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
































     Trackers may not be necessary in an African unit or those units which have become proficient in bushcraft. Other units may have to have police, civilians or African soldiers attached to patrols for tracking duties.

     As terrorists are likely to become masters of bushcraft, they will probably rely on superior ability to “out see” and “out walk” security forces. Their ability to track and read tracks naturally will make them more proficient in hiding their own. This will necessitate members of the Security Forces being expert trackers themselves, or being able to work with and understand loyal African trackers.

     Using surrendered terrorists. So far as ex-terrorist trackers are concerned, the fact that they have surrendered and led security forces to a good kill does not indicate that they have changed their loyalty. The mere fact that they are prepared to cooperate with the Security Forces against their fellow terrorists demonstrates their lack of loyalty. They should be used whenever appropriate. They should be continually reminded in one way or another that they are exceptionally fortunate not to have been shot before their surrender, that they are on probation and have a score which can only be settled by continuous and satisfactory service. Extreme care should be taken to avoid surrendered terrorists leading our patrols into ambushes.

Tracker Combat Teams

     General. The ideal Tracker Combat Team consists of four men, all of whom are expert trackers. This four man team should not be split down unless it is of vital operational necessity to do so.

  •       Role.

a.   Locating spoor.

b.   Tracking and destroying small groups of terrorists.

c.   To provide a tracker group as part of a larger follow-up group.

d.   To locate terrorists who are still undetected.

  •      Organization. A Tracker Combat Team consists of the following combinations:

a.   The tracker on the spoor.

b.   Two flank trackers.

c.   The tracker control.

  •       Tracker Combat Team Capabilities.

a.   The ability to locate spoor quickly should it deviate.

b.     The ability to search for and locate spoor quickly when it is temporarily lost.

c.   The ability to rotate duties within itself so as not to tire the person actually tracking.

d.    To be self contained in tracking, observation and protection.

  • Individual Tracker Tasks.

a.   The tracker follows the spoor.

b.         The flank trackers perform the following tasks:

(1)   The main task of the flank trackers is to provide protection for the tracker on the spoor.

(2)   They pick up the spoor if it veers to the left or the right.

(3)   They carry out a circular cast if the spoor is lost.

(4)    When advancing, they swing towards one another and out again to the flank position in an effort to locate the spoor ahead of the tracker and speed up tracking. Great care is exercised to ensure the spoor is not obliterated or disturbed by the flank trackers.                                                                                            

c.      Tracker’s Control carries out the following functions:

(1)    He controls the teams activities by the use of signs and signals.

(2)    He is additional tracker protection.

(3)    He reports progress to the commander of the follow-up troops.

(4)    He is the eyes and ears of the tracker team.

(5)        When the spoor is lost, he marks the last positive sign while the remainder of the team search the area for the spoor.

Action on Finding Tracks.

a.    Unless it is possible to follow the spoor with either a civilian tracker or a Combat Tracker Team, anyone finding spoor should isolate the scene and keep that area free of security forces until the arrival of trackers. An immediate report should be made to higher headquarters giving the following information:

  (1)   Estimated number of terrorists.

  (2)   Age of spoors.

  (3)   Direction.

  (4)   Any other useful information such as location, terrain, etc.

b.         It is absolutely essential that the spoor is not obliterated or disturbed by the discoverers. The spoor and the surrounding area must remain untouched until the arrival of a tracker or tracker team. It is not possible to follow one preserved spoor when the remainder of the area has been trampled flat by security forces.

     It frequently pays to back track when very fresh tracks are found, particularly early in the morning when they may lead to a camp.

     Tracker Combat Team Formations. There are two essential formations used:

a.   Open formation for fairly open country.

b.   Single file for very thick bush.

(Both formations are shown in Annex)

Tracker Combat Team Follow-Up Tactics. Annex  shows Tracker Combat Team formations. These are superimposed on to follow-up formations normally adopted by Rhodesian troops in operations. (See Appendices to Annex ).

a.   Open Country.

(1)    Flank trackers remain slightly ahead of the main tracker who is in visual contact.

(2)    If the spoor veers off to the left or right, it should be picked up by either of the flank trackers. The flank tracker who picks up the spoor continues as main tracker on the spoor. The remainder of the team conform with the standard patrolling formation with the last main tracker filling in the vacant flank position.

