A Raft with a framework of staves

About Stalking and the Scout’s Staff
From Baden-Powell, What Scouts Can Do: More Yarns, 1921

I was looking at a number of soldiers being trained the other day in how to hide themselves from the enemy and how to creep up to him, and I was delighted to see that they were being taught in the same way that we teach the Boy Scouts—in fact, a Boy Scout officer was their instructor and several Boy Scouts were helping.

When a fellow starts to crawl to a place unseen he goes down on all fours and paddles along quickly, like the first picture…. But while proceeding in this way he is often more easily seen than he thinks.

The wrong way to stalk

The way to go along unseen is that shown in the second picture—creeping slowly inch by inch.

The Right Way

It is more difficult than the first, unless you have practiced it a good deal. You go on the fore-part of the arm held in the position shown in the sketch, each arm passing over the other in turn to the front; the body and legs are kept stiff the whole time. With a little practice it is wonderful what a pace you can get up if you want to. I saw several races of men in this position and they got over the ground very fast and unseen among the grass and low bushes.

Practice crawling like this till you can do it perfectly and don’t forget it. It may not only help you to succeed in playing the game or in stalking wild animals, but it may be the means of saving your life.

Fourteen young Montenegrins, who were our Allies in the Great War, escaped some time ago from German prisons where they were kept as prisoners of war. They escaped two at a time by creeping away in the night, and they hid all day and made their way gradually towards the frontier of Holland.

Some of them took eight days to get there; two of them took ten days. They dared not go near any people or villages and had to live on as much of their rations as they had been able to save up before starting, and their rations were very small and nasty.

They were continually being hunted for by soldiers and police and the frontier line was strongly guarded with sentries. But still they managed to get through in the end, only two of them being captured; and they were mainly successful because they had all learnt the art of crawling.

One of them had to crawl for nine hours on end, and got his hands very badly cut by the stones in doing so, but if they had not known how to do it properly they could never have escaped.


Commanding officers at the Front frequently said that they found soldiers who had been Boy Scouts were specially useful for trench warfare because they knew how to hide themselves and how to creep about in the dark without losing their way.

As you know, most of the work of raiding and attacking is done by night in order to avoid being seen by the enemy.

One officer who had used old Boy Scouts for this work was at his wits’ end when he tried to use other soldiers—they were so clumsy. He was only happy again when he found among his men one who had been a burglar—and he made a first-class Scout I

But to be able to get about by night requires a great deal of practice, and lots of fellows have lost their way, and in consequence have lost their lives, by starting out on night raids thinking that they could do it all right without ever having tried it before.

They were like the man who, when asked if he could play the fiddle, said that he had no doubt he could, as other people seemed to be able to do it, though he had never tried himself.

Going about in the dark is very much like what a blind man has to do, and you soon find, as he does, that you want two brains instead of one, to be working at the same time.

For instance, if you were sent off now with a message you would go by the road that you know and can see, and your mind is only busy in remembering the message that you have to give. But with a blind man it is different. He has not only to think of the message, but he wants a second brain to think out the road that he is taking and to think of and to remember every landmark by which he feels his way. So you will understand that a simple expedition like that is twice as difficult for a man who cannot see.

Well, if you are sent out on a dark night to perform a duty you are much in the same position as the blind man. Your brain is thinking of the duty to be done, you are trying to keep hidden from the enemy and to find out where he is, but you want another brain to be helping you to note carefully your direction by the stars, compass or landmarks, so that you do not lose your way.

A fellow who does a lot of such work in the dark gradually gets his second brain, but it does not come all at once and means a considerable amount of practice at first.

One way of carrying out such exercises is to put on dark spectacles and carry out your scouting work as if by night, seeing only very dimly through them.

Another way is to practice for yourself by going about your work without opening your eyes for five or ten minutes every now and then.

In this way you will gradually understand why it is that blind men are so wonderfully clever with their feeling of touch and hearing You soon begin to get some of this cleverness yourself, and you will find it of tremendous use to you if you come to do scout work by night on service.

But don’t forget that it wants continual practice. I even practice it myself, for when I get up in the early morning before daylight I never light any lamp but dress altogether in the dark, and find my way about the house by feeling and guesswork.


Why carry a staff ? Well, there are a good many reasons for it. First let us take the point of view of the Army Scout.


That is where I originally got the idea, for I always used a staff myself when scouting on service, and you will find that the Scouts at the Great War were always glad to use them, chiefly for feeling their way at night.

A light unshod staff is what every old hand carries. It is practically only a Tenderfoot who goes without one. A Scout can thus feel his way in difficult ground without blundering into holes and over obstacles, trip wires, etc.


