Night Ears




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By Graham Thomson

The Chief Scout has had all kinds of adventures in his long career, and some of his most exciting times have been at night, when he has been hunting wild animals, or creeping out among enemies to seek information. In Scouting for Boys he tells us:

If you are watching for an enemy at night, you have to trust much more to your ears than to your eyes, and also to your nose, for a Scout who is well practiced at smelling out things, and who has not damaged his sense of smell by smoking, can often smell an enemy a good distance away. I have done it many times myself, and found it of the greatest value.

Training and sharpening our senses of hearing and of smell can be begun in daytime, or in the clubroom, before we try to make special use of those senses out of doors at night. This can best be done by means of games and competitions. There are lots of good games to play which practice your ears to hear better ; but first of all you must take care to keep your ears perfectly clean.

The Tenth [English] Scout Law bids us be clean in deed, and that includes cleaning our ears. Some people, not all, have ears in which wax forms rapidly in considerable quantities, and this must be removed regularly. Ordinary washing of the ears and careful drying will help to keep the ears fairly clear, but it is necessary to have the ears syringed at intervals, and this needs to be carefully done by a doctor.

If this is not done, a hard core of wax forms inside the ear, and you go slowly deaf ; though, of course, the hearing is restored when the wax is removed. So if you are one of those fellows who get a lot of wax in

your ears, and you want full use of your ears for Night Scouting, take care to have the wax removed when you begin to feel a little deaf.

What Is It?

A simple game for training your sense of hearing is to send a fellow outside the door to drop various objects, or make various noises; the rest of you sit absolutely quiet inside the room, and try to identify the objects dropped or the things with which the noises are made. After a little practice you will be able to distinguish between the tearing of cloth and the striking of a non-safety match, or between the dropping of a shoe and the fall of a bean bag.

You will find that the idea of Night Scouting is given to this game, if all the listeners are blindfolded.

Another advantage of this is that you will find you can hear better. If you can see as well as hear, you tend to let your eyes wander about while you are listening, and your thoughts begin to follow your eyes, until you find you are thinking more about the things you can see than about the things you can hear.

Small Sounds

That is why you can hear your watch ticking when you have put it down on the chair beside your bed, and turned out the light, although you cannot hear it in daytime when it is on your wrist, much nearer to your ear. I was out Night Scouting once, and one fellow remarked to me, after he had been doing some stalking in a particularly quiet spot in the middle of a moor, that the ticking of his watch sounded like a engine ! Sounds are magnified to your brain when you cannot see anything to distract your brain from the sounds, and they are magnified still more, of course, when you are far away from traffic, streets, or people, and in the night-time.

The game called " What Is It ? " can also be practiced outdoors at night, various noises being made inside a tent, or behind a bush, while all the scouts sit round and listen, afterwards trying to name them in the correct order to the umpire.

Listening Post

Here is another Night Scouting game which you can play indoors in the autumn. Collect a good lot of dry leaves, or branches with leaves on, that have been blown off the trees; you can find them in plenty on the pavements of a town, provided the weather has been dry for a spell.

Spread them on the floor near one end of the room but with gaps among them, and put one or two sentries, blindfolded, and armed with an electric torch, behind the barricade of leaves. Then turn out the lights, having lined up the other players at the far end of the room.

These players then have to try to pass through the barrier of crackly leaves without being heard by a sentry.

If a sentry hears a leaf or twig trodden on, he shines his torch in that direction; the player on whom the torch shines (if any) retires to the starting line, and begins again, "scoring " one point against himself.

An umpire can also note down one point to his sentry's credit, if there are two or more sentries. This game is really excellent practice for Night Scouting out-of-doors, when you may have to creep through a wood full of fallen leaves and bits of dead wood to capture a flag or get up to an animal.

It can also be played outdoors as a game, for practice. Litter a stretch of ground with obstacles, twigs, dixies, etc., and practice walking among them in the dark silently.

An Evening Ramble

A ramble along country lanes after dark, either as a Patrol, or with the Patrol paired off-the pairs walking with intervals between them, can be good fun and good practice now, if you make ear-training the special objective of your ramble.

Those young Scouts who are still a trifle scared of the dark will feel quite safe because they have one fellow with them, and will know that the rest of the Patrol are not far away; and it is wise for the PL to pair off with the youngest Scout in the Patrol, and the others to pair off likewise-an older and a younger boy together.

On such an evening ramble, if you use your ears thoughtfully and listen intently for every sound, you will be quite surprised at the number and variety of the different sounds you can pick out and identify.

Grass and hedgerows and tree leaves have their distinctive rustles ; the gentle but unceasing whispering of an aspen is easily distinguishable from the harsher sound made by the wind in the leaves of a holly bush.