(3)    If the spoor is lost, flank trackers do a circular cast working towards one another in the hope of picking up the spoor again. By this method, a 360 degree circle is completed in the area where it was lost.

(4)    While the flank trackers are carrying out the search as described above, the tracker who was on the spoor carries out a 360 degree search approx­imately 15 yards to his immediate front.

(5)    Tracker control marks the last positive spoor and provides protection for the trackers.

(6)        At this stage the team is particularly vulnerable and the team relies completely on the alert state of Tracker Control.

b.   Thick Country.

(1)    The main tracker follows the spoor with Tracker Control within ten yards of him as protection man. Tracker Control does not attempt to follow the spoor as he observes and listens for the tracker team.

(2)    If the spoor is temporarily lost, Tracker Control marks the last positive spoor and the flank trackers now in single file behind Tracker Control cast around in an enveloping 360 degree circle in an effort to find the spoor (See Annex , Appendix 1 and 5)

(3)    The main tracker completes a 360 degree circle approximately 15 yards to his immediate front.

(4)        Once the spoor has been relocated, the tracker who found the spoor then takes over as main tracker. The remainder of the team fall into an appropriate tracker formation.

Tracker Combat Team and Follow-up Troops Combinations.

a.  It must be appreciated that all formations are subject to variations depending on the type of country and the appreciation of the commander of the patrol.

b. There are a number of formation permutations in current use in the Rhodesia Army (See Annex  and Appendices).

c. There is considerable variation in the Rhodesian bush between the summer and winter months, and these formations are adaptable to either open country or thick bush.

Use of Dogs

     The only tracker dogs at present available to Security Forces in Rhodesia are those used by the Police. Both dogs and handlers are extremely well trained for Police requirements.

     These dogs have been used in COIN Operations but have achieved only limited success. It is doubtful whether these dogs would be made available for general operations but the occasion may arise when a dog is again attached to a patrol for tracking purposes.

The dog will normally follow the freshest track, but he will, if “given the scent” from personal clothing or belongings, discriminate and follow the scent of that particular quarry.

     It should be realized that dogs tire easily, and therefore they should only be used for tracking when visual tracking becomes very difficult or impossible. If the tracks become visible once more visual tracking should be resumed to conserve the dog’s strength and con­centration.

     Apart from obvious factors which cause the quarry to leave a strong scent, e.g. blood, dirty body and clothes, sweat or panic, there are certain climatic factors which influence scenting conditions:

a.   Favorable.

  (1)    Air and ground temperatures approximately the same.

  (2)  Dull, damp weather.

b.   Adverse.

  (1)  Hot sun.

  (2)  Strong winds.

  (3)  Heavy rains.

  (4)    Tarmac roads, rock and other hard surfaces.

  (5)  Dust.

  (6)  Running water.

       From this can be deduced the following facts regarding scenting conditions:

a.   The dogs will track well at night, in the early mornings and late evenings.

b.   The periods of the rainy season will be favorable for tracking except during heavy rain and immediately afterwards.

c.         The bush should nearly always produce good conditions, but here the presence of game may cause confusion.

d.   The employment of tracker dogs in towns and villages is very rarely worthwhile.

e.   Under the most favorable conditions, it will be quite feasible to follow tracks up to 12 hours old.

f.    Under unfavorable conditions, there may be no scent at all even if the quarry is only a few minutes ahead.

      Dogs should not be used as a last resort and once the decision is made to use a dog, the area must not be “fouled”. Therefore, all unnecessary movement in the area by troops, police or civilians must be rigidly controlled until the dog has picked up the scent. Dogs may be transported by helicopters as the animals travel well and do not suffer any discomfort. The following points should be remembered:

a.   The down draft from the helicopter can very easily destroy any scent. Hence, the helicopter should not fly low over a known, or suspected, trail.

b.   When a dog is tracking, the presence of a helicopter flying nearby often distracts the animal and so the aircraft should be kept well away.

       Use of Aircraft for Tracking. Light aircraft and /or helicopters can be of great assistance to patrols in tracking gangs of insurgents. It is essential that the insurgents are kept on the move by the ground forces as a stationary man, under even light cover, is difficult to spot from the air. Patrol leaders should also remember that helicopter noise can break security and indicate to the terrorists what the Security Forces are planning.


