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
































Selous Scouts relay status to Fire force.


    As a Scout, your knowledge of tracking will enhance your awareness, increases your ability to gather intelligence, and sharpen your bushcraft. If you are in command during extended border operations, a tracking capability will enable you to build an accurate map of the localized enemy movement with out having to send out large amounts of patrols.

Good trackers are rare. When they are needed for military purposes, commanders usually employ hunters from the local indigenous population. But this does not mean that soldiers cannot track; some of them are among the world’s best trackers. A tracker is a reader of ‘sign’. He takes a few faint pieces of information and, by the process of deduction and comparison with previous experience, puts the puzzle together.

The more experience the tracker has, the better able he is to do the job. But he must still beware the following:

1 Lack of confidence

    Even the best trackers use intuition, and a tracker must know when to trust a hunch. With lives at stake, lack of confidence can cloud your ability to think straight. Experience is the only solution.

2 Bad weather

    ‘Sign’ does not last for ever. Wind, rain and fresh snowfall will all obliterate it: many a trail has gone cold because the tracker has not paid enough attention to the weather forecast. With unfavorable weather imminent, short cuts may need to be taken to speed the ‘follow-up’.

3 Non-track conscious personnel

    By the time trackers are called in to follow a trail, the clues at the proposed start have usually been destroyed by clumsy feet. If you are fortunate enough to work with a team that can recognize ‘sign’, even though they cannot read it, you will have extra pairs of eyes to help you find the vital clues.

4 Unsympathetic commander 

    Tracking is a solitary business, requir­ing great concentration. A tracker must have the trust of the commander, and must be able to trust his cover group. Tracking often seems to be painfully slow, but the tracker will be moving as fast as he can: never rush him. The more intelligence he has at his disposal, the better, so tell him what is going on: your knowledge of enemy movement may make sense of an otherwise meaningless clue.

Try to allow the tracker time to impart a rudimentary knowledge of tracking to his cover group, and make sure the cover group are all patient men: the tracker has the challenge of the trail to hold his attention, but the cover and support group does not. If they make any noise, it is the tracker who is at greatest risk.


Learning to track

Tracking is not a particularly difficult skill to learn, but it needs dedication and much practice. Once you have learned the basic principles and techniques you can practice in your own time. If you want to reach a high standard, it will help if you have a team mate who can lay trails for you. Make sure you keep a log: this must include the duration of the track, the time of the day, the ground condi­tions, and the level of difficulty.

Teaching yourself is not easy. The biggest mistake you can make is to ‘run before you can walk’: for at least your first 50 hours, follow simple trails, concentrating on accurately interpreting the ‘sign’. Then gradually increase the difficulty of the trails. When you have 100 hours under your belt, you should be following fairly difficult trails.


Becoming sign-conscious

The first skill of a tracker is the most important one you will learn: becoming sign-conscious. There is no quick way to achieve this. As you go about your everyday business, try to notice footprints, tracks, fingerprints, hair and other signs.

At first this will be a contrived activity, but with perseverance you will begin to notice these fine details in the overall pattern around you without thinking about it. When this happens, you are ready to start tracking.


Reading ‘sign’

You’re unlikely ever to find a string of ‘Man Friday’ footprints. Instead you will have to follow a trail of scuffs, creased leaves, bruised grass stems, hairs and occasionally part of a foot­print.

If you are lucky enough to find a clear print, study it carefully to glean as much information as possible about the target. Compare it with your own to determine the target’s size, sex, age, weight (load or no load), speed of travel, and whether he is fit or exhausted.

You must also be able to read animal signs, even when tracking people. For example, a human track with a badger print on top of it will show that the track was made before the badger was active at night. If you know the habits of the local wildlife, you will have gained a clue to the age of the track.

Animal tracks may also lead you to a rubbish or food cache, providing you with crucial information regarding the target’s state of mental, moral and physical well-being.


Attributes of a tracker

Tracking is mainly a visual skill. Your eyesight, whether you wear glasses or not, must be 20/20. Short­sighted people often seem to make good trackers once their eyesight is corrected.

A general ability to observe is not enough for tracking: you have to piece information together, like Sherlock Holmes. You must also be patient, persistent and constantly questioning your own theories, especially if you are ‘solo tracking’.

Very often, you will trail your target to within touching distance. To reduce risks, self-defense and close-quarter battle skills are vital.

Although modern equipment plays an important role in the task of track­ing, remember that it does not replace your tracking ability: it just makes life easier.


Clothing and equipment

A tracking team must be totally self-sufficient and capable of operating as an independent unit. Communica­tions equipment and plenty of supplies and ammunition must be car­ried. Tracking can often be a slow process, so everyone must be warm, windproof and waterproof.

The tracker’s load is normally carried by the support team, leaving him with only his belt kit. Make arrangements for his kit to be dropped where he can reach it at the first sign of trouble.    

