Chapter IV. Getting Good Sport—Life in the Wild
From Baden-Powell, What Scouts Can Do: More Yarns, 1921

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

WHEN I was in India I was pretty hard-worked as a young soldier, so I did not have the same chances that my seniors did of getting leave of absence and going out into the jungle for some distance to get shooting. But after a time I found I could get just as good sport as they got, only I could get it quite near to the place where I was quartered. Indeed, a good deal of my best shooting and hunting was done within the sound of the barrack bugles. I know one day an officer was wondering how I managed it, and I undertook to shoot a good buck within a quarter of an hour of leaving my bungalow. He would not believe it, because it would take me about ten minutes to get clear of the town and outlying houses which lay on three sides of me, while the fourth side was bounded by the river. But I started out on my pony, with rifle in hand, and I galloped across the wide, sandy river-bed, crossed the river by a ford which I knew of, and in ten minutes I was among a lot of broken ravines and wild country on the far side of the river.

Here I very quickly spotted a deer grazing among some bushes. I slipped off my pony and proceeded to stalk him, but soon found that I had to get over a wide space of open ground in order to get within shot.

I had had my clothes dyed green to match the ground, which at that season of the year was grass-grown, and my only chance was, therefore, to creep flat along the ground across the open in the hope that the buck would not notice me, coloured as I was.

I crawled nearer and nearer to him, pausing every now and then when he lifted his head to look round, and glueing myself flat to the earth, motionless, until he went on with his grazing, and I was able to creep a few feet nearer.

Time was getting on, and I was still a long way out of shot, when suddenly I heard behind me a slight whistling snort. I glanced round, and there, to my surprise, stood another buck of a different species, quite near, who was watching me with startled eyes, and who evidently could not make out what I was.

I must have seemed to him what a Tank was to the Germans the first time they saw one.

There was not a second to lose. I whipped myself round, pivoting on my stomach, upped with my rifle, and fired hastily on a quick sight before the buck had time to think.

By a great fluke I hit him at the base of the throat, and he dropped dead.

But that was not my only fluke, for when I came to measure his horns, I found that they were one of the biggest pairs that had been shot in India. And it was all done within the quarter of an hour; in fact, it was only ten minutes from the time of leaving my bungalow!

It was only the fact that the head was evidently fresh killed that made my friend believe that I had not prepared the dead buck beforehand.


Now for the secret of my success. It was merely this—that I had taken the trouble to learn the language of the country, so that I could talk to the natives, and they had been quite friendly and had expressed their wonder why all the officers took the trouble to go so far away for their sport when they could have got it quite close at home among these ravines.

But then these had not learnt the language, and could not understand the natives if they had told them about it.

Often and often when out pig-sticking, and we had lost sight of our quarry, a native would come up and tell us where the boar was to be found, and I was fortunately able to understand them, where another man would have missed some good sport.

Then another good sport I have enjoyed has been that of spying for war purposes in an enemy’s country, and you might just as well try to boil your billy without a fire as try to spy without a knowledge of foreign languages.

It is difficult enough if you only know one. It is much better to know two or three, so as to divert suspicion, or to be able to pass from one country to another.

It is not sufficient merely to know how to read or write the language or the grammar of it; but it is of the greatest importance that you should be able to talk it with some of the everyday slang of the country and with the action of hands, shoulders, and eyebrows with which most foreigners accompany their talk.

That is where Scouting comes in. A fellow who, like a Scout, is accustomed to notice little details, not only of dress and appearance, but of manners and actions, can very soon pick these up for himself, and so make himself much more readily understood and in sympathy with the people he is talking to.

For myself, at one time, when I was learning Italian, I used to act the one word "ma" which means " but."

But in Italian it means so very many different things, according to the way you say it, and the way you shrug your shoulders or spread your hands in accompaniment.

I have always found it great fun to learn a new language; especially by watching the people who use it. At the same time it is of course necessary to learn the words of it by reading and writing them, and I know of no better way than by reading foreign newspapers and by getting into correspondence by letter with a foreigner who is willing to write to you in his own language, and to correct your faults when you write to him.

That is why in the Scout movement we are now encouraging fellows to take up correspondence with foreign Scouts.

