Don’t Fence Your Scouts In


I recently spent a week serving as conference chair at the Philmont Training Center, which is the home of the BSA’s best training programs and best family vacations. (By the way, you can now enjoy the vacation part of PTC without the training part, thanks to the new Family Adventure Camp offering.)

When I was visiting one of the week’s conferences, I got to hear a presentation from a Philmont wildlife biologist about bears, mountain lions, and other animals that live at the ranch. One bit of trivia: pronghorns, the antelope-like mammals found all over Philmont, are very fast runners but very bad jumpers. Unlike the ranch’s mule deer, they can’t jump fences, so they either duck under a fence’s bottom strand of barbed wire or get stuck where they are. That’s why the U.S. Bureau of Land Management recommends putting the bottom row of wire 16 inches above the ground.

Later in the week, my wife and I drove through a couple of neighboring ranches and saw several small herds of pronghorns trying to get from one side of the road to another. Often, they would have to run half a mile along a fenceline to find a gap they could go through.

I think there’s an important lesson here for us Scout leaders. All too often, we erect fences between where our Scouts are and where they’re trying to get to. Maybe we don’t clearly communicate campout details and deadlines. Maybe we make them jump through hoops to schedule Scoutmaster conferences. Maybe we add requirements that aren’t BSA sanctioned (like full uniforms at boards of review). When we do that, they either run out of their way to find a path forward or they simply run in the other direction toward an activity they perceive is more welcoming.

What fences have you erected in your troop? How could you create more gates and less barricades.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at

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