The sounds made by the four feet of a rat or a hedgehog can be distinguished from the sound a bird makes in seeking shelter deeper in a thicket.

Birds and Beasts

Perhaps the most common of the sounds you will hear during a country ramble in the evening is the screeching of the barn-owl, a companionable sort of noise. In the early evening, too, you may hear the cooing of the wood pigeons [Mourning Doves], a soothing sound very pleasant to hear.

Then you may be startled by the tremendous flapping the wood-pigeon makes when you disturb him from his nest. That will startle you ! But if you realize what it is, you will have no need to be frightened.

Another sound you may hear in the early evening is a quaint snoring, like a tramp [homeless person] asleep. It will not be a tramp, though. It may be a barn-owl, or it may possibly be a hedgehog, curled up fast asleep just near a path through a wood.

Brother hedgehog sometimes gets caught in traps set for rabbits, and sometimes hares get caught in such traps, too. In either case, the sound you will hear will be very like a baby's crying or screaming.

Don't rush away terrified, with the idea that someone is murdering an innocent child. Go and find the suffering creature, and put it out of its pain with a sharp rap on the head with a stick.

You will then be wise to leave the dead animal in the trap and go quickly away. If you take it from the trap, you will be as guilty of poaching as the poacher who set the trap ; and if the trap was set by a gamekeeper, you will be guilty of poaching just the same.

By the way, do you know how to make a hedgehog laugh? Tickle him! You can do this by holding on to one hind foot, and drawing a pencil to and fro across his ham-string, just behind his knee.

He will soon start laughing, in his own way; the sound is like a baby in distress and wanting its bottle.

Don't keep up the tickling too long ; for it may be that it hurts the animal more than it amuses him-and even Scouts don't like to be tickled for too long at a time !

Outwitting An Enemy

When you are walking along a lane at night, you may hear the footfalls of someone walking behind you, and fear that some dangerous tramp is pursuing you, prepared to attack even two Boy Scouts if he thinks he can overpower and rob them, and get away with it.

You may be puzzled by the fact that the following footfalls seem to stop and then to sound nearer ; and that is the time for you to use your brains. Think back along the path you have walked along, and you will remember that there was a patch of soft ground, or of grass, on which the pursuer must have stepped ; his return to hard ground accounts for the resumption of the sound of his footsteps.

If you are puzzled by a sound that comes and goes and does not come again, stand still, crouch down, and put your ear to the ground, or to a gatepost. You will then be able to hear much more clearly, especially on a frosty night. Should you have any reason to think it is a tramp who is after you, it is easy to outwit him.

The best way is to climb quietly up a convenient tree round a bend of the lane, and wait there until the puzzled man abandons the chase and goes away.

If you feel scared when you are in the country at night, and strange noises or swaying bushes seem like enemies, remember that the darkness which may conceal a possible enemy from you also conceals you from him.

Besides, you ought to have a big advantage over any tramp or bad lot who might attack you in such a place, because you are a Scout. You can walk quietly, or you will be able to after you have practiced it. You can also run fast if necessary, much faster than any tramp--or you ought to be able to, if you keep yourself fit and in good training. And you will have the added advantages of trained hearing and eyesight, after you have had some practice in Night Scouting.

Sleeping Pirate

Have you played the game called " Sleeping Pirate " in your clubroom? The " pirate " sits, blindfolded, in the middle of the room with an open knife or sheath knife stuck in the floor in front of him.

The others try to creep or walk up to him and remove the knife. He points towards any sound he hears, and if he is right the boy pointed at must go back and start again. This is good practice in listening for the " pirate," and good practice in silent walking or stalking for the others. All should have a turn at being " pirate."

In the Fields

Now, when you and your pal are walking through fields where there are rabbit warrens [rabbit holes], try your hand (or foot) at walking up to a rabbit. You will have to tread very lightly indeed, if the rabbit is not to hear the faint thud that your foot makes on the ground. That sound of footsteps carries a tremendous long way along or through the ground, and is, of course, more easily heard on a still, frosty night.

Putting your ear to the ground, or to a gatepost has already been mentioned as a help to hearing distant footsteps ; but there are other methods you should try out at night which are more effective. One way is to open both blades of a pocket or clasp knife, stick one blade into the ground, and grip the other blade with your teeth. You will then discern faint vibrations if anyone is walking anywhere near you.

Another method is to drive your staff, or a stick, into the ground until it meets a stone. (The ground chosen should be soft, not only so that you can drive in your stick, but also because soft ground is a better conductor of sound than is hard ground.) If you put your ear to the other end of the stick, you will find you can hear sounds at a considerable distance.

Practice these various methods of listening with the aid of the rest of your Patrol. You might work out a table of distances, showing how far off you can hear different sorts of sounds by each of the different methods mentioned.

