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Tracking Philosophy

by Tom Brown Jr.

Tracking is not just the act of following a set of footprints across the ground.  Anybody can be trained to follow footprints.  It seems that this modern day and age when you say tracker, it brings to a person's mind someone that is following a set of tracks and attempting to find the animal or person located at the end of the tracks.  If this is all there was to tracking, I would have been done with my quest, and most students would be finishing their quest to learn how to track long ago.  But tracking is an art form. The art form lies in the ability of a person to read each individual track and glean from it all the nuances, all the essence of that animal's movements so that student can picture the movement in his mind, as if being relived from that track.

A tracker may go out and say, "Here is a set of deer tracks. They lead from this stump to that hill". But a tracker who is an artist at tracking will say, "Yes, these deer tracks lead from this stump to that hill, but on this track here the deer was stooping to eat, leaning forward to nibble the tiny little shoots of sweet yellow clover, and as he took his next step something altered his attention and he jerked his head upwards and to the right. Then the next two steps show that the animal becomes very nervous, looking continuously toward the right and toward his front, eyeing his route of escape.  Then the next step shows even more nervousness as there is a jerking movement in the right rear foot showing that the animal has sensed or has heard another sound coming from the right. He walks off a couple of stalking steps as to be undetected until he hits heavier brush and then increases his walk to a diagonal walk or trot, the whole time looking to the left. His tail is shown in the rear footprints to be going up and down wildly and as the wobbling pressure releases show, he is very nervous. The next few prints show where he stops momentarily to see what the originator of the noise is, and while he stands his feet rivet the ground as if in anticipation to be ready to bound off. Then he stalks in a slow walking gait low to the earth around the hill."

So you can see the art of tracking is more than just following a set of tracks. That is only part of the tremendous rewards a person can achieve in tracking. When a person can read the trail and all the nuances of the trail, there is no such thing as an old trail. A tracker doesn't want an old trail.  he wants a fresh trail that is going to bring him to the animal he is seeking.  But to an artist tracker, any trail, no matter how old, is still going to hold the nuances and meanings of the animal that laid them down and he is going to see in his mind the exact movements and interpretations by reading internal and external pressure releases of each track. Thus, it is good for a student to become an artist of tracking, not just a tracker.

From The Tracker magazine, Summer 1982, published by the Tracker School.
For more articles from The Tracker magazine, visit the Tracker Trail website.