       General. It is extremely difficult to move silently and quickly in most parts of the Rhodesian bush and consequently this requires much practice and concentration.

       There are many paths in the bush made by game during their nightly or seasonal movements. These animals avoid steep or slippery slopes and therefore game paths will normally provide easy going. Insurgents and our own patrols use these trails when quick, silent movement is required. Troops should exercise extreme caution when using these trails as Security Forces might well be ambushed.

     There are two distinct types of spoor; ground spoor and aerial spoor. The ground sign is normally made by a boot or foot print and aerial spoor is in the form of trampled grass, broken bushes, broken cobwebs, etc.

     Man. Barefoot prints are soft, rounded impressions formed by the heel, ball of the foot or toes. Women’s tracks are generally smaller and usually have two characteristics; firstly, they tend to be pigeon-toed and, secondly, their toes are more splayed out than the males.

       Animals. As most animals have cloven hooves, the impressions formed on the ground have sharp, clear cut edges.


       The following are signs that the experienced tracker seeks when following spoor:

  a.   Crushed and bent grass and vegetation.

  b.   Broken twigs and leaves.

  c.   Overturned leaves.

  d.   Mud displaced from streams.

  e.   Broken cobwebs.

  f.    The state of the dew on a trail.

  g.   Mud or scratches on stones and logs.

       Running men. Points to observe are skid marks, depth of impression, running on balls of feet and toes, splayed out toes and badly damaged vegetation with resultant lack of concealment of the trail.

     Loaded men. Short footsteps, deeper impressions than normal in soft ground, toes splayed out.

    Judging the Age of Tracks.

a.  Weather. The state of the weather - rain, wind, sunshine - should always be on one’s mind as it is one of the most important points in deciding the age of a track.

b.  Vegetation. The state and position of trodden vegetation; various grasses have different grades of resilience and only practice and experience can enable a tracker to use this factor to accurately judge the age of the spoor.

c.   Impression in mud. Always note the state of dryness of a track in mud or soft ground. If the track is very fresh, water will not have run back into the depression made by a foot. The water will run back later and later still the mud pushed up around the depression and kicked forward by the foot leaving the ground will begin to dry.

d.   Obliteration by rain or guti. By remembering when it last rained, more accurate judgment of the age of tracks is possible. If the tracks are pock­marked, they were obviously made before the rain and, if not pock-marked, they were made after the rain. Similarly, by looking to see if the tracks have been pock-marked by guti dripping from trees, the age can be established.

e.   Bent Grass or Leaves. An indication of the age of a track may be gained by the state of dryness of the bent grass is still green but after a few days turns a brown color. Again, the amount of sunshine and rain during the last few days should be taken into account.

f.    Game Tracks. Remember that most animals lie up during the day and move about at night. Therefore, if human prints on main forest game trails have at least a double set of animal spoor superimposed and these spoor show that the game has moved in both directions, any human prints are probably at least one night old. If the animal spoor show that game has moved in one direction only, then the human prints were probably made during the night after the game had moved down to water but before the game moved back.

       Information regarding insurgents’ methods of concealing tracks and camps should also be sought.

       Factors affecting Tracking. There are certain factors which affect tracking:

a.   Whether the ground is hard or soft, stony or muddy.

b.   The type of country - Savannah or Mopani forest.

c.   The weather - things lack depth in overcast weather.

d.         The position of the sun relative to the direction of travel. The most suitable position is when one has to track towards the sun.

e.   The footwear of the human quarry. A distinct boot pattern is obviously easier to follow than a plain soled spoor.

f.    The extent to which other similar tracks may confuse and possibly blur the spoor.

g.         Concentration and the effects of weariness.

    Things the tracker must look for:

a.   Footprints and impressions of footwear; the rhythm of the spoor or length of stride of the quarry. This is a guide to where the next footprint can be found.

b.   Trampled grass.

c.   Disturbed stones, sticks or soil. Marks in the soil where indirect pressure may have left no impression.

d.      Leaves - turned, crushed, kicked or pulled off trees. Branches and twigs bent or broken. Vegetation pushed aside and the reflection of light from grass or leaves displaced at an angle. The color of bent and broken vegetation, scratched or chipped bark.

e.   Discarded wrapping and masticated vegetation.                                                       

f.    Cobwebs broken or wiped off onto a nearby tree or bush.

g.   Urine and excrement, frequently indicated by house flies, mopani bees, yellow butterflies and, during the rains, dung beetles.

h.   Snares and traps, robbed bees nests and smoke.  

