Saturday, August 14, 2010

Stop, Look and Listen

[I can't believe I forgot to post this. Oh well, better late than never.]

One response to my article on Camouflage was from jC who pointed out the importance of remaining still when attempting to remain unseen. This prompted me to recall a couple of incidents from my past which I will pass on to you now.

As an eighteen year old PFC stationed in Germany during the Cold War I participated in a three day Escape and Evasion exercise wherein our platoon walked back to our barracks from a maneuver area while other US Army units played "aggressors" pretending to be Soviet forces that had overwhelmed NATO defenses (a real possibility back then) and taken control of the area. Our task was to evade the aggressors and walk back to NATO lines (our barracks).

Ayup! Just like when we kids had played "Cowboys and Indians" a few years before only this time we were playing with blanks, real tanks and armored personal carriers. We were walking; the "aggressors" had the heavy metal.

At one point we rendezvoused with a US Army Special Forces unit. As we walked single file through the forest I was fortunate to be right behind one of the SF guys as they led us through the woods in the middle of the night. I admired the way he effortlessly walked silently through the forest walking around downed branches instead of crashing through them like we did. It was DARK under the trees. Let me tell you, they don't call it the "Black Forest" because Germany ran out of colors to name their forests after! The SF guys led us to a clearing where a helicopter delivered cases of C rations to us. Then the SF guys disappeared into the night and we continued our journey, sleeping by day walking by night.

The other event from that trip that stands out in my mind occurred one night as we were walking around a small village (remember to escape detection avoid people and the places people frequent) and came to an open field covered with some sort of grass less than knee high.

A dirt road ran through the field coming up from the village and there was more forest on the other side. We were about halfway across the field when suddenly we heard the tank like clank of an M113's treads coming up the dirt road from the village. It had been running with its red (night vision saving) lights only so we hadn't seen headlights coming up the hill.

There was no time to retreat back into the trees much less make a run for the forest on the other side. Reverting to training we fell to the ground and lay perfectly still. That APC passed within six feet of me. I could hear the driver and TC (track commander) talking softly as they went by.

Years later while on a solo hike that same tactic stood me in good stead when a pickup truck load of cowboys came looking for me one evening.

I'd strayed off the National Park property and evidently onto some ranch. I was walking through waist high sagebrush when evening overtook me at the crest of a rolling hill.

Since I'd deployed my Optimus camp stove to heat up some freeze dried food for lunch, I merely stepped off the dirt track and opted to settle for a snack bar as I unpacked and unrolled my OD green Army surplus sleeping bag. The dirt road I'd been walking on was the only sign of civilization I'd seen all day so I laid out my bag with the head under a large sagebrush and turned in with my head less than four feet from the dirt track. I would not have slept so close to the dirt road if I'd thought there'd be any traffic on it during the night.

The sun was setting and I was just drifting off to sleep when the sound of a slow moving vehicle reached me. I was tired and didn't want to spend any time chewing the fat with the locals so I decided to just lay still and let the truck go by without hailing it. Good thing!

Turning my head slightly to the side I saw the truck was moving really slow with it's headlights on and two guys wearing cowboy hats standing in the back. As they passed by my position one of the ones in the back of the pickup said, "This is where I last saw him."

Now I REALLY didn't want to talk with the locals! I lay perfectly still until they were out of sight. Whatever the reason they were looking for me I'm sure it wasn't just to say "How Do!" I didn't move until they disappeared over a rise just as the sun set. They knew exactly where I'd been last seen and were looking for me. Still they drove right by without seeing me because I didn't move.

Where did all that "woodcraft" come from? Army training; Escape & Evasion class in AIT (Advanced Infantry Training) and an experience I'd had as a kid. This next from my unauthorized autobiography:

"We were sent to a Summer Camp somewhere near the Cleveland National Forest. One day the young collage kids who ran the camp decided to take the younger kids on a "nature walk" through the towering pines that surrounded the camp.

