I received the following request:
“I am wondering if you have any thoughts about defensive tactics if one is being hunted down by men with trained tracking dogs.”
I’m not a subject matter expert on tracking or tracking dogs, but I’ve done a bit of E & E training as the pursued so I have a few thoughts for you, perhaps a little different from the conventional.
The first thing is the context of this: the assumption is that you are being hunted by pursuers with tracker dogs, but where are you, who are the pursuers, how many of them are there and what other assets do they have? Well, we can look at a few circumstances on this. Let’s assume that you are a small four man resistance patrol that is being tracked in a rural/woodland setting. We can bring in and discuss other assets and how that will impact you as we go further along the scenario.
Tracker dogs: these are most likely going to be tracking you by ground scent. They may also be able to follow you by scent on the wind, so being downwind is a factor. However, once they pick up your scent they will likely be coming on at the pace of a fast walk. They will be hindered by their handlers – they will not be running free in the woods. If they close with you the handlers may release attack dogs but the tracker dogs will be constrained by the handler.
It is VERY difficult to interrupt a tracker dog from following your scent. A lot of the usual things you hear about such as walking down a creek do not work, and if they lose you temporarily they will circle till they pick up the scent again. The weak link here is really the handler. Think of the dog like a FLIR imager – it’s harder to fool the technology, but its easier to fool the operator, right?
You need to set a pace that will not allow the tracker team to catch you. This means PT. It also means carrying a load that you can move with at a fast walking pace. However, you are still a fighter, and you will very likely have to fight, so make sure you are able to evade carrying your battle belt and assault pack, to allow you to fight, and fight again another day. Worst case, dump the patrol/assault pack – you will already have long ago dumped a full ruck – and continue with your fully equipped battle belt.
Try and take the pursuit over difficult ground, up steep rocky cliffs, down into ravines, change direction, do all of this – so long as you are physically capable of maintaining pace over such ground. PT and determination rules, right? The idea is not so much to follow a route that the dogs will not be able to follow, but more to frustrate the handlers and pursuers. Also, the sort of misdirection that works is confusing the handler so he tries to make the dog go in one direction, sure that you went that way, but the dog wants to go another. There is potential to sow mistrust between dog and handler by doing this.
If the trackers have dogs then few techniques will be effective. The human handler can be fooled by visual deceptions such as backtracking and jumping off the trail but the dog’s sense of smell won’t. Remember the dog is fast but the handler will slow it down, so climbing tall fences, rocky outcrops etc will slow dog and handler down. Your scent sticks to vegetation so try to find hard stony ground near running water this will make it harder for the dog to track you. A decomposing animal such as a dead sheep or road kill can also help mask your scent, drag it behind you on a length of rope but don’t let it touch you or you will carry its scent. In urban areas consider seeking out large groups of people (if that won’t get you caught!), strong smells, butchers shops with meat hanging up outside, perfume counters, anything which could overload the dog’s senses. Moving through livestock such as cows or sheep can slow the handler and distract the dog. Heavy rain will also help disperse your scent quickly and remember your scent can also be carried on the wind so try to keep down wind of pursuers.
I would be interested to know if pepper spray on the trail would give the dog sufficient of a nose full of it to put it off the scent? Thinking about a quickly rigged pepper spray booby trap – like a bear or pepper spray can attached to tree/stake with a trip wire, as the dog or handler trips it the can deploys and fills the air with the pepper? Any thoughts from dog experts?
So bottom line, all things being equal a dog will follow you until it finds you. Unless you can get to somewhere where you can get away, such as to a vehicle or into an urban area, or make the handlers give up the chase. You cannot go to ground and hide in such circumstances, the dogs will find you.
Human Trackers: if you are being tracked by a human tracker, then you have a lot more options. They will be looking for sign so anything you can do to reduce sign will work. However, remember that a person is clever and just, for example, because you walked in the stream and left no sign, they can check the banks for where you left sign coming out. And just because you thought you had left no sign, even by walking on rocks, you probably did, by moving a rock or similar. A lot of this depends on the skill of the tracker.
A tracker will also be trying to think like you and anticipate, so they will get a feel of how you are moving and will try and predict where you are likely to go. As with many things, this is where unpredictability helps. If you can put in changes of direction and generally try and confuse the tracker, this will slow them down. Sign (your track) is time sensitive (i.e. water drops, bent but not broken vegetation etc), unless you left, for example, footprints in the mud; so if you can delay them sufficiently you will get away.
With both trackers and dogs you can try the technique of splitting the group down into smaller and smaller groups. With a four man team break down into two man teams then maybe to individuals. If they don’t have the assets they will be forced to pick a trail to follow. With a tracker, but less likely with dogs, you may be successful in hopping off the trail leaving no sign, so the tracker follows on the main trail, but they may then notice the lesser amount of sign. But then they need to make a choice, which will slow them down.
One of the big mistakes you will make when trying to escape is to allow the terrain to determine your route. You will be scared and tired and you will likely follow easily predicted routes such as valleys. You need to think about changes in direction and cross-graining the terrain. If we move this up a little, from just having a tracker team behind you, then they may have more assets. Worst case is a Regime-style hunter-killer force on your tail. This is why you have to be unpredictable.