I. The state of dew on the spoor.

J. Mud displaced from streams or mud on stones and logs.                                            

K. Squashed animal or insect life and whether it has been attacked by ants.

Bush Danger Signs.

a.         The Grey Loerie when disturbed will utter a loud and drawn out “g-way” call, and often follows the intruder, thus alarming the quarry or warning the tracker.

b.         The honey guide bird and ox-pecker both have the same “give away” effect on both quarry and tracker.


     A tracker has many things to consider while tracking. He must possess certain qualities such as above average eyesight, memory, intelligence, fitness, anticipation and understanding of nature. Patience, persistence, acute observation and natural instinct are the basis of good tracking. There are times when pure instinct alone will draw a tracker in the correct direction. All units should ensure that training in Aggressive Bushcraft is maintained at the highest possible standard.

Annex to Rural Tracking Operations

Tracker Team and Patrol Formations


     Experience gained by Rhodesian Security Forces in the past few years has resulted in basic principles on which operational units now base tracker team and patrol formations. These principles have evolved from normal border control duties, minor operations and major operations. Contacts have occurred as a result of deliberate follow-up patrolling and from chance contacts during frame-work patrolling in operations.

     In all cases, the commander of the patrol decides how best to move through the particular type of country in which his patrol is operating. There are only two main patrol formations; the Single File and Open Formation, both of which adequately cater for thick bush and open country. The tracker team and normal patrol, or both if they are working together, are able to adopt these formations to cover the ground being searched and provide good protection.


     Only the outline requirements can be given in the following diagrams. Each regular unit has developed its own ideas on the best detail within each formation. However, it is generally accepted that the ideal tracker team works as a four man group while patrol formations should be based on three main groups plus a control or headquarters group. Within each group actual formations adopted could vary depending on personalities in command, unit training, likes or dislikes and the type of country or terrorist confronting the members of the patrol.

The following appendices give formation details of Tracker Team, Patrol and a combination of both. Leaders should rehearse their own maneuvering in the bush using the following ideas as a guide. During rehearsals, practice or basic training, finer details can be developed to the satisfaction of all who will make practical use of the formations in actual operations.

Annex to Rural Tracking Operations Notes

a.   The four group system has, in all cases, Flank and Reserve groups with the command element located centrally. Each group could adopt any one of several formations to cover the ground efficiently. There may even be occasions when the commander prefers to keep two thirds of his strength in reserve (one up, two back). This is the commander’s prerogative and he must decide after considering all relevant factors. The size of the patrol dictates the number of men in each group; if the patrol is only four man strength, the Tracker Team Single File or Open Formation can be adopted (see A and B above). As the strength increases, so can the number of men in each group.

b.      Distances between individuals will vary according to visibility, but five yards is the most convenient guide. Distance between groups is tactical but certainly within visual distance for silent signals and control.

c.   The patrol moves behind the trackers and must avoid interfering with the Tracker Team duties and tactics. The patrol commander commands the whole follow-up patrol, including trackers, but he should discuss formations, distances and personal preferences with the Control Tracker before moving out on a patrol. This should eliminate any misunderstandings and avoid unnecessary confusion. It will also allow coordination between trackers and patrols which may have special requirements.

d.         The allocated position of patrol personnel within groups is not rigid. Each commander has his personal preferences and factors can influence this detail. The positioning of various types of fire support available is also flexible and personal preferences override any attempt to dictate rigid drills, e.g. 32Zs fitted to rifles, position of heavy barreled FNs, positioning of the MAGs or radios.

Appendices to annex

Appendix 1 to annex.

Appendix 2 to annex.

Appendix 3 to annex.

Appendix 4 to annex.

Appendix 5 to annex.

Appendix 6 to annex.


***NOTE***  Source - Rural operations Course notes / hand-outs from Rhodesian S.A.S. (C Squadron).


7.62 FN FAL rifle.










THIS SITE LAST UPDATED: Sunday, September 16, 2007 06:43:38 PM

Copyright © 2000 - 2007 by T.A.L. DOZER. All rights reserved.