Tracking is one of those subjects that offers me much consternation based upon the myths that Hollywood puts out there. You can probably see some cool dude on the screen saying he knows, Four people went this way, with heavy packs on, about six hours ago. While determining some of that is possible, some of it is near impossible. What I want to do in this article is break down some of the fundamentals so you can utilize tracking for whatever purpose you designate it for. Hunting, search-and-rescue, search-and-rescue, other man tracking are all things you can do with basic skills applied. To begin with lets simply set aside the notion that tracking is an art form, it is not. While there are certainly principles that are born out of art, tracking is more science than anything. The quicker you realize this the better you will be at tackling the subject and increasing your skill set in it. I put sign into three broad classifications:

Ground Sign

A ground sign is any sort of marks or clues that are at a level no higher than a person’s ankle. The largest portion of these is the actual disturbance or marks left on the ground. This could include water splashed, bruised or broken vegetation and sticks, direct pattern on the ground from footfall and much, much more.

Aerial Sign 

This includes signs that are on a level above the height of someone’s ankle. This could include broken cobwebs, overturned leaves, broken branches, skinned bark on a tree. Bruised, broken or turned tall vegetation and much, much more.

Intangible sign 

This is the sign that is related but not necessarily directly to marks left on the earth. Bird and other animal sounds, feces and urine, insect activity and much, much more.Most people that want to get better at tracking want to more specifically want to be able to see and interpret ground sign, specifically tracks. As a whole it is rather hard to see a lot of full tracks. More often than not you will only see partials of them. With that said if we know what things to look for we are more apt to see them, even the partials. The following are the seven reasons WHY we see a track. If you can begin to train your eye to them. You will be rewarded each time you go outside and read more of what is going on around you.


This is the actual outline of the person or animals foot fall.


Animal tracks in particular have features within them and an overall shape. For example, dogs have four toes that are indicated with a foot pad as do cats. However, the dog’s nails will almost always be indicated whereas a cat’s will not. Also a dog’s overall shape is an oval and a cat’s is more circular


If a person or animal make a footfall they will often leave strata from a different area, or carry some with them to the next step often times these colors are different.


This is the lightness or darkness of colors.


Moisture plays a big role in whether a track is old or new. Shine will come from things being wet, and lack shine is from tracks without it. For example, overturned leaves will indicate moisture that quickly dries.


It seems counter-intuitive to many but if you have a rough surface, a track will often make the area look smooth and vice versa.


Each animal, including man has its own gait pattern by which it travels. This includes the rhythm of the foot fall and the steps that go along with it. Once you train your eye to see the rhythm it is easy to recognize it even in areas with leaf litter. If there is one thing I love about outdoors it is tracking. I hope this gets you to thinking and you have questions or requests about details of tracking. If it does, let us know and I will get us working on it.

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