By Gillcraft

Before going on to discuss the characteristics shown by the tracks of animals I think it is best to pay special attention to the deductive side of tracking. To a certain extent we have seen that it is necessary to exercise one's faculty of deduction as well as one's power of observation in order to determine the condition or speed of a man who made a particular track.

In order to get a proper appreciation of the differences that exist between two tracks it is advantageous, for purposes of practice, that they should be laid out on the ground side by side. Again, it is best to bring all such tracks down to a common level of comparison. In human tracks the unit of comparison ordinarily adopted is that of the ordinary straightforward walk. If this unit is laid out on the ground and another kind of track, say, a trot, laid out alongside it, it is easy to point out the differences between the two, and then from these differences to deduce the fact that in one track a man was proceeding at a walk, and in the other the same man was proceeding at a trot.

So that the observation of the tracks may be made easier it is best to have some kind of ground prepared. Damp sand is probably the best medium that there is for the practice of tracking. Those Troops that are near a sandy sea-shore or a sandy reach of the river, or inland sand pits, are exceedingly lucky, for without the expenditure of much money or time they have at their disposal an excellent tracking ground. But it will be found that a small potato patch, where the soil has been broken up small and carefully raked and smoothed, will show up tracks almost equally well.

As a result of a suggestion made in The Scouter some five years ago many Troops have rigged up an indoor sand track for themselves in the form of a wooden tray filled with sand. Others whose Headquarters do not lend themselves to such possibilities have kept a bag or two of sand in the basement, or the coal cellar, and have emptied these on the floor for demonstration purposes, and carefully swept back every particle of sand into the bags when the evening was over. Instead of sand, sawdust has been tried with success, and it has the advantage of being lighter in weight, but the disadvantage of not showing such a clear impression.

One of the great difficulties of indoor practice, is that the light and shade effects are not the same as those ordinarily found in actual tracking out-of-doors; but it is possible to manipulate the lighting of a room by means of shades and careful placing of lights to overcome the difficulties in observing a track which are caused by several lights casting shadows in different directions.

Whatever the kind of tracking ground the Troop possesses, and a real effort should be made to secure one somehow, it will be of immense help both in training the boys in tracking and in making them keen on the subject. After a certain amount of training has been given in comparisons, it will be possible to set one or two problems of a simple nature on the tracking ground. These problems should, at first, be only tracks, involved or otherwise, that have already been demonstrated, but should gradually become more complicated and introduce strange features, As in setting a trail, however, you should be careful to avoid making the problems too difficult, and so, as before, it is best to get a third person to set the problem and see if you yourself can get anywhere near a solution before inviting your Scouts to deduce what they can from it.

Also you should guard against the common tendency to complicate the solution of what is quite an easy problem by magnifying small marks to undue proportions, and even by deducing things from marks that exist only in the imagination.

Drawings of sand stories, such as have appeared from time to time in The Scout, and photographs are also useful for individual work and practice.

I have already mentioned one or two stories which bring out the deductive side of tracking - a very important side from the educational point of view - and other similar stories will be found in Scouting for Boys.

In an article published some years back in The Nineteenth Century Review, Thomas H. Huxley set out to prove that the rigorous application of the logic of a certain Persian, Zadig, to the results of accurate and long-continued observation has founded all those sciences which have been termed historical or paleontological, because these sciences "are retrospectively prophetic and strive towards the reconstruction in human imagination of events which have vanished and ceased to be." Naturally it was a very learned article! But I have a modern illustration of this reconstruction of events which I am reserving for later use.

The yarn which Huxley took for the foundation of his thesis will be found on p. 70 of The Wolf Cub's Handbook. However much we might wish otherwise, Zadig as a philosopher, or logician, or tracker, seems to have had no real existence. He appears to have been mostly the product of the imagination of the French writer Voltaire, who published a book concerning him in 1749. The book contains twenty-one tales of which seven only are computed by a German commentator to be original, the others are variously based on Arabian Nights, Gulliver's Travels, and so on. But investigation into the authenticity of Zadig has traced the possible source of the horse story to a Hebrew book, The Talmud, written over one thousand six hundred years ago.

As this book contains the two earliest tracking stories that are known to me, I will reproduce them for your benefit.

The first is in the Talmudical book Sanhedrin:

"Two men were reduced to slavery on Mount Cannel. Their captor, following behind, overheard one of them telling the other, 'The camel that went before us is blind of one eye, is laden with two skin bottles, one containing wine and the other oil, and is driven by two men, one an Israelite, and the other a Gentile.'