A thing that is difficult to do in the dark is to locate the direction from which a particular sound comes. This difficulty can be reduced, however, by practice, and a few games can go a long way towards making you quite clever at direction finding. Here is one to play indoors.

Clock Tick

Borrow a clock with a loud tick, and call into the room one Scout from each competing Patrol, all blindfolded. Each boy has to find and touch the clock, whereupon he may remove his bandage and silently watch the others. Then move the clock to another spot in the room, and call in the next lot of players, and so on. Give points for first, second and third, and credit the total, or the average, to the Patrol. Vary this by admitting all the blindfolded patrol at once; points for the first to find the clock.

Find the Drum

Another good bit of practice is to blindfold the Scouts, and then bang the wall with a stick, or tap a tom-tom in a comer. The boys must then walk to the wall and touch the spot, or find the tom-tom.

How Many Walkers?

Then, again, blindfold one boy and put him in the middle of the room. The others then walk past him, one at a time-or two, or more-on one side of him or the other, an umpire keeping tally of how many walk each side. Afterwards the blind one must report how many fellows passed him on each side. Vary this by starting the walkers from both ends of the room, the " blind " fellow afterwards reporting full details of numbers and direction.

Find The Patrol Leader

Out of doors, let each PL have a whistle of a different note from the others, and send him off a hundred yards or so from his Patrol, all of whom (except the PL) are blindfolded. Then the PLs blow their whistles, and their Scouts must find them by the sound, and line up in front of their own PL It is as well not to place the PLs opposite their own Patrols, but to place each PL facing someone else's Patrol.

This game may also be played using the Patrol Call instead of a whistle.

Ships in a Fog

Then there is that popular game sometimes called "Ships in a Fog." The PLs are pilots, and each Patrol is a ship, the Scouts standing in column behind each other, grasping the belt of the Scout in front. All but the pilots are blindfolded.

Set up a couple of large obstacles in front of each Patrol, and on the word to sail, the ships move forward, commanded from the starting line by their pilots, who stand still and bellow orders, such as "Full steam ahead!" and "Starboard!" and "Ten points to port." Each pilot must thus steer his ship round the obstacles and back to the starting line, where the ship must finish the same way round as it started.

Vary this by having the pilot at the rear of the patrol, signaling changes of direction silently by patting the shoulder of the boy in front, who passes the signal forward to the " bows " of the " ship."

Warning Noises

You will find that practice by means of such games as these will soon improve your sense of direction, and also your ability to judge distance when you hear a particular sound at night-and this may prove to be most useful. For instance, the sound of a car passing along a road, or of locomotives shunting goods wagons, or the lowing of cattle or the bleating of sheep, may give you just the clue you wanted to discover your own location in a strange district.

The noises made by animals and birds can also tell you quite a lot more than just direction, distance, or location ; they can give you warning of strangers about, and they can also give other people warning of your own presence-so be wary !

If you pass near a sheepfold at night, the sheep will bleat drearily. If you walk through a field where there are cattle (or beast, as they say in Nottinghamshire) they will low uneasily at you; and this sound will carry a mile or more on a still night. But if cattle start bellowing loudly at night, and stampeding about the field, you may be fairly sure that a strange dog is in there, or perhaps a fox.

Many animals fear Brer Fox, and one of the oddest of country sounds may be heard in the dusk of early evening, if a fox comes along when rabbits are out in a field feeding. At once all the bunnies will scuttle off to their burrows, and if you are near, and keep quiet, you may hear the patter of their little feet on the turf, like a miniature Charge of the Light Brigade.

Alarm Birds

Birds that are good sentries, and sound an alarm when noisy humans approach, are the blackbird, the peewit, and the fieldfare. Enter a wood, and away goes a blackie, uttering his shrill alarm whistle. Or a company of fieldfares, who roost in companies and never solitary, will set up a tremendous fuss if you come within yards of their corner of the wood. Out on the moors and hills it is the peewit that sails overhead with his plaintive, or scolding, long drawn-out whistle.

It is almost impossible to avoid disturbing these birds, and impossible to prevent them from giving the alarm ; but you can take note of the alarm they give when it is caused by someone else-your opponents in a game, or a possibly unfriendly intruder. And all these sounds help to make an evening or night ramble more interesting.

Nature By Night

Night Scouting






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Peer- Level Topic Links:
Making A Start ] Night Eyes ] [ Night Ears ] Night Nose! ] Night Hiking ] Night Stalking ] Night Signalling ] Night Hike Vision ] Lights & Rockets ] Training Games ] Nature By Night ] Star-Gazing ] Telling Time by Stars ] Night Photography ] Forward ] Acknowledgments ] From Writer to Reader ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.