Merit Badge Earning vs Hunting

“The Scoutmaster must be alert to check badge hunting as compared to badge earning.” – Baden Powell (Link to resource here)

What is badge earning compared to badge hunting? Well… lets break that down.

Badge Earning: Most would agree that merit badge earning would meet the following qualifications from a scout’s perspective.

  • The scout has chosen a merit badge of interest or need.
  • The scout is learning content pertinent to the subject of the merit badge as outlined in the individual requirements.
  • The scout is applying knowledge, learned in the merit badge subject, in the form of activities, actions, or discussions to the satisfaction of the council approved merit badge counselor.
  • The scout can discuss and share content learned from the merit badge.
  • Hopefully the scout had fun doing some or all of the requirements of the merit badge.

Badge Hunting: More opinion than qualifiers… Opinions differ on the term of merit badge “hunting”. Just the words alone – earning verses hunting – in the context of scouting send people to the “hunting is bad” camp. Merit badge hunting generally carries some negative associations.

  • The scout has not given even the bare minimum effort to get the merit badge.
  • The scout somehow has circumvented the system in order to “fast track” success.
  • The scout has not followed the spirt of intent for the merit badge requirements.
  • The scout has not, nor cares, or is unable to apply the knowledge learned in the merit badge.

Those are some pretty heavy hitting thoughts about scouting right? These are definitely not falling in the “I will do my best” category in anyone’s book. Some have the best intentions behind merit badge hunting while getting as many merit badges as fast as possible. Some of those intentions would include the following:

  • The scout wants to earn all the merit badges and awards.
  • The scout has little time left before the scout ages out to earn the appropriate amount of merit badges.
  • The scout is doing so many other good things that he or she has earned some slack.
  • It’s ok to slide on a couple requirements because it’s all about the journey rather than one single requirement.

There are good intentions. For many, these could be enough but who does this really hurt?

As a scoutmaster, I can pretty much tell when a scout has either earned or hunted a merit badge. It’s when they are presented the badge at the court of honor. Their attitude is either confident and proud or it’s the “I could care less” attitude and had to think real hard on one thing they had to do for the badge. That’s a real shame when the latter happens. I truly believe this is what Baden Powell was referring when he was quoted about avoiding the “hunting” perspective. Hunting has rippling effects for not only that particular scout but for the whole troop. While having fun, scouting is about being challenged, overcoming that challenge and setting the scout up on how to accomplish the next, harder challenge. If we have short circuited the challenge, the next challenge will be harder to accomplish or worse… more short circuiting needs to happen to succeed further. Which path would you prefer the scout to learn?

There is a difference between adjusting how a requirement is completed because of an accommodation for a disability and an accommodation for just making it easier.

Remember this… For the most part, Eagle Scouts are well known because of what Eagle Scouts did after they earned that rank. They upheld what was taught and applied that in their life from that point forward. They understand how to prepare for challenges, how to adjust for challenges and they apply a “can do” attitude. They understand that failure happens and wisdom is born from it. They are modeling behaviors which others respect and admire.

Scouting is a game that teaches in increments. Those increments start in very general ideas and become more focused as time goes on. Even if the scout never makes Eagle Scout, the scout should learn about challenges and how to overcome them with a bit of failure mixed in here and there. You know your troop has a good program when parents and guardians come up to you and share how they have seen a real positive change in their scout. They see more confidence. They see their scout coming out of his/her shell. They see how their scout is excelling. That’s the best feedback any scoutmaster or adult leader could ever get.

From a “running the troop program perspective”, the buck stops at the scoutmaster. It doesn’t stop at the assistant scoutmasters, parents, or the scouts.  The troop committee keeps the scoutmaster honest and ensures that the direction is upheld but it is the scoutmaster who has the duty, accountability and honor of making the final call on programming for the troop and how the troop will be run. Obviously there is consulting and discussing with all those mentioned previously because there has to be a general agreement and understanding of direction. It’s the scoutmaster’s role to ensure the right things are happening. In this case, earned badges rather than hunted badges.

Here are some ways a scoutmaster and other adult leaders can address and ensure the right things are happening when it comes to merit badge earning rather than hunting.

  • Follow the qualifications listed above about what is generally believed to be appropriate merit badge earning.
  • Set the expectation quickly. Ensure that adult leaders, parents, scouts understand what those qualifications mean. Make sure the spirit of intent of those qualifications are clear and in writing. That can either be in a parent packet, website page, etc…
  • Address concerns with merit badge counselors. Be open about the concern you may be seeing with what you are noticing and see if there is a miscommunication or misunderstanding. More than likely it is a gap in communication or understanding from one or more people. If there are indeed instances where the counselor is not adhering to all the requirements and is intentionally making it easier for the scouts just for the sake of making it easier then address it with the counselor first and then escalate to your council if needed.
  • Advise and guide the scout on selecting the right merit badges, the amount of merit badges at once and the timing of merit badges. Some badges are easier at summer camp to accomplish while the harder ones can be done during the rest of the year. Some merit badges would be very hard for an 11 year old to accomplish because of where they are in regards to maturity, ability or life experiences.
  • Address the typical concerns from parents and other adult leaders. There are many good intentions including the ones mentioned above. Help prepare the scout and parents/guardians about what it will take to earn all the merit badges and awards. Help them understand the time management needed to successfully reach goals and how everything can’t be a priority. They have to chose what is a priority. It is scout “owned” which is to say that the scout is responsible for earning the badge and not anyone else.
  • Adhere to our principles: Our scout oath, law, motto and slogan. When in doubt refer back to these.

Hopefully this helps bring down the noise a bit about earning verses hunting. There are many opinions out there including those of this writer but I truly believe if the qualifications for earning a merit badge which are listed above is agreed and adhered to then everyone wins not only today but for a lot more days to come.

Good luck out there scouters!

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The author, Tony Zizak, is a long time scouter, Eagle Scout, and the scoutmaster of Troop 119 Ellettsville, IN. He has been to scout camps across the country and was a certified Program Director, Aquatics Director and a Scoutcraft Director. As a youth Tony received his Vigil Honor and served as a Lodge Chief for Tseyedin Lodge #65. Reach out to him for any questions you may have on this article.