Wildwood Tracking website

Tracks & Sign
Sign tracking
Limb/Eye Dominance
Search & Rescue
Way of the Scout
Algonquin Winter
About this site
Use of material
Privacy Policy

Improving Tracking Ability

by Tom Brown Jr.

One of the things that is important for a student in learning how to follow tracks is to know the gait, stride, straddle, and the gait variations of various animals. In most tracking areas this is difficult to learn in that many of the patterns do not appear at regular intervals. So what I suggest to a beginning student is to go out and find himself a sandy area, beach front or ocean front which make the best areas to learn tracking the various gaits, strides, and all other measurements of wildlife. If a student does not have the type of an area, he can easily take a section of trail in the forest or field that is heavily traveled by animals and dig it out. Into this section of trail (which is maybe 3-4 feet long and as wide as the trail is wide) he should dump some play sand (the type used for children's sandboxes) which can be purchased at a hardware store. This will give the student without the convenience of a beach or stream bank a place where he can view first hand the patterns of various animal's gaits, strides, straddles, pitches, and take accurate measurements of their footprints. In this way a student frequenting the beaches or the soft areas and looking at the various strides and patterns of animals will be able to understand more fully how an animal moves. He will also be able to afix in his mind the eyesighting measeurements. In other words, measurements without the use of a ruler or a tracking stick. After doing this a number of times he will know instinctively on hard ground that doesn't produce clear tracks where the next marks or patterns are going to lie.

That is why the Pine Barrens was one of the most important areas for me to learn tracking. Stalking Wolf said to me that it is the most difficult and the easiest place to learn tracking. By this he meant that the trails, which were made of white sand that held tracks beautifully, could show the beginning student the various measurements and track patterns as well as footprint shapes needed for tracking. But when the animal left the