A tracking technique used in the southern African bush wars was as follows: the ‘terrs’ would often infiltrate to conduct an atrocity (like hacking up white farming families) and then take speed like drugs to allow them to make a beeline over the border and back to safety. This meant they were predictable. Once a tracker team was on their trail, they could then try and predict their direction of travel. This would allow other tracker teams to go ahead, often on trail bikes to try and intercept the trail further along. They would look at sign traps such as muddy areas or creek crossings, where there was more likely to be sign left, to try and pick the trail further up. They could then use assets such as fire-force to parachute in ahead of the terrs and set up an ambush/cut off.
So, if you are being tracked you must move unpredictably and change direction or this will allow a hunter-killer force to move, by road or helicopters, cut-off groups onto your path where they will set up ambushes to trap and kill/capture you.
One thing you can consider if you are being tracked is the use of booby traps, if you have them pre-prepared. If you have grenades, then it takes a moment to attach one to a tree, tie a tripwire to the pull-ring/pin, stretched across the trail. You may even be able to use a stolen flashbang to do the same – it won’t be lethal, but it may put off dogs. If you are able to disrupt the pursuit in such a way, along with splitting your groups into smaller elements, then you have a good chance of getting away. They may end up following one pair or individual, and they may be caught or killed, but that is better than losing the whole team.
Aerial Thermal Surveillance: I have written about this in depth. It would be useful to know if the enemy has these assets and how quickly they can deploy them, for example getting a police tracker helicopter or a drone up above you. There are two important aspects to this, sort of a conundrum:
Mobile: if you are moving, which you will have to be if you are trying to get away from a tracker team, then you cannot go static and use methods such as getting in a culvert, or deploying a thermal tarp. Such an action will simply allow the tracker team to close right on top of you, and then you are likely trapped and in a fight. The best you can do when moving in such a way, if there is aerial thermal surveillance, is to use terrain and vegetation masking. This, again, is a balance. It means getting some terrain between you and the sky, and trying to get under the canopy of the trees. However, if you get into a deep ravine, for example, to avoid a drone, then if you continue to follow it you are being predictable and you may well then run into an ambush in the ravine. The best thing to do is use terrain/vegetation masking as best as possible to confuse the operator, not the technology. These devices are not infallible, even though the technology itself is excellent – if the operator loses a visual on you, and you are moving away masked by terrain/vegetation, he will have to scan the area to try and pick you up again. The field of view is not huge so that is harder than you may think. Its not going to work where there is no terrain or tree canopy, like in the desert.
Static. If you can get away from the ground pursuit, then you have a chance of holing up and hiding. Get into a place where you can use terrain masking, like in a cave or overhang, deploy a thermal tarp etc. This will disguise you from aerial thermal surveillance so long as they were not tracking you to where you stopped, and there is not a ground team hot on your trail.
Hasty Ambush: I am really painting you a worst case scenario, with a hunter-killer force, aerial drones and ground tracker dogs all on your tail. Reality is often less perfect, and as I am fond of saying, you will survive in the gaps and the mistakes of the enemy, the lack of assets etc. But let’s take this full circle, to the initial assumption – you are an armed four man resistance team that is being tracked away from where you were compromised. If you get to a point where you are being boxed in and there is no escape, then your option is to fight
The hasty ambush can be an option of last resort – or it could be an option that you throw in during the pursuit, before perhaps splitting your teams down and moving off in different directions in the confusion. Remember that to conduct a hasty ambush, you have to let the tracker team get close, so you lose any lead you had. You do the hasty ambush by first breaking track and doubling back to cover your track by fire. This means that the tracker team will follow your track until the point at which you broke track. By the time they realize that you broke track, they are already in your killing area and you probably already initiated the ambush. Kill the tracker team, both dogs and personnel, and then break contact in the confusion. You may also want to split your team up at that point.
Remember, if you manage to kill the dogs, then you have a chance of moving off and getting holed up in a hiding spot, because there are no longer any dogs to track you. You are then only vulnerable to a detailed ground sweep (or FLIR), so make sure you move far enough away to find that good hiding spot to lay up in until the fuss subsides.
If you run into a main force of pursuers, then you will have to try and break contact and move out. If they have you boxed in, you will have to fight. At this point if they have Close Air Support or Indirect Fire (mortars, artillery) assets, then you should try and keep them close so they can’t use this against you, until such point as you identify an out and can break contact in that direction.
If you have already split down into pairs or individuals, you can still run the hasty ambush using the same principles: double back and hit them on your trail before breaking contact. Use terrain to your advantage.
Remember, if you are conducting resistance style operations and you find yourself in this worst case position, then a very real outcome is that you will die. You knew that when you took it on, right? Do the best you can while you can, never give up, always keep fighting; if it happens that a round goes through your skull, it’s too late anyway.
And you never know, if you fight like a grizzly, you may actually win, against McDonald’s fed fat-ass militarized goons. If your small team tactics are good enough.
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