New Skills: Combat Tracking with David Scott-Donelan and IMTT

Intro

I think a combat tracking course was the first thing that I contacted IMTT Finland about. They had offered such classes in the past and they seemed very interesting. Well as you know we ended up doing other stuff together, like the IMTT curriculum PD1A shooters course, of which you can read more about here: (Lesson 1 and Lesson 2).

But I still remained really interested about tracking and regularly checked with IMTT Finland if there was anything in the works. And when they nudged me that Varusteleka was joining forces with IMTT USA in bringing David Scott-Donelan, a legend in the field, to Finland to give a two day course, I was thrilled! After rescheduling some stuff and counting my pennies I reserved myself a seat. 

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The Man, The Legend

David Scott-Donelan really is a man of a thousand tales. I did not know about him before, but when I saw his credentials in the course description in Varusteleka’s website I thought I could not miss this opportunity for anything.

David was born in Africa to British parents and even though I think he said that he went to school in England, he served and lived in Africa for his army career. He listed to the Army of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1961. He was one of the first members of the C Squadron (Rhodesian) SAS. He later went on to work in the famous Tracker Combat Unit and even led it eventually. Then his unit was absorbed by the  famous Sealous Scouts.

When Rhodesia ceased to exist he moved to t South Africa and continued to work with the special forces and reconnaissance units until 1989, when he moved to the US. He founded the first tracking school in 1994 and later he founded the Scott Donelan Tracking School. He has trained countless of US military units, special forces operators, police officers and border patrols to know the ways of man-tracking.

He actually visited Finland for the first time during this course and seemed to like our modest little country. He told us about Finnish volunteers in the Boer Wars and seemed to know a great deal about our military history though, so he did not come unprepared!

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IMTT and Varusteleka

IMTT, or International Mobile Training Team, is a US based and veteran owned training collective. They provide a wide range of consulting and training for individuals and organisations in the fields of tactical operations and law enforcement skills.

IMTT has had ties to Finland for years and there are a few vendors and Finnish instructors who can offer IMTT certified training, one of which is our friend behind IMTT Finland.

Varusteleka on the other hand is a military surplus store, that kind of does not require introductions. I believe they are the largest mil-surplus store in Europe and quite possibly in the whole world. They have an ever changing and large variety of goods, including a rapidly growing selection of knives, clothes and equipment of their own production.

They have also started to expand to offer different sort of events and training too recently. I believe we will see more collaborations between Varusteleka and companies like IMTT in the future, and personally I am truly happy to see such opportunities and classes easily accessible for larger audiences.

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Combat Tracking

Combat tracking, tactical man-tracking, there seems to be a few different words for this art of finding people by following the signs of their movement in the ground. I will start with this small introduction to the matter and then continue onto telling about our amazing two days with David.

Basically what David was teaching us about is a descendant of the Rhodesian variation of tactical tracking operations that are conducted by a team of trackers. We did not really get to the team tracking part of the longer course curriculum, but I will tell what I know about it. I will not tell you everything of course, you need to go to one of his classes to learn the whole thing!

The teams goal is tied to the larger requirements and mission of their unit. The team should be able to conduct a follow-up of a possibly armed aggressor (insurgents, enemy combatants, fugitives etc.) by locating and following tracks. They can be used to pursue and put pressure on the quarry (the lingo word for the people who the trackers are following). The team should be able to determine the amount of the quarry and the way they are going and so provide their unit with actionable intelligence. Their expertise can also be used to hide the movements of friendly teams by using anti-tracking skills (also something we did not go into).

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The act of tracking is in itself quite simple and something that is embedded in everyone of us through evolution. Or so David told us. The goal is to find a track, or “a spoor”, that can consist of a large number of different signs and prints. The spoor usually consist of foot prints, other signs left by the feet of the quarry like scuffs or flattened vegetation, and aerial spoors, like bent grass, broken branches and so on. There are several other signs too that the tracker can use to determine where the quarry is going and what they have done in the process.

You might wonder if there is really any use of all this. But I can assure you, even after the two days of training we were able to interpret a set of foot prints and find out things that had happened that you might not believe, as you will see below!

The Course

Day 1

We had two days to learn all the basics of combat tracking. The first day they had reserved this pub/conference room in a local café in southern Finland and David gave us some fundamental lectures.

We learned about the terminology and the dynamics of a footprint. Foot print is basically constructed of the primary impact point or heel strike, the foot roll and the terminal point where the toes dig in to the soil. Then you look at the action indicators like stride, pitch angle, straddle, pressure and dwell time.

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You would be surprised of how much you can tell about the person and situation just from a foot print. I know it sounds like some “MacGyvery” stuff, but a really good tracker might be able to tell the quarry’s gender, the approximate kit they have, the pace they are going, if they know there are people in pursuit etc.

To me one the most impressive examples of this was a picture David showed us of a print of a butt plate of a rifle and in matter of seconds our more sharp eyed pupils had identified the rifle to be a Russian AK47 (and really Russian instead of say a Chinese AK), and that David said that they used to identify a specific rifles in his Rhodesian days just by looking at the screws on a print of a plate!

Then we learned all about the different tracking indicators and spoors that I mentioned above, while all the time the lectures were livened up by David’s amazing stories. Then we went out and put all that we had learned into practice.

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We had a sandy beach where we drew a large box and started to interpret the prints David and other instructors made for us. At first we were a bit uncertain with our skills but as the end of the day drew near we were starting to get more confident. We actually were able to tell from prints on the ground that two guys had laid down, crawled towards each other, hand wrestled and even which one won (it was David, of course).

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Day 2

On the second day we spend the whole day in the woods. It was raining and we felt like the trackers in Vietnam David told us about. There even was a helicopter in the air and somebody hummed the “Fortunate Son” for a while there.

We split into two groups that then split into two squads and each one in turn made a track for the other squad to track. And like the day before the first tracking attempts were a bit hard but we got better by every track we followed. At first we started off with a lot of “courtesy scuffs”, dragging our feet and breaking dead branches. Then we started to make it a bit harder for the trackers and still every time the trackers found their quarry.

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Trackers looking for signs of their quarry.

we actually managed to surprise and impress David there for a bit. Tracking one group we found out that you could also track by looking at the colours of the vegetation! In Finland we have a lot of blueberry and lingonberry bushes on the ground and when somebody walks trough the bush the leaves turn a bit and show the lighter underside. It is actually so visible that when you squad down and look from the level of the plants you can see an actual lighter path going in the bush. When we noticed this we practically flew onwards on the track!

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Where to Now

Sadly we did not get to the “lost spoor procedures” too much or to learn how the team actually works when tracking. But it is nice to know the basics now and start to train on my own. The manual we got from David and his book have all the information to get started with and you really cannot learn to track without going out and reading the tracks.

Hopefully IMTT or actually IMTT Finland will organise some refresher and advance courses. And if David’s health allows and IMTT and Varusteleka are up to it, they might bring him back again for another course.

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My Tracking Kit

I wrote a loadout post to Pack Config about the experimental tracking kit build around the Prometheus Design Werx SHADO packs ToF waist belt. If you are interested in that, you have to wait for a little while longer until it is published there, so stay tuned!

Full Disclosure

I received these products and the class via my own funds. I am not bound by any written, verbal, or implied contract to give this product a good review. All opinions are my own and are based off my personal experience with the product.

-N

 

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