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
































By Jack Thompson

    As the Land-Rover rounded a corner on the long, dusty road near Fort Victoria, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), my attention froze on a large free lying across the road. Slamming on the brakes and counter-steering a skid, we came to rest about two meters from the obstacle. Then the ambush was sprung. 

    "The old tree across the road followed by an ambush trick,” I thought. “Hope they forgot the Claymore! Glad they forgot the land mine!” Reacting instantly with counter fire is what saved our lives, because it had the ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) terrorists already fleeing before we dismounted. Honest to God, it looked like the Olympic 100-meter finals viewed from the south end of the stadium. The after action silence made It feel like the ambush never happened. After quickly reorganizing, we were happy to find no casualties. Already, only about a minute after the encounter, the enemy was hundreds of meters away with no sign of slowing down.

    Organizing ourselves into a follow-up group took only seconds, and leaving a security group to look after the vehicle, we moved out. But where to? And to do what? How could we possibly catch up with an ambush group that melted so fast into the bush? Tracking, my friends, tracking. Tracking is the skill (some call it an art) of pursuing the enemy by following the signs he leaves behind. For in their haste to flee our counter fire, they left enough clues to allow us to follow them. And follow we did. And not only follow them, but catch up with them, and kill them.

    Now, how do you track? How do you read the signs the enemy leaves behind? Sign (or spoor) falls into two main categories: ground spoor and aerial spoor.

    Ground Spoor, as the name implies, is sign found on the ground. Examples are footprints, disturbed earth, over­turned rocks, etc. Aerial spoor is found above the ground in the form of trampled grass, broken bushes, broken cobwebs, etc. (Maybe your mother wears combat boots, but mother nature doesn’t look for any signs which nature does not make).

    Upon locating tracks, we need to study them to learn at least three things:

1. Approximate number in the group.

2. Age of the spoor.

3. Direction of travel.

    Determining the number in the group is accomplished as follows:

1. Measure off 30 inches (or the length of one stride) along the tracks between two points.

2. Draw two lines at right angles to the tracks at those two points.

3. Count the number of footprints between the lines this will give you the number of people who have passed through the area.

    This technique is very simple, but it only works accurately up to about 10-12 people.

    Estimating the age of a footprint is a little harder. Tracks, especially human footprints, lose their sharp edges over time because of wind, rain and sunshine. Wind erodes the prints, rain washes them out and the sun dries prints that are in mud. It is especially important to consider what the weather was like over the past few days to judge the age of the spoor accurately. Has it rained recently? How much did it rain? Has it been windy?

    Age of aerial spoor can be judged by the state and position of trodden vegetation. Long grass, for example, is resilient and will spring back after being walked on. Also, the juice inside the blades will make freshly trodden long grass somewhat damp. If such grass is completely dry when you come upon it, the spoor is obviously not fresh. Unfortunately, only practice and experience will teach you how to judge the age of tracks accurately.

    Direction of travel is determined with a compass. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that the initial line of travel won’t change. It will usually take about two kilometers to accurately determine the true direction.

    Now that we have recognized tracks, estimated the number of enemy, know how much of a head start they have, and know the general direction of travel, we can deal with how to follow tracks.

    Before moving out, it is important to find an actual footprint or boot print. We call this “confirmed spoor.” Aerial spoor is not confirmed spoor. Ground spoor that is not an actual print of a boot or foot, like overturned rocks, crushed leaves, etc. is not confirmed spoor either. So the rule is to start out on confirmed spoor. The tracker must memorize the characteristics of the prints (tread pattern, if any, and size), which he encounters so that he doesn’t become confused later if he encounters a different set of tracks.

    Track with your head up and look about 10 feet in front of you. New or inexperienced trackers typically look at the ground nearer their feet and tend to miss tracks farther away. This tends to slow the rate of tracking. Remember this: You must track at a faster pace than the enemy is walking if you want to catch up with him.

    Do not walk directly on the spoor, but rather to the side, so as not to obliterate it.

    It is easier to track into the sun, than with it at your back This is because the sun casts a shadow on the indentations of the boot print, making it easier to see. When tracking away from the sun, this shadow cannot be seen so what you do is to track alongside of the spoor and occasionally look over your shoulder, down at the spoor. This gives you the same view as if you were tracking into the sun.

    While tracking, the tracker must be constantly alert for booby traps and possible ambush sites, If your tracking is successful, at some point you will be catching up with the enemy, and it’s not a good idea to be caught off guard. Possible ambush sites should be cleared before passing near them. Examples are small hills, thick bushes, narrow defiles, etc.

Occasionally, due to the nature of the ground, lime of day (tracking at noon casts little or no shadow) or tracker fatigue, the tracks will be lost Now what?

    Go to the last confirmed spoor and draw a line behind it, across the tracks. Stand behind the line, take time to survey the landscape in front of you, then ask yourself “Where would I go if I were walking along here?” Look for the logical line of advance, and then go check it out If you find the spoor again, continue to track. If not, go back to your line and do a 3600 circle. It goes like this: Using your last confirmed spoor as your starting point, walk 15 meters forward and walk in a circle around your point looking for tracks. Keep enlarging this circle until tracks are found, then continue tracking.

    Sometimes, you may run out of available light at the end of the day. In this case, you have to sleep on the spoor and continue in the morning, obviously starting at first light.

    The skill of tracking is valuable because a group with the ability to track and read tracks can engage enemy units that they otherwise could not It only stands to reason, then, that an understanding of this skill will also enable them to better hide their own tracks when on patrol. And that brings us to anti-tracking how to avoid being the trackee.

    Though it is virtually impossible to avoid leaving spoor, certain techniques can be employed to minimize detection. The aim is to make the job of the enemy tracker as hard as possible and maybe you’ll be lucky enough that your anti-tracking techniques will defeat his tracking ability. However, keep in mind there are those who can track you no matter what techniques you employ. In such cases, since you can’t outwit the enemy tracker, you can buy yourself some time through deception and a consistently fast rate of march that will keep you one step ahead. Hopefully you will avoid contact until dusk, at which lime he will literally have to stop dead in your tracks. You, on the other hand, continue to make tracks, but in a night march, slipping farther away in the process.

    Let’s look at some proven anti-tracking techniques. First, examine the sole of your boot Vibram soles and jungle boots are a Christmas present to a good tracker. If you have no choice as to your boots, tie a sandbag over them to cover the tread pattern. A smooth sole is naturally harder to track than a cleated one. In Africa we were issued a high-topped, smooth-soled boot called “boots clandestine” and they worked very well.

    Second is patrol technique. Try at every opportunity to walk on ground that is hard or rocky, double back, split into groups, change boots, or take them off and walk barefoot for a while. This can throw off, slow down or confuse a tracker, even a good one. One of the best ways to avoid being tracked is to kill the tracker! Sniper fire, a well-placed booby trap, or doing a dogleg and ambushing your own tracks will definitely take the fighting edge off a follow-up group.

    Tracking and anti-tracking are skills that are difficult to learn but very much worth the effort. Practice definitely makes for proficiency. At limes your patience and perseverance will be tested because you might be on tracks for days only to have them “disappear” into thin air. Learning these skills can breathe a lot of confidence into individual soldiers as it helps them.......

(NOTE; End of this article was lost I will post it as soon as I can find another copy of it.)


A stick of Selous Scouts reading spoor.





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