Recon Basics

FM 7-8 tells us that there’s two types of Patrols- Recon and Combat. Of the Combat Patrols, there’s Ambush and Raid. Of Recon, there’s three: Area, Zone, and Route.


Make Sense?

Area is for, well, an area. A town, village, grid square, whatever. A Zone is a specific point on a map, an object of interest, or the area housing the thing you want to see. A Route is, well, a route. Self explanatory.

Reconnoitring Tactics


When a Buck smells your presence, he doesn’t move broadside to you. He comes directly at you, and moves away in the same manner. Why is this? Because the evolution of fight or flight, AKA OODA, has taught him that he’s less likely to be seen that way. So how do we move on a target?

RECONfan method.png

The Objective Rally Point(ORP) in the diagram is what we want to get a better view of. This is the Zone recon, by the way. Notice how the movement around looks like fan blades or a clover leaf? That’s how you move. Each leg of the movement is outside of SSLS(sight, sound, light, and smell) range of the target. That’s generally 150-200M before you begin to curve around. Obviously, you don’t want to walk right up on your target, so once you get your vantage point, start looking for the next vantage point that offers the best concealment. This is part of that Common Sense thing that’s referred to in the Fifth Principle of Patrolling.

Scouting an Area


Each “leg” in this diagram is the path of a separate team conducting recon of the targets of interest within the Area. On the map, they’ll have an easily recognizable rally point(usually a large terrain feature) to reassemble then move back to friendly lines. Teams spread out, do their business, and come back together eventually, not getting shot in the process.


This is a larger macro-view of how an Area recon would be conducted to cover a large area with a large number of teams. This would usually be conducted by an entire Detachment.

Route Recon


As the diagram illustrates, you’re shadowing the road. We know the route is there; what we’re looking for is an assessment for follow-on forces or how to sabotage it for the OPFOR. We’re looking for such things as:


Making sense? North/South, East/West, roger?

Essential Equipment

In addition to Individual equipment requirements(Knife, Map, Compass, Weapon, fighting load, bleeder kit, Blood Chit, etc.) and digging/entry tools, there’s some Team essentials that you don’t leave the Wire or Safe House without.

-A spotting scope makes picking out details and finding what you need to take pictures of pretty simple.


-A good DSLR camera with a really good lens is the first piece of equipment you should pack. A picture tells a thousand words a thousand times over.


-A radio system(Radio, Antenna, Batteries, Interface equipment) capable of sending digital images and maintain communications with a higher echelon unit. This is why a skilled Communicator is so critical to the Team.


-A rugged Laptop capable of putting it all together and sending the messages.


The most critical piece of equipment though, is you and your team. This being said, recon doesn’t ebb and flow well when Teams don’t work well. As a leader, it’s your job to piece together a team now that works and start training. This stuff is very simple on paper; but there’s a reason teams go on lockdown a week or longer prior to stepping off to plan their mission. Individual and Cross-loaded skills are critical to not just success but survival. During the planning process, no detail goes unnoticed. Terrain models are built, rally points and critical targets of interest are memorized, and every contingency is attempted to be thought out. Team and Detachment Leaders are attached at the hip to the Intelligence/Multi-function team(MFT) getting every update as it happens. No stone is left un-turned. Teams work on a rotational basis; two are out, two are planning the next patrol based on real time information sent to the rear.(Remember Info vs. Intel? Yep…still different.) Also important to note is that while these illustrations are taking place in the hypothetical woods of anywhere, the same principles apply in Urban environments. The basics don’t change.

This is way more advanced than simple Light Infantry movement to contact stuff- and it takes a lot of practice. That’s why Recon and Surveillance Units across the board are made up of selected and specially trained soldiers. It’s not something that can just be done by anyone at any time; and that’s why these topics are far more important than arguing over which caliber rifle you’d rather get shot with, what Line-1 crap you should put in a “bugout bag” or any of the other useless topics that come up frequently.

Any of this making sense? Do you now see why building your Data Books and being able to recognize objects and equipment in the field is kinda-sorta important? I certainly hope so. You will not succeed without getting it right, right now.


and Charlie says…stay positive!