We can put you in touch with some of them, and we hope to pay your postage if you keep up that correspondence.


Here is also a short account of a little exercise carried out one morning in observing "sign" and reading the meaning of it.

On the road were the tracks of two horses side by side— they had evidently gone side by side, as the tracks never crossed each other, but turned and changed their course together. The one on the near side (left) was evidently a horse of ordinary size, judging by the size of its hoofs and length of stride. The one on the off-side (right) was evidently a cob, being of smaller build, but stout—the hoof-prints airing a wider track and shorter stride than the horse; it was also going rather lame, one foot making a shorter stride than the others and not treading so heavily on the ground.

From the fact that the cob was lame it was probable that nobody was riding it; and from its moving alongside another horse on its off-side it was probable that it was being led by a man on the horse (he would be holding his own reins in his left hand and would lead a led horse with his right.

Then the lame foot was shod differently from the others, with a shoe which was evidently intended to give relief to injury at the heel, so that the cob had been lame for some time.

From these signs I made out that the cob belonged to a stout old gentleman who had begun life as a poor man, but was now well off.

Can you make that out too, or have you a better explanation?


This, at any rate, is how I arrived at my conclusions.

The cob was owned by a stout old man because ladies do not as a rule ride stout cobs, nor do young or thin, light men ride them.

Then he was well-to-do, because he could afford to keep a groom to take his cob out to exercise and ride another horse in doing so.

And he had not been well off as a young man because he evidently liked to keep on this cob in spite of its having gone lame, and had had it shod and exercised in the hope of its getting sound again. Had he been a good horseman, that is, one who learnt his riding as a lad, he would have sold his unsound animal and bought another; but he was probably not a very good rider and was accustomed to this cob and did not like to try a new one.

And that is why I guessed him to be a stout self-made man of over middle age.


Are you going on mountaineering expeditions some summer? I think you will have a good time if the weather favours you. I advise you to notice the suggestions given in Scouting for Boys on the subject: to take Scouts’ tents with you, also mountaineering ropes and maps, and to carry out some of the exercises and games suggested; if you do this you will find the trip all the more interesting.

Here are some additional ideas about mountaineering:

The Ghurkas are a tribe who live in Nepaul in Northern India. They are amongst the best soldiers we have got in our Army. They are short, strongly made little men, with slit eyes and high cheek bones—very like the Japanese. And they are very brave and hardy and cheery. And they are very good at climbing the mountains.

Major Woodyatt, of the 3rd Ghurkas, says of them that, " The hill-soldier comes downhill very quickly—much quicker than we can manage; but he always goes uphill slowly."

The immortal Shakespeare realised this when he wrote, "To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first." That is a point which nine out of ten beginners forget, namely, to go uphill very slowly and very steadily—on the flat feet, not on the toes.

The same rule is followed by the men of Montenegro. Montenegro is a small country high up in the mountains on the east side of the Adriatic. The men are splendid great fellows and very patriotic, fond of their country, and although not real soldiers they all dress in the same uniform, practise rifle shooting, and always go about fully armed with rifle, knives, and pistols. Yet they are most peaceful people, and are the only people I know of who do not know how to steal.

They used to be constantly fighting their neighbours, the Turks, and their way of defeating them was to pretend to be beaten and to run away up the mountains. The Turks followed them as fast as they could; when they were getting blown and strung out the Montenegrins used to turn on them and, rushing downhill like an avalanche, smash them up very completely. As they say themselves, "Anyone can go uphill provided that he goes slow enough; but it takes a Montenegrin to run downhill." And certainly it is wonderful what a pace they can put on in coming down their mountains.


The history of the Empire has been made by British adventurers and explorers, the Scouts of the nation, for hundreds of years past up to the present time.

It is a disgrace to a Scout if, when he is with other people, they see anything big or little, near or far, high or low, that he has not already seen for himself.

By continually watching animals in their natural state one gets to like them too well to shoot them. The whole sport of hunting animals lies in the woodcraft of stalking them, not in the killing.

Woodcraft includes, besides being able to see the tracks of animals and other small signs, the power to read their meaning, such as at what pace the animal was going; whether he was frightened or unsuspicious, and so on. It enables the hunter also to find his way in the jungle or desert: it teaches him which are the best wild fruits, roots, etc., for his own food, or which are favourite food for animals, and, therefore, likely to attract them.