'You stiff-necked people,' cried the captor, 'how do you know all this?' They replied, 'The grass is nibbled on one side of the road only. The drops of wine on one side are sunk into the ground; whereas the oil drops remain above it. One of the drivers has relieved nature at some distance from the road, the other (according to Gentile indecency) on the road.'"

The second appears in the Talmudical book Echah Rabba:

"The story is told of a man who bought a servant to accompany him on his journey home. Having paid the money, he discovered to his dismay that the servant was blind of one eye. 'Be comforted,' said the dealer, 'though he is blind of one eye he can see much better than persons who have two.' The man departed with his servant. When they had gone a little way, the one- eyed slave said, 'Master, there is a traveler ahead of us. If we go fast enough we shall overtake him "I see no traveler,' said the master. 'Nor do I,' said the slave, 'but I know that he is just four miles distant.' `Thou art mad,' said the master, 'how shouldst thou know what passes at so great a distance, when thou canst scarcely see what lies before thee?' `I am not mad,' said the slave, 'yet it is as I said, and, moreover, the traveler is accompanied by an ass, who, like myself, is blind of one eye. She is big with young and is laden with two skin bottles, one of which contains vinegar and the other wine.' The master, who thought the slave was either insane or making fun of him, was wild with rage.

"They, however, travelled on, and, after a time, overtook the traveler, when the master found that everything was as the slave had predicted, and asked him to explain how he could know all this without seeing.

"The slave replied, 'Although I have not seen what I described, yet I knew the traveler was four miles ahead of us, for the almost imperceptible impressions of the ass's hoofs in the road indicated that she was at least that distance or the impressions would have been more distinct, and could not be farther or they would not have been visible. The grass, having been eaten away at one side of the path and not at the other, plainly showed that the ass must have been blind of one eye. Again, the impression which the animal left on the sand when she rested showed clearly that she was with young. Further, the impressions which the liquids made on the sand, some appeared spongy while others were full of small bubbles caused by fermentation. These clearly indicated the nature of the liquids."

There is precious little new in the world, and certainly there is nothing new in tracking and deduction that we have to learn, although possibly we might express ourselves a little less frankly than the Hebrew writers of old.

There is little advice that I can give in regard to the deductive side of tracking except the advice practice, and then practice, and again practice. With practice it will be found that accuracy will increase, and that guesswork will diminish. When the previous story is known to someone or other then the deductions can be checked, otherwise they remain unchecked unless it is possible to track down eventually the person or persons who made the marks.

But again Scouts should be encouraged to follow up any tracks they may find when they are out for a walk and try to make out their story from them. Even in the town it is possible to come across tracks on the pavements or roads, if a man or a vehicle has passed through a puddle.

In Payne's Description of Ireland, published in 1590, the following information is given: "If you track any stolen-goods into any mans land, he must tracke them from him, or answer them within xl daies." The same custom was formerly observed in India, when every village had its tracker, who was an important village functionary. If a burglary had been committed anywhere, and the burglar's footsteps had been traced to a neighboring village, it was the duty of the tracker of that village to take on the job of following the track. If the track left the village, and entered the boundaries of a third village, the job passed on to the third tracker. If the track stopped within the third village, then it was the duty of that village to produce the burglar or to pay compensation. It was a rough and ready, but eminently just way, of dealing with such crimes.

Similarly we can play this as a game. Each Patrol has a clearly defined portion of ground belonging to it. The Scouter gets someone to make a track through all the Patrol allotments. The first Patrol tracks the trail through their "village," and hands it on to the next Patrol at the boundary, and so on until the track stops, and the man is found, or till the track passes through all the "villages." The game should be elaborated to suit conditions, and, naturally, other "sign" can be manufactured to make it more interesting.

In modem times the ability to deduce facts correctly from any "sign" that has been noticed is one of the most important qualities in a detective, and a Scout's work and practice in tracking and deduction is very like that of a detective's. Despite what you may read to the contrary, detectives are not born such, they have to make themselves, and go through a pretty stiff course of training both theoretically and practically. Most of them, of course, will have a natural bent that way, but a bent is not sufficient.

However, in the next chapter we will see if we Scouts can learn anything from detectives!

 Training in Tracking

Outdoor Skills