Using the Light

    Now that you have become more sign-conscious, you must learn to maximize your chances of seeing sign. To see the greatest detail in a clear print you need contrast: this means the light striking the ground at a low angle. Normally, this means that you are limited to tracking when the sun is low in the sky, during the morning hours and in late afternoon/early evening. Around midday the light is almost directly overhead and casts a flat light, which makes ground features disappear. However, time will usually be against you in most live tracking situations, forcing you to continue through the midday and sometimes even into the night. In this case you will need to make use of techniques that have been devised to control the light conditions to your advantage.


Daylight tracking

When the sun is low in the sky, you can take advantage of the light just by positioning yourself correctly: make sure the track is between yourself and the light source by watching the shadows cast by your tracking stick. Probably the most common error of novice trackers is to align themselves incorrectly. Once you are in the correct position, it is often an advantage to lower your line of sight, sometimes even right down to the ground. As you become more proficient you will do this mainly for seeing the finer details or when the light is bad. If you are not used to squatting on your haunches for long periods, include exercise for this in your fitness program: novice trackers on their first extended follow-up often miss sign due to a reluctance to squat down.

When you are sign-cutting (searching for sign, normally aiming to cross the target at 900), getting into the correct position relative to the sun is vital, but can pose problems. If the target is moving directly away from the sun, to ‘follow up’ you will have to look back over your shoulder. This must be practiced, as it takes some getting used to.

If you have to follow up through the mid-day period, you will have to slow down and be more careful, which is more tiring. Ideally your commander will use several trackers and rotate them at point duty.

You may be able to gain some lighting advantage by using your torch. A torch is also the best answer when you are tracking in woodland where the light conditions can be very confus­ing, especially under dappled shadowing.


Night tracking

Night tracking is not always possible; it depends on the local ground conditions. Because you will be using artificial light you can precisely control the light angle. Wherever possible, try to position your light source low and with the track between yourself and the light. A torch with a variable focus beam can be advantage. If you are using vehicles on dirt roads fit them with tracking lights, set to point sideways, crating contrast lighting.

Night tracking should play an important part in your training program as it helps to reinforce your use of light and enhances your ability to notice sign. Study clear prints as well as faint sign, and experiment with the light angle and beam focus until you feel you have the correct combination.

At night your ability is servely handicapped by the change of colors to monochrome. In tactical situations follow-ups usually only continue at night when a life is at risk or there is a high probability of changing of changing weather conditions obliterating the sign.

Light is vital to the tracker. The best times to track are early morning or late afternoons, where the low angle of the sun brings up the track. It is possible to track using artificial light by securing a torch to the end of your tracking stick and holding the torch on one side of the track while you read it from the other. Here, poor lighting could result in the target being lost. This position is know as the LPC (last point of contact).


Tracking on a slope

Many novice trackers fail to notice that the ground conditions are changing from flat to slope because they are too wrapped up in the sign: even the very gentlest slope will dramatically affect the lighting conditions, sometimes not. There is little you can do except to be aware of the situation.

Moisture can often make tracking easy. Dew that collects on surfaces, particularly plant foliage, will normally reflect light well. Places where a target has stepped will usually show as dark patches if he flattened down the vegetation before the dew settled, because the light will reflect off these patches at a different angle from the surrounding vegetation. However, if he passed by after the dew settled it will have been wiped off the vegetation.

On hard, flat surfaces such as rock, moisture can reveal the prints of the target as light patches. The dust on the surface will darken with moisture, but he will have removed dust by treading and so the moisture will not collect so easily.

Remember, don’t just watch the ground. Sign can be left by any part of the body: for instance moisture missing on a shrub may give you an accurate indication of the target’s height.


Tracking by feel

You will usually be tracking by sight, but you may find yourself in situations when a track cannot be seen although this does not mean that it can’t be detected.

A track in short grass is an example. When a foot treads on grass, the grass is flattened and sometimes broken, bruised or torn, Greater damage is caused when the target is traveling at speed or under a load. If not too badly damaged, the grass slowly recovers, to stand upright again. The time it takes for the grass to untangle itself and recover will depend on the local weather conditions and the variety of grass. It does not usually take long for the track to become invisible to the eye, but some blades of grass will remain depressed.

By very light and careful probing with the tips of your two little fingers, you will be able to detect these blades of grass by a resistance to your probing. Compare this with the surrounding area. With care, you should be able to discern the overall shape of the track.

Tracking through low cover

    Tracking through low cover requires attention to detail at two levels: the ground, for vegetation crushed and disturbed by the feet, and waist height for damage caused by the equipment the target is carrying.

Other signs

Do not make the mistake of looking only at the ground. Search also for other signs such as bruised vegetation, scuffed roots, broken cobwebs, pebbles turned to expose their darker, damp underside, and the smallest of details such as grains of sand deposited on large pebbles by the target’s boot.

To become a successful tracker you must pay attention to all of these factors all of the time. These signs combine with the tracks to fill in the missing details in the mental picture you are building of your target. In a tactical situation, your life and those of your teammates may depend on your noticing a few grains of sand.


***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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