Here is a story of observation from the Pathfinder.

"The Scout Pathfinder, together with Jasper and Mabel and two friendly Red Indians, were travelling down river in their canoe trying to escape from hostile Iroquois Red Indians, who were in pursuit along the banks. They managed to run their canoe into a little creek close under the river-bank which was here exceedingly bushy. To conceal themselves better they cut and planted round them some extra branches, so that they could not be seen from the river; for the Red Indians who were searching for them came in two parties, one on the bank above them, the other wading down in the water.

"The near approach of their enemies rendered profound silence necessary. The Iroquois in the river were slowly descending, keeping of necessity near the bushes that overhung the water, while the rustling of leaves and the snapping of twigs soon gave fearful evidence that another party was moving along the bank at an equally graduated pace and directly abreast of them. In consequence of the distance between the bushes planted by the fugitives and the true shore the two parties of Indians became visible to each other, when opposite that precise spot.

"Both stopped, and a conversation ensued that may be said to have passed directly over the heads of those who were concealed.

"Indeed nothing sheltered the travelers but the branches and leaves of plants, so pliant that they yielded to every current of air, and which a puff of wind, a little stronger than common, would have blown away. Fortunately the line of sight carried the eyes of the two parties of savages, whether they stood in the water or on the land, above the bushes; and the leaves appeared blended in a way to excite no suspicion. Perhaps the very boldness of the expedient prevented an immediate exposure.


"The conversation that took place was conducted in low tones, every word of which, of course, was plainly heard by the fugitives. The savages were comparing notes and discussing which way it would be possible for them to have gone. Then they agreed that they must have gone on still further down the river and that they themselves had better follow as quietly and as quickly as possible.

"The savages now ceased speaking, and the party that was concealed heard the slow and guarded movements of those who were on the bank as they moved on in their wary progress. It was soon evident that the latter had passed the cover; but the group in the water still remained scanning the shore, with eyes that glared through their war-paint like coals of living fire. After a pause of two or three minutes these three also began to descend the stream, though it was step by step, as men move who look for an object that has been lost. In this manner they passed the artificial screen, and Pathfinder opened his mouth in that hearty but noiseless laugh that Nature and habit had contributed to render a peculiarity of the man.

"His triumph, however, was premature; for the last of the retiring party, just at this moment casting a look behind him, suddenly stopped, and his fixed attitude and steady gaze at once betrayed the appalling fact that something had awakened his suspicions.

"It was, perhaps, fortunate for the concealed that the warrior who manifested these fearful signs of distrust was a young Scout and had still a reputation to acquire.

"He knew the importance of discretion and modesty in one of his years, and most of all did he dread the ridicule and contempt that would certainly follow a false alarm. Without recalling any of his companions, therefore, he turned on his own footsteps, and while the others continued to descend the river he cautiously approached the bushes, on which his looks were still fastened, as by a charm.


"Some of the leaves which were exposed to the sun had drooped a little, and this slight departure from the usual natural laws had caught the quick eyes of the Indian; for so practiced and acute do the senses of the savage become, more especially when he is on the warpath, that trifles, apparently of the most insignificant sort, often prove to be clues to lead him to his object.

"In consequence of the delay that proceeded from these combined causes, the two parties had descended some fifty or sixty yards before the young savage was again near enough to the bushes of Pathfinder to touch them with his hand.

"Notwithstanding their critical situation, the whole party behind the cover had their eyes fastened on the working countenance of the young Iroquois, who was agitated by his conflicting feelings. First came the hope of obtaining success, where some of the most experienced of his tribe had failed, and with it a degree of glory that had seldom fallen to one of his years, or a brave on his first warpath; then followed doubt as the drooping leaves seemed to rise again, and to revive in the currents of air. And distrust of hidden danger lent its exciting feeling to keep the eloquent features in play. So very slight, however, had been the alteration produced by the heat on bushes of which the stems were in the water, that when the Iroquois actually laid his hand on the leaves he fancied that he had been deceived. As no man ever distrusts strongly without using all convenient means of satisfying his doubts, however the young warrior pushed aside the branches and advanced a step within the hiding-place, when the forms of the concealed party met his gaze, resembling so many breathless statues. The low exclamation, the slight start, and the glaring eye were hardly seen and heard before the arm of Chingachgook was raised, and the tomahawk of the Delaware descended on the shaven head of his foe. The Iroquois raised his hands frantically bounded backward, and fell into the water at a spot where the current swept the body away, the struggling limbs still tossing and writhing in the agony of death."

