What I call “shadow scouting” is the practice of exploring areas, locating resources, reconnoitering forces, finding routes, infiltrating territories, crossing borders, travelling stealthily and surviving in any environment. It can be a hobby, a profession, a way of life or even a spiritual path. The following are some tips for those who wish to engage in this activity.
Scout Your Home Area
Begin where you are right now. Scout every road and path within a few miles of your home. Learn all the routes into and out of the area. Take note of anything of interest, such as potential threats, security forces, places to hide, observation sites, cache sites, and useful resources. Do this regularly, noting anything new or different.
Travel Shadow Routes
Scout the “shadow routes” in your area. These are routes not frequented by vehicles, police, security or the general public. They include:
- Forest roads: These are excellent alternative routes in many rural areas. Some are restricted to private industrial use, but this is not a problem if you travel at night or are stealthy.
- Foot and bicycle trails: There are thousands of miles of hiking and biking trails in North America where you can travel long distances as a hiker or cyclist. Some trail systems close at night, but these are easily walked in darkness if desired.
- Power lines: These can be good routes, but they often pass through private property and sometimes cross swamps or rivers so they can be difficult.
- Railroad tracks: These can take you almost anywhere, and they have the added benefit that you may be able to hop on a passing train. Keep in mind that rails are private property and walk them mostly at night. And always keep an ear and eye out for oncoming trains!
- Rivers and waterways: These can be very useful routes in some areas if you have a packraft, kayak, canoe or can acquire a boat.
If no shadow routes will take you all the way to your destination, be willing and equipped to travel cross-country between existing routes—bushwhacking, crossing deserts, cutting across private property, etc. It is possible to travel long distances in this way with little or no use of main roads.
Off-road navigation has become rather trivial in an age of GPS devices and mapping software. Most shadow routes will show up on smartphone apps like google maps and gaigps and on handheld GPS devices. Here are some points to keep in mind:
- Digital maps need to be pre-downloaded in areas outside cell phone coverage.
- Using a smartphone for navigation is very convenient, but it is also a tracking device. For maximum anonymity use a handheld GPS unit.
- Mapping apps eat up phone battery life. Bring a power bank for recharging.
- Bring maps and a compass for backup navigation and know how to use them.
- Develop an intuitive sense of direction and learn to navigate by the sun, stars and landmarks.
Locate Hideouts and Shelters
On scouting missions and travels, keep an eye out for abandoned houses, cabins, sheds, barns, offices, warehouses and other buildings where you can take shelter and hide in the event that you are being pursued. These could be ruins or places that aren’t currently in use. Look for secluded locations without nosy neighbors who might notice you, and for discreet places to park a car. Also look for good natural hiding places such as dense woods, ravines and caves.
Store these locations in your memory in case you need a hideout or shelter during a future mission or bug-out situation. Record them on a GPS device, map or data file if you must, but for maximum operational security I don’t advise it. I’ve found quite a few such places on my scouting missions; if I ever find myself on the run, I have a chain of potential hideouts in discreet locations where I can lay low before moving on.
Keep in mind that some of these facilities may be locked. This is where lock-picking and breaking and entering skills are very useful. I always carry some basic lockpicks and shims in my pockets for this purpose. This channel has some good information in this regard, and this site has some useful tools.
Have an Escape Plan
Have one or more escape routes planned in detail in case you ever need to make a quick exit from your home. Utilize shadow routes as much as possible, avoiding main roads. Ideally this should be a route out of the country that avoids official channels like airports and border checkpoints. I discussed training for this scenario in this post ; you should at least do the planning phase, and preferably the entire exercise.
Have a Bug-Out Bag
The Shadow Scout should always have a “bug-out bag” ready with essential gear, both for scouting missions and in case you have to make a quick exit for any reason (police, enemy action, fire, natural disaster, social unrest, etc.). It should contain enough gear to allow you to survive outdoors or on the run for a few days in any environment. Below is a list of recommended items to include in your bag.
Bug-Out Bag Contents:
- pack (30-50 liter backpack or dry bag with straps)
- hat (ball cap and/or beanie)
- folding knife or leatherman
- 25-50 feet of paracord
- miniature flashlight or head lamp w/ extra batteries
- firestarters (lighter, matches, flint striker)
- waterproof maps of your area
- waterproof pencil & notebook (for notes & sketches)
- medical pack: bandages, tape, antiseptic wipes, aspirin, diarrhea pills, water purification tablets
- poncho (for rain, improvised shelters)
- sleeping bag
- hammock with straps and carabiners
- bandana or neck gaiter
- duct tape
- toilet paper or baby wipes
- lockpicks, shims and other bypass tools
- mobile phone (“black” or anonymous if possible)
- energy bars and other ready to eat food
- water bottle and filter
Test your bag from time to time by bugging out from your location for an overnight camping trip or scouting mission. See how well your equipment performs, modifying it as needed based on your experience.