Tracking Part I: Boy Scouts and BRDC

Two local Boy Scout Troups secured the promise of two Blue Ridge Discovery Volunteers, Scott Jackson-Ricketts and Roald Kirby, to help them with their Tracking Merit Badge work. Leading up to the big day, Scott gathered tracking materials from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries through the generosity of Allen Boynton and Carol Heiser.

On Friday, November 19th, Roald and Scott met at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, to spend a few preliminary hours checking the grounds around the pond and above it, an old apple orchard. They raked leaves away from well-worn paths to give the boys a better opportunity to find fresh tracks worthy of casting.

Then, on Saturday, 11 boys, four parents and the BRDC volunteers began their tracking by finding some good tracks and casting several molds, using plaster of paris and containment collars. As Roald and Scott discovered the previous day, there are so many deer on premises that finding any other tracks would be nearly impossible. There were canine tracks, most likely left by domestic dogs, as they were too big to represent coyote. However, some scat was discovered that contained mostly rodent hair, and was determined to belong to either coyote or bobcat.

Splitting into two groups, with Roald and Ann Watson taking one up into the orchard, while Buddy Halsey and Scott headed down below the pond into brushy undergrowth and eventually up a deer trail through a short leaf pine woods and into a hardwood stand. Both groups found some more cast-worthy tracks, and various signs such as recent evidence of a bird kill, raccoon scat, deer hair on twigs, bird and squirrel nests, and antler rubs. Deer trails dominated the landscape, and were used to demonstrate efficiency of movement, discovery of bedding areas, and the evidence of how important a role the apple orchard played in the deer’s world at this time of year.

After lunch and some general discussion, Buddy offered a stalking game, which turned out to be the highlight of the day. The idea here was for Buddy to position himself on top of a hill, in full view, while three groups of scouts attempted to get as close to him as possible before he spotted them. The three groups designed their own strategies and all took different paths. What made this especially challenging was how open most of the area was between Buddy and the scouts’ starting points. All three groups put great effort into this challenge, suffering the barbs of black-berry thickets, barbed wire and other indignities, but the older group won by skirting a wide arc and coming up behind Buddy. They used the more civilized but longer path, including campus buildings for shields.
And lastly, all 11 boys participated in a version of hide and seek known as Snake Pit, where one boy is given a four minute lead, finds a hiding place and stays put. Then, at four-minute intervals, and one at a time, another boy was released to find the hiding place, and if successful, stayed as well…and so on.

At the end of the day, the adults discussed another follow-up field trip in a different habitat, such as along the river. This merit badge is one of several centennial offerings, and will no longer be available after the end of this year. Historically, the badge was called ‘Stalking’, but was altered to ‘Tracking’ due to the recent use of the word ‘stalking’.
For more information see: http://usscouts.org/mb/mb142.asp
For a detailed description of discoveries and education activities see: Tracking Part II: Field trip details

Article and photographs by Scott Jackson-Ricketts