And thus did the little party of fugitives escape from capture and death.


In Scouting for Boys, and again later, in The Scout, I have told you how the South African native tribes train their boys.

When a fellow becomes a Boy Scout there, he is stripped of the few clothes that he has on (generally these consist of a very small kilt made of squirrels’ skins and a wire bracelet, so they are easily taken off); then he is smeared all over with a kind of white paint which won’t come off for at least a month, however much he may wash it. He is given a short spear, called an assegai, and a shield made of ox-hide, and he is told to go off into the woods until his paint has worn off.

If anybody sees him while he is still white they will kill him.

Well, that poor boy has to go off without any food or blankets, to live as best he can. He has to get shelter from the cold, and to find animals for food by watching, tracking, and stalking them, and to kill, skin, and cut them up with his assegai; to make a fire by grinding wood against wood, for he has no matches to do it with.

He has to know the different It kinds of roots, leaves, and berries that are good for food, and to manufacture cooking pots in which to boil them.

He has to be always on the look-out lest the men should find him, and he has to know how to defend himself if he is attacked by them or by wild animals.

A boy who can do all this for a month or more—that is, till the paint has worn off—can then return to his village, where he is received with joy by his tribe. He is then given his weapons and is allowed to become a man and a warrior, because he has proved that he is able to look after himself.

But it takes a bit of doing, and I don’t suppose that very many British town boys could do it unless they were Boy Scouts, and I expect that a good many even of these would starve in the attempt.

Supposing, for instance, that you could not get two bits of wood of the right kind for making fire—for it is not every wood that will do it—what other way is there by which you might get it? I am supposing that you have nothing more than your shield and assegai with you. Think it over.


There is one way for getting shelter from rain or cold wind which I have seen boys make and use in Kashmir. Any boy could make one for himself, and it is quite a useful thing when camping out. Make one for yourself and see.

The first time I saw one I thought it was a new kind of bird or giant grasshopper. He was stooping down to pick up something.

Then he began to stalk about.

But when he turned round I saw it was a boy inside his envelope.

Then I saw two of them sitting and baying a talk together quite comfortably in the driving rain.

The " envelope " was simply a lot of large leaves, all stitched together with fibre from the bark of trees or with tough grass The leaves were, of course, put neatly in rows, the upper row overlapping the one below it, so that the rain ran off as it would off a tiled roof, and the envelope was thus fairly waterproof.

I have seen much the same thing in Japan and China, where the natives make capes and kilts of long grass carefully strung together. These keep them very dry and warm.


Somehow or other the Red Indians of North America have been very much written up in books, and often half what is written of them is made up from imagination, or from secondhand information.

The consequence is that fellows are apt to think that the Red Indians are the only wild people who are any good.

But this is a great mistake.

I have had the good luck to live with several of these tribes, so that I do not have to get my information out of books, but there are so many different races in Africa that it is difficult to bring all of them and their ways into this book.

Therefore I shall have to present mainly the Zulus, with perhaps a few Masai and Sudanese thrown in.

The Zulus include several other big tribes who are their cousins, such as Swazis, Matabele, Basutos, Angonis, etc. Just to give you a rough idea of some of the main tribes and their whereabouts here is a diagram of Africa, and though there are many more people inhabiting the continent, I only give the names of those I have visited.

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

Chapter IV. 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"
Table of Contents

The Baden-Powell Library. A Selection of excerpts from the works of Sir Robert Baden-Powell and works relating to his life and career
Sir Robert Baden-Powell, Founder of the World Scout Movement, Chief Scout of the World. A Home Page for the Founder. Links Relating to Baden-Powell on the Pine Tree Web and elsewhere. Text Only Index.

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