By K. Graham Thomson
Have you got eyes in your toes? For stalking you need them. Stalking is great fun, and very useful. Some day you may have to stalk a real enemy; often you will have to stalk a friendly It enemy - in the course of a Scouting game.
You must be a good stalker, too, if you are going to get the greatest possible benefit out of observing Nature. Stalking is also a splendid exercise ; and a game of the greatest interest when you pit yourself against an animal or bird, to see how near you can get to it without alarming it.
The word itself merely means getting up to your objective, whether person, bird or animal, without being seen, heard or smelt. It does not mean only creeping or crawling; a lot of stalking is done upright, and that is where the ability to balance yourself steadily on your feet becomes important. If you can successfully stalk an animal or bird, there is a possibility that it will stay where it is until you get quite close to it.
If you can do that, you will be able to observe it thoroughly, notice its form, color, movements, food and feeding habits, perhaps its nest or other home, and its characteristic habits and behavior. You may perhaps be able to get a photograph of it, or observe, and remember, enough to make a sketch of it in your log.
So you must train yourself to walk through a wood, or grass, or along a road, perfectly silently and with your muscles under full control so that you can " freeze " instantly if the creature you are stalking shows signs of alarm.
Copy the Cat
Creeping and crawling take a long time and are very tiring, so you will resort to that method of progress only when you are near your objective.
You should keep upright on your feet as long as you can, until you get quite close. As has been said, walking noiselessly is largely a matter of balance, and you can learn a lot about it by watching a cat when it is stalking a bird.
Watch how the cat moves one foot at a time, setting each down most carefully and delicately ; see how it " freezes " instantly at the first hint of a movement of the bird.
So you, too, must practice putting down each foot in such a way that you can stand stock still like a statue on the slightest alarm. Be careful where you plant your feet, so that leaves do not rustle as you advance a foot for the next step, or twigs crack with your weight on them.
Your Scout staff can be used to help you to balance upright, but be careful where you plant that, too.
It is like a third foot, and must be managed skillfully to avoid making a noise in grass or leaves. Take care also not to press your staff down into soft ground, or it will throw you off your balance, perhaps disastrously. It may also make a sucking sound when you pull it out, which will be enough to warn your quarry of your presence.
You will find the woodsmans walk the best way to walk silently; that is, with knees slightly bent, and loose, and the toes pointing straight forward. Then, when you are drawing near to your objective, use the stalker's crawl on hands and knees, imitating the cat stalking the bird as nearly as you can.
Move a hand forward, and bring your knee up to the place your hand formerly occupied, keeping all four members as nearly as possible in a straight line. Lift your toes clear of the ground so that they do not scrape along it, or hook up against a stone or a branch.
The closer you get, the more careful and the slower must be your progress. You must also crouch lower, remembering to keep your tail down-not up, like the horsey in the song. Finally, you must crouch right down on the ground and slither very slowly along, making use of all the cover available, of course, and being really patient and persevering.
Success will be well worth all the trouble taken. The sight and hearing of animals and birds is much more acute than ours, so it will be a real triumph for you if you can get within ten yards or less of a blackbird before it flies away, uttering its shrill alarm call.
Another tip is to adapt your movements to the natural noises that are around you. The noise made by a gust of wind disturbing the leaves of the trees will cover the extra sound you make if you take a quick pace forward ; and of course a waterfall can be most helpful in covering the sound of your advance upon your prey.
Such natural covers, though, are more useful when you are stalking a human " prey " than when you are stalking a bird or animal, because the wild creatures will probably be so used to the sound of the wind or the waterfall that they do not notice it, and they will hear any noisy movement of yours just the same. It is like living on a main road in a town; you soon grow accustomed to the noise of buses or trams, and you don't consciously hear them.
When you have practiced stalking by day until you are really good at it, you will be able to stalk at night with prospects of success. Only practice can make you expert; and when you have learned by daytime practice to balance properly, and to use your staff, to crawl on all-fours silently and to wriggle along like a worm on your tummy, you will not find it so difficult to travel silently in the dark.
Several stalking games have already been described, and you will remember the emphasis laid on skylines. So at night-time it may not be possible to stalk in the upright position ; and, of course, if you crouch down low you will stand a better chance of seeing your " enemy " if he is stalking you in the upright walking manner.
