Keystones of a Scout: The 10 Virtues That Make a Scout | Deduction

Today, I’m going to continue the series, Keystones of a Scout: The 10 Virtues that Make a Scout, which I introduced: here. Previously in this series, I talked about Endurance, Self-Discipline, Exploration, and Observation. Each of these are traits or virtues that I have shown to have been with Scouting from the beginning, and each of these traits are necessary for a Scout to do what he should do and to carry out his Oath that he swore as a Scout. Today, I am half-way through the series of 10 virtues, and am going to talk about number five: Deduction.

What do you mean by ‘Deduction’? 

Well, if you read the last post in this series on observation, then you know that observation is very important. However, observing is just the beginning. You see, but do you really understand what you’re seeing? Everything is made the way it is by a particular set of circumstances. 

In other words, everything around us has a story to tell of its own history. By looking for and examining the signs, you can figure out the history of whatever you are observing. Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, applied this particularly to tracking. As a military Scout, sometimes it was necessary for him to track an enemy for a long distance over many types of terrain. He could tell where the person was going, and much about them by looking at the signs and tracks they left behind. He defined this ‘deduction’ in this way:

“Deduction is the art of subsequently reasoning out and extracting the meaning from the points observed.”

The way I am using the word ‘deduction’ in this post isn’t the only definition, but it is the most famous, and I think it is the best word to apply to this particular skill.

English: Statue of Sherlock Holmes in Edinburgh
Sherlock Holmes

One of my favorite fictional characters is a detective named ‘Sherlock Holmes’. Most likely, you’ve heard of him through Mr. Doyle’s books or from the recent movies and TV shows about him. As far as fictional characters go, Sherlock Holmes is the height of the skill of deduction. He can tell a person’s habits, characteristics, and life history by simply observing the person.

Although Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character and much of what he does is made up, the skills that he uses are very much real and used all the time; both throughout history and today.

In the past, one of the more famous ways deduction was used was in tracking and hunting animals. This was a skill that the Pioneers and explorers of America were very good at. Today, deduction is famously used by real police detectives to find and catch whoever committed the crime.

However, deduction isn’t only useful to these people; it is also very useful in everyday life and in every different career. Doctors use it to find out what’s wrong with their patients. Scientists use it to help explain the world around them. Programmers use it to find bugs in their code. Lawyers use it to get at the bottom of a dispute. Mechanics use it to figure out what’s wrong with equipment.

In Scouting, deduction has been, since its founding, a skill always held in high importance.

How does it work?

Why is Deduction a Scout Keystone? 

To start out, let’s go back to the book that started it all: “Scouting for Boys” by Baden-Powell. In it, an entire chapter is devoted to the art of Deduction. Here are some excerpts from it:

“When a Scout has learned to notice “signs”, he must then learn to “put this and that together”, and so read a meaning from what he has seen. This is called “deduction”. ”

“When once observation and deduction have been made habitual … a great step in the development of “character” has been gained.”

“Instruction in the art of observation and deduction is difficult to lay down in black and white. It must be taught by practice. One can only give a few instances and hints, the rest depends upon your own powers of imagination and local circumstances.”

Just as Deduction was a very important skill to military Scouts, so it is to Peace Scouts, which we are. Half the good in being Observant is lost if you are no good at Deduction. It is one thing to simply notice, it is another thing to truly Observe and learn from the Observation. This is what Deduction is.

To start with, Deduction is a Scout Keystone for all of the reasons Observation is one. But there are some extra reasons as well. As Baden-Powell said above, training in Deduction builds the character of the Scout. Deduction is not just applied to tracking wildlife or solving mysteries, it is a skill that we should apply to all of what we learn and know.

Being “Mentally Awake” is straight from the Scout Oath, and as such we should take this charge very seriously. If you are mentally awake, you will actively seek out an issue you wish to know. There is no such thing as passive learning, yet people try to do it all the time. They read something from a book or on the internet, or they see something on TV. Instead of actively thinking about it, they accept it as fact without further examination. This isn’t true learning at all!

A Scout, on the other hand, is different. A Scout knows that we are blessed with intelligent minds and the ability to reason, and a Scout tries to use his mind as expertly as he can. A Scout doesn’t blindly swallow everything he hears. He examines the issue in detail. He asks critical questions, he gets the opinions of those he trusts, and he examines the reasoning behind the position and the counter-position.

Baden-Powell mainly emphasized the practical application of deduction in tracking, but there is much more to it! It is the habit of thinking about what you observe. It is about noticing signs and drawing conclusions.

In order to be mentally awake, in order to be prepared for whatever comes your way, in order to follow the Scout Law; you must apply Deduction to your observations with an active mind. This is why Deduction is a Scout Keystone.

How to Improve Your Skill of Deduction 

Deduction, like Observation, takes a lot of practice. It isn’t gained over night. This is because it isn’t so much a skill to be mastered, as it is a habit to be exercised. It is a way of life; it is a way of thinking about and examining what you observe.

The Science of Tracking

To start with, a traditional Scout activity is tracking. It isn’t emphasized much anymore, and although it used to be a Merit Badge, it isn’t one anymore. This is a shame, as there is no better way to improve your skill in Deduction than through its practical application in tracking. Here is what Baden-Powell said about Tracking:

“The importance of tracking and tracking games as part of a Scout’s training cannot be overestimated. It is not so difficult as many people imagine. More tracking out-of-doors and yarns on tracks and tracking in the Troop room should be encouraged in all Scout Troops.”

I don’t have time to go into all of the different exercises you can do to get better at tracking, but I encourage you to check them out for yourself and implement them in your Troop. Baden-Powell gives a handful to try out in Scouting for Boys.

In addition to tracking, Baden-Powell gives several other great ideas to improve your ability in Deduction:

“Make tracks on soft ground of different incidents—such as a cyclist meeting a boy on foot, getting off his bicycle to talk to his friend, then setting out again. Let the boys study the tracks and deduce their meaning.”

“Place on a tray a collection of articles which might come from a man’s pockets. Ask the Scouts to deduce what kind of man he was, his interests, etc.”

“It is an amusing practice, when you are in a railway carriage or omnibus with other people, to look only at their feet and guess, without looking any higher, what sort of people they are, old or young, well-to-do or poor, fat or thin, and so on, and then look up and see how near you have been to the truth.”

Scouts are active in everything, never passive. This includes using the mind. A Scout is observant, but he doesn’t just observe; he applies reasoning and deduction to what he observes.


So, in conclusion, Deduction is like the second half of Observation. It is taking that which you have observed, thinking about it, and drawing conclusions from it. Deduction is very important in every walk of life, but especially important to the Scout, as a Scout must be able to use Deduction in order to best carry out the Scout Oath and Law.

Deduction is a habit of the mind that can be developed with practice. Tracking is an excellent way to improve your skill in Deduction, but there are many other ways that you can practice it with your Patrol and by yourself.

Thanks for reading this post! Do you have any comments, thoughts, or questions? I’d love to hear them! What can you do in your Troop to help improve the Scouts Deduction skills?

I want this to get out to as many Scouts as possible, so please help by sharing this post. You can easily share this on Facebook, Twitter, and etc. by clicking the little icons below this post.

If you don’t want to miss the rest of the installments of this series, just put your email in the little box to the right, and you will automatically get an email each time a new post is published.

Thanks again! Scout on, my friends!

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