We have all seen the person in movies–the impossibly hard to find tracker who possesses skills no mere mortal has. That is a far-fetched idea that has been developed overtime in Hollywood. Is it true that only a handful of people can learn the valuable skill of tracking? Not quite. On the flip side, you have folks who claim to be superior trackers with vast knowledge when they probably have very little knowledge about the actual skill. Alas, both of those types of people are abundant and unfortunately, both of those types think they can teach tracking.
I have informally been tracking my whole life as an outdoorsman, farmer and hunter. Only in the last 10 years have I been trying to develop the skills to teach tracking. I am by no means an expert, I only feel comfortable giving out a few basic tips. In fact, I tend to find I am left with more questions about tracking after an exercise rather than answers. Despite my somewhat limited experience, I can tell you one thing for sure, I am definitely seeing a lot more than I did before I started developing my tracking skills.
Why Tracking is Important to Survival
Are you sitting there thinking, “Is tracking a survival tool?” In many ways, yes it is.
- If you were ever lost, would you be able to find your way back to safety by using signs and tracks you left on your way in?
- Can you find a member of your party if they get lost? Tracks and signs can fade away quickly.
- If you do get lost and can’t find your way back, wouldn’t you like to know how to alert a search team to your location?
- Can you identify animal tracks? Knowing what animals are in your surroundings can help you determine a great deal. Did you know spotting raccoon tracks indicates you are somewhere near water?
You have probably realized why tracking is a fabulous skill to possess. Each of the above questions are valid and can happen. Learning to track will help you along with your family and friends if there is ever a need. The following are something I like to refer to as the super seven methods of identifying a track. These seven things are the characteristics of a track that will tell you a wealth of information.
- Shapes–look for identifying details in the track, like toes, claws, heels and the pads on an animal’s foot.
- Outline–look for partials, edges and the inside portions.
- Colors–looking for different ground colors, shadows
- Value–Check for sun exposure that causes lighter or darker variations due to position as well as differences in substrate.
- Texture–Determine whether track is smooth or rough.
- Shine–Check to see if the ground, leaves or surrounding foliage reflect light or absorb it.
- Rhythm–How far are the tracks apart? Are they regular or sporadic?
Tracking is not a skill you can learn sitting behind a computer. You have to get out there and really use a hands-on approach. Really open your eyes and look for tracks and apply your new found knowledge about the characteristics of a track. Practice your tracking skills and you will soon see more than you ever did.
Craig Caudill is a regular contributor to www.dansdepot.com where he also tests and assmebles survival kits and gear, click here to see some of them. He also is an outdoors instructor at the Nature Reliance School.
Continued on Tracking Part 2.