Standing still suddenly, or "freezing" as it is called, may be practiced in the clubroom in various ways. Perhaps the S.M. or one of the PLs will suddenly blow his whistle in a pre-arranged signal, whereupon everyone will " freeze " just wherever he is, no matter what he is doing. The result is often very funny. After counting the casualties, carry on, and do it again a bit later on, when no one is expecting it.
Then there is that game where one fellow stands close to, and facing, the wall at one end of the room, the others in a line facing him at the other end. When the game begins, these fellows start walking silently down the room, the sentry turning suddenly round at intervals. When he turns, the others must " freeze," and he points at anyone he sees moving or wobbling ; fellows pointed at must go back to the starting line and begin again, scoring one point against themselves.
Use Your Staff
The Chief reminds us, in Scouting for Boys, of the value of the Scout staff for feeling the way before you at night, and for holding branches aside or pushing twigs from the path. Take care that you do not strike a stone with your staff, especially if you have tipped it with metal ; tiny sounds carry a surprisingly long way on a still, fine night.
Keep closer together, when out with your Patrol at night in any sort of Patrol formation, than. you would by day; it is easy to lose touch with each other.
In very dark places, in woods or open country, keep touch by holding the end of the staff of the fellow alongside or in front of you.
If you have to keep farther apart, keep communication with the rest by giving utterance occasionally to your Patrol Call; for, as the Chief says: "An enemy would thus not be made suspicious." But don't have any lion or tiger Patrols in your Troop, unless you live near Whipsnade!
You will need other senses besides sight and touch, if you are to stalk successfully at night. Your sense of smell may help you to find an "enemy " or locate your whereabouts. Smoke, for example, whether from tobacco or from a house or camp-fire, can be smelt a tremendously long distance off at night, though thick trees stop it a bit. Also, the flicker of a fire, the scratch of a match, or the glow of a cigarette can be seen quite a long way.
So go out walking at night in the country, and use your skill in stalking to add to your knowledge of what is going on around you. Listen for every sound, and try to learn its meaning. Practice identifying things seen against the stars or a light horizon, distinguishing shadows from objects at a distance, and feeling, and so identifying, various objects in the night time.
You can learn a great deal about what is happening in the world by just lying down in a wood, or on a high spot overlooking a road or a tract of open country, whether in daytime or at night. It is easier at night than by day to lie hidden, provided you can reach your observation post silently and can then keep perfectly still.
Then keep all your senses alert to what is going on in the animal and bird world. And remember sometimes to turn over very quietly on to your back and spend a little time studying the heavens ; stars and planets, distant worlds many times larger than ours, are glittering there for you to see-a fascinating hobby for any keen Scout.
Tracking by Touch
Tracking practice at night is good sport. Perhaps you will one day attain the degree of proficiency at it that the Chief Scout reached. He tells us in Scouting for Boys how he once led a column of troops through an intricate part of the Matoppo Mountains, in Rhodesia, by night, to attack a stronghold of the enemy which he had reconnoitered the previous day, by feeling his own tracks made during the day. Sometimes he bent down and felt the tracks with his hands, but sometimes he felt them with his feet, through the soles of his shoes, which had worn very thin!
If you are playing a Scouting wide game while hiking at night, there are several tips that may be useful to you. The first is a simple one : Don't talk.
The sound of the human voice carries a tremendously long way on a windless night, and the Chief says he has often found his way through enemy outposts because he has heard the men talking in low tones, and so has been able to avoid them. If you must speak, whisper very close to the other fellow's ear even a whisper carries a good way.
The next tip is to look after your Scout staff and remember it has two ends, one to clink against stones, the other to catch in branches overhead. Don't let it do either.
Then remember to open gates quietly, and to climb over them if they show signs of creaking; remember also to close gates after you, lest sheep stray.
On roads or in fields, don't march in step; the tramp, tramp of a body of people marching carries a long way, and is an unmistakable sound to anyone on the watch.
Here are some tips about walking at night. In woods, step lightly to avoid rustling leaves, snapping sticks, and bumping into trees or stumps. In grass, put your heel down first if the grass is short, your toe down first if it is long. If you must wade a stream, move very slowly, so that you do not make a splash or send ripples running to the banks.
Chapter XI: Night Hiking
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Last modified: October 15, 2016.