the track. They are caused by forces in a downward and horizontal direction often sudden braking and acceleration.

4 Deep impressions

    These indicate where the target has placed its whole weight within the track. Each represents a separate movement. By carrying out a comparison with your own tracks you will be able to determine whether or not the target is carrying a load. If so, and you are following the track for any length of time, you should expect to see the ‘put down marks’ of Bergens or rifles.

    There are many more signs to learn, such as twists and slides, but these are best learned by field practice. If the target decides to employ counter-tracking procedures, it is your attention to fine details that will win the day. When a target tries something devious most trackers sense that something is wrong, and then test their hunch by studying the fine nuances in the track.


Make plaster casts

To develop this sense for detail, make plaster casts of tracks; this will teach you to notice the finest sign. As an experiment, ask a team-mate to lay some clear tracks, imagining he has come to a path junction, and briefly cannot decide which path to take, before finally choosing one. Then carefully study the tracks. You should be able to detect the indecisions as a series of fine lines around walls of the relevant tracks.


Is he walking backwards?

One of the commonest problems a tracker faces is how to tell if the target is walking backwards or has tied his shoes on back to front. The simple answer here is that a tracker does not determine the direction of travel by the direction in which the tracks are pointing: instead he reads the sign within the track to determine the direction. Regardless of which way the prints point, the direction of travel must be directly opposite to the lines of force; and this is usually corroborated by a soil scatter.


Has he changed shoes?

This is very difficult. Unless you find the signs of where the target changed his shoes, all you can do is to refer to your careful measurements of his stride and your appreciation of how he walks. If he tries to alter his gait, you may be able to detect this as an unnaturalness in the overall appearance of the trail, although this can be very difficult to determine.

If the target discovers that he is being trailed, he may. take evasive action such as walking down roads, rock hopping or walking down the course of a stream, This should not pose too great a problem: cut for sign along both sides of the obstacle, and beware of a possible ambush.



Determining the age of a set of tracks is a skill which is often neglected, even by good trackers. With practice and dedication you should be able to determine the age of a fresh track to within 15 minutes.

Tracks can last for years under the right circumstances. There are parts of the world where dinosaur tracks can be seen, perfectly preserved by fossilisation. But in general terms, a track begins to deteriorate as soon as it has been formed. The wind and other climatic factors gradually cause the prominent features to collapse until no fine detail remains: in fact, a track with very defined features, such as a heavily-soled boot, will collapse and disappear faster than the track of a smooth-soled shoe.

    Tracks with well-defined features always appear to be fresher than smooth tracks. Make an impression with your thumb in the ground along­side the track so that you can see how the soil behaves.

    Each soil type behaves in its own individual way, so you will need to experiment with the local soil before ‘following up’ a trail. Also, some soils can give a false impression of the size of the track: for example, tracks appear larger than life in sand and smaller than life in heavy clay.



    Putting all this information together is actually much easier than it appears. The secret is constant prac­tice: once you have used and learned a technique, you will never forget it.

    The next stage in your training program is to go back to the beginning and practice the skills we have shown you again, but paying much greater attention to detail and constantly estimating the tracks’ age.


***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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