In the bush or on mountain trails a good staff is a tremendous help. You never see a native climber of mountains, whether in the Himalayas or in Switzerland, without one, and on the veldt in South Africa or on the prairies in America a staff is the best protection for dealing with a puff adder or a " rattler."


Zulus, Masai, and other warlike tribes never walk a yard without a weapon of some sort in their hands—generally an assegai or spear, but often a heavy staff. They begin when boys to carry staves; thus their hand is so accustomed to holding a weapon that they feel uncomfortable without one.

With the native boys it has a special use, which is also valuable to Scouts on a tramping trek. The native boy has to act as orderly to the native warrior when he is on a campaign, and to carry his grass sleeping-mat in a long roll which contains his food and blankets, etc. The staff supports this.


The Scout’s Chart, No. 24, which you get for fourpence, post free, at 28 Maiden Lane, London, W.C. a, gives you a dozen or more different uses of the staff, with illustrations.

But apart from these it is airways coming in useful in unexpected ways. For instance, some motorists tried to get away in their car after causing an accident. A party of Scouts who were there stopped the car. How ? By hanging on to it ?

No, that would not have done the trick. They shoved their staves in between the spokes of the wheels and jammed them. No other boys than Scouts could have done that.

The Royal Engineers like to get ex-Scouts to join them. Why ? Because amongst many other good things they can do, they can build field bridges of various kinds. This they have learned by building model bridges with their staves.

I have on several occasions had to cross a river or canal, taking food and baggage, etc., where no boat was available, and no wood for making rafts existed. How did I do it ?

Well, in one case we got some barrels out of an inn, and in another we used some waterproof sheets and kit-bags, filled them with hay and straw, and tied them up tightly. These we lashed firmly together, a framework of staves thereby making an excellent raft.

And, what is more, we made a fine sailing boat of it, by hoisting a staff as a mast and another as a cross-yard, with a greatcoat as a sail.

A fine sailing boat

During the air raids numbers of cases were reported where the Scouts did good work in supplying temporary stretchers made out of staves and coats, while other people were busy trying to telephone for stretchers to be sent I

For ease in getting across country a staff is of the very greatest help.


Not long ago I heard from a Scout who had been a prisoner of war in Germany and had made his escape. He says that his success was due to several things that he had learnt as a Scout.

One was how to steer himself by the stars and a map. (Can you do this ?)

Another was how to make a small fire that would not give him away and yet enabled him to cook his food. And he knows how to cook. (Can you do this ?)

And lastly the habit of carrying a staff saved him from many a false step in the dark which might have been fatal, and it gave him a weapon with which he could knock aside an enemy’s revolver and prod him in the wind so as to knock hem senseless.

Lots of men brought home with them from the Front the staves they had used on service. We had a show of staves at the Jamboree. It was in two classes, one section to display staves that had been on active service, with the history of what they had gone through

The other section was to show staves ornamented by Scouts; the best of which got prizes.

A Good Way to Ornament Your Staff
(Click here for an example drawn by B-P)

All of the staves were returned afterwards to the owners, and I think they made a jolly interesting collection.

Some fellows seem to think that if they cannot buy the ordinary staves they need not therefore carry a staff. This is quite wrong. A Scout without a staff is only half dressed, and not prepared for action. I will not inspect Scouts at Rallies who have not their staves with them. These staves need not necessarily be the ordinary ones you buy in a shop. A good staff cut in the woods is quite as good if not better.

For myself I will always much rather have one that I have cut and trimmed with my own hands than one bought over the counter.

Backwoodsmen mostly carry staves, but they don’t go to a shop for them—why should a Scout ?

Baden-Powell, Baden-Powell: What Scouts Can Do–More Yarns, 1921

Chapter IV. Getting Good Sport—Life in the Wild. Part One: Knowing the Language — Deduction — Why He Was Fat and Rich — Mountineering: The Right Way to Climb Hills — Maxim for Scouts — Observation — Close to the Enemy — What the Indian Saw — An Envelope for a Boy — African Tribes
Chapter IV. Getting Good Sport—Life in the Wild. Part Two: On the March — Camping — Hunting — Fire-Lighting — Initiation of Boys — Discipline — Chivalry — Salutation of Friendship — Totem — Signalling —The Rally — Elephant Hunter and Scout — Two Narrow Escapes — The Boy Hunter —The End of a Great Career.
From Chapter VII: "Stalking and the Scout’s Staff"
From Chapter VII: "The Swastika"
From Chapter VIII: "Biking in Bosnia"
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Last Modified: 10:30 PM on June 30, 1997