Tired of braiding bead infested bracelets, necklaces and key fobs from plastic and leather lacing I was eager to get out into the woods and see some real wild mountain lions, wild cats and bears; Oh Yeah!

As the group of 30 or so yammering kids walked down the old logging road lined with 40 foot pine trees I realized the noise we were making was probably scaring away all the animals. I began downsizing my childish expectations from seeing wolves to seeing coyotes and maybe a moose.

One of the college students had some knowledge of the wilderness and gathered a group of three or four of us quieter boys holding us back as the herd of kids meandered down the track talking up a storm. He told us if we wanted to see any animals we'd all have to be perfectly silent and perfectly still. He had us put our hands in our pockets and chins on our chests. We stood perfectly still like statues without talking for a few minutes. Then, like magic, birds began singing again and suddenly a squirrel looked around a tree trunk and started chattering at us. No wolves, no bears not a single moose; but I'd learned a valuable lesson about silence and stillness."

I also recall a possibly true story, from the old west, about an outlaw here in the Southwest. He'd just escaped from the local hoosegow, stolen a horse and hightailed it out of town. Knowing the sheriff would round up a posse to track him down he stayed on the dirt road until it passed through a field of tall grass. There he dismounted and slapped the horse's rump sending it running off down the road. He then walked out into the middle of the field and lay down in the grass. An hour later the posse passed by at a gallop sending up a cloud of dust and erasing his tracks. Then he walked back to town and stole another horse which he rode out of town on the same road going in the opposite direction.

When seeking to avoid human contact remember the old saying: It's better to remain motionless and be thought a bump on a log than to move and remove all doubt.

jC further adds:
In front of my house used to be about 20 railroad tracks, owned by 7 RR companies. It is a great walkway, if you can dodge the Quads and dirt bikes. I find all kinds of 'sign' out there from mummy bags, blamkets, down coats, tarpsm fire rings u name it.
Now there are 3 traks and a lot of trails. A perfect wal, but you don't aways know who the people are. So I stay away. I wear a Carhart dark brown coat and jeans usually. I'd like to find my hood to be less conspicuous but it is lost. Any dark color seems to work, walking silently helps too. I keep working on that.

I breath into my coat in moist cold weather, but I would appeciate your expertise on the best way to do this. Also some animals smell stuff well, so your odor, smoking, even a peppermint will spook them.

I think the best example of motionless is a deer fawn. I have stumbled across them lying in the grass, I knew the doe was neerby, but I could not see her. The fawn remained still al the time, even at close range, 4 foot or so.

During a Search and Rescue exercise an experienced huntress told me the best way to move silently is to move only one limb at a time! If you're careful and watch where you put your hands and feet it seems to work although it does slow you down. Also, walking or crawling put your extremities down slowly so as to be able to feel twigs and such beginning to break.

Yes, you are correct; a hood on your coat would help break up the "human" outline of your upper body. If you can't get the Carhart Company to send you a new hood try a (widest brim you can find) boonie hat. They come in all colors and camo patterns and the wide all-around brim will help blend the shape of your head & neck into the trunk of your upper body.

As to the problem of steamy breath on cold days, have you tried a balaclava, bandanna, scarf or neck gaiter pulled up over your nose and mouth when you don't want to steam?

I don't have any experiences with motionless fawns, but I do with a motionless coyote. A guy and I were hunting them in the desert one day when we walked around a sand dune and he stopped dead in his tracks. "See that?" he said pointing to the ground not six feet in front of us. I looked, saw nothing and moved my gaze further out thinking there was nothing directly in front of us.

"Where?" I asked.

"Right THERE !" he exclaimed again pointing a few feet in front of us. As we were arguing whether there was anything "there" a coyote that had been sleeping curled up into a ball with its tail over its nose got up not five feet from me and ran off.

So, yeah, motionlessness and camouflage do work wonders when it comes to hiding in plain sight.

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