Ask the Expert: Can merit badge progress begin before a Scout gets his blue card?

Ask the Expert: What happened to Bugling merit badge?If a Scout camps several nights with his troop before getting a signed blue card from his Scoutmaster, do those nights count toward his earning Camping merit badge?

That’s what a Scouter, who I’ll call James, wondered last week in an email. James wrote:

I have a question concerning when a Scout must have a blue card. Our troop has a merit badge counselor that told boys that none of their camping nights count prior to them getting a signed blue card from the Scoutmaster.

It seems that I have read that this is contrary to BSA policy. Could you point me to a specific BSA reference for this?

Well, James, there’s no greater authority on this than Christopher Hunt, advancement team leader here at the BSA’s National Office. 

First, read his short answer: “For Camping merit badge, all campouts since the Scout joined the troop should count.”

So in this case, the merit badge counselor is mistaken. But a similar logic applies to progress toward other merit badges, as well. Here are some of the answers Chris has provided to other Scouters with related questions:

Collection-based merit badges

Question: In merit badges like Coin Collecting, can a Scout use a collection he started before even joining the program to fulfill requirements?

Chris says: 

For certain merit badges like Coin Collecting, for example, most counselors would accept a collection that had been begun well before a Scout was even eligible to join. The experiences in finding coins and adding them to the collection would build as the boy learned about the mint markings and conditions of the coins and resources he could use to discover their value, and so forth.

In the same way the experiences on campouts build as Scouts mature and learn how to stay warm and dry, and efficiently take care of their campsite. Instead of collecting coins these Scouts are collecting campouts, and what they’ve learned on the campouts can become the background for productive discussions with the counselor.

Visiting landmarks

Question: If a Scout visits a national monument with his family, can that visit be applied to Citizenship in the Nation merit badge?

Chris says:

If a Scout visits a National Historic Monument with his family and then wants to apply that to Citizenship in the Nation (req 2a), then the counselor should ask him what he learned and found interesting about it. That part of the requirement is, of course, more important than the actual visit. If the Scout remembers what he learned and found interesting, and if the discussion can be related to some sort of citizenship lesson, then the requirement should be checked off.

Cooking merit badge

Question: Some Cooking MB requirements seem to indicate Scouts work directly with their counselor. Do the above rules apply here?

Chris says:

In Cooking there are a lot of discussion items that most counselors would want to conduct directly with the Scout after the blue card is signed. That would be appropriate. Past work for some of the other requirements might be acceptable, however.

For example, if a Scout planned a menu in the past and then developed the plan and prepared the food as stated in the requirements, then the counselor should give this consideration. He might discuss how it all went and what the Scout learned; and he might want the Scout to have the SM confirm it was done. If the counselor is comfortable the intent of the requirement was met then he can check off the requirement.

More on Camping merit badge

Question: What if I have a Scoutmaster or counselor who’s asking for “the source” on what you’ve said above about Camping MB?

Chris says:

In merit badges like Camping, nights camped since becoming a Boy Scout all count, regardless when other work on the merit badge began, or when the Scoutmaster signed the blue card.

This Clarification has been provided through our e-newsletter, Advancement News, and through our Twitter account. The Application for Merit Badge “blue card” has also been reprinted to reflect this, and the revision of the Guide to Advancement, scheduled for release later this summer, precludes the practice. Wording changes in the reprinted blue card and the Guide to Advancement revision also no longer use “approval” or “qualified to begin working [on the merit badge]” in association with the Scoutmaster’s initial signature on a blue card. It now signifies simply that the SM has had a discussion with the Scout about the badge, and that he has provided the name of at least one merit badge counselor.

An important reminder

Chris says: “It is not the Scoutmaster’s decision, in any case, one way or the other. Only a merit badge counselor can decide if requirements have been met or not.”

Ask the Expert your question

Chris has been very helpful in answering these and other tricky advancement questions. Keep them coming to, subject line “Ask the Expert,” and I’ll try to track down an answer.

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About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.