11 thoughts on “Recon Basics

  1. Pingback: Recon Basics | The Defensive Training Group

    1. Get a Canon Rebel and the EF lens that comes with it should be GTG.

      Nikon makes a good one too. It’s like Ford/Chevy. Being able to take detailed pics at reasonable distance(a few hundred meters) is what’s important…lower-end cameras won’t perform as well.

      Soon there’s going to be a follow-on post dedicated to Observation gear.

      1. Old Canon EF lenses for film cameras will work with the current crop of Rebel DSLRs and can be had for dirt cheap off FleaBay.

        Most will not function with AutoFocus, but AF is for babies anyway.

        ; )

  2. Pingback: Brushbeater: Recon Basics | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  3. mtnforge

    Been a bush wacker all my life. Mostly hunting trapping and fishing, I like to bush camp while fishing remote trout streams. Travel light, appreciate the serenity, a bit of woods food gathering to supplement traveling light. I got my LBV and levels of gear sorted out pretty good. I’d feel naked without it and my M4orgery now. I have read and learned a lot about scouting and am adapting my own skills with skills and techniques from .mil guys like you BB. Learned a lot from John and Max’s classes.
    Unfortunately I don’t know a single person who is interested in knowing the intimate details of their AO in such a fashion. So I do lone scout reconnoitering. The things I discover are pretty amazing, tactical and strategic terrain features, routes that provide a myriad of cover and concealment, hidy holes where the terrain disguises them extremely well, observation points with ingress and egress routes that avoid observation from civilized terrain. Tell you one thing, I can move in and out of my area now with a high degree of confidence. My greatest concern is the vagaries of thermal detection. Where I’m located, severe mountainous Appalachia, it is not difficult to traverse and handrail long distances avoiding roads, fields and active property, and there are many opportunities to cross lineal danger areas at discreet spots. As I’m learning, especially when the tree canopy is bare in winter, I get the heebie jeebies trying to figure out how to not be detected by aerial thermal observation. I know it isn’t all encompassing observation, they can’t be everywhere, and if you are competent at moving, they will have to look hard for you, and terrain plays a big part also, but all you have to be is unlucky once and you could get a maverick or some depleted uranium up your ass or they drop a contact team to intercept you. Been considering one of Max Velocity’s thermal ponchos for static situations. They seem like a decent tool if used properly. I always been a serious user of the surplus woodland poncho’s and woobies since I was a boy scout. Really great device, you can disappear in an instant wearing one, keeps you warm, and I know this from personal experience. I always carry at least two ponchos. A woobie and a Gortex surplus divvy bag with that foil faced bubble wrap insulation and a piece of GI sleep pad cut to fit inside makes a dandy sleeping bag, especially if you have Balsams or pine thatch to make a improvised hooch thats like a bed made for a prince. Smells nice too. I roll the divvy up and bungy it to my LBV, or if I’m running a med alice it goes under the claymore flap. Takes a few seconds to roll up or set up. The poncho’s keep the dew and rain off. You can hide pretty well. I’ll go out and scout back on my bivvy to see if I can see spot it. Not too bad a set up, you would need to be a decent tracker to see it some spots I’ve rested up. If there is any vegetation, even one or two tiny sticks between you and the mil spec woodland it really blends in.
    I’d love to get up in a chopper and look through a thermal imager real time, that would give me some great intell on how to refine my camo techniques and movements. I’m an old guy and I don’t travel as fast as my younger days, so I got to figure every angle even more so now. Slow and steady and light.

    1. shocktroop0351

      There was a video on youtube for about 3 days that was made by an Apache pilot and a buddy on the ground where they were testing their flir against a poncho with a Mylar blanket underneath. It was actually pretty effective as long as they didn’t touch it while it was suspended over them. I recently came across this video on YouTube that is a much improved idea of that. Whether you would make a poncho with it, or some kind of smock is up to you I guess but it seems to work pretty good.

  4. Mike

    I’m a former Army Cavalry Scout, thanks for the refresher. It’s amazing how much a person can forget after a few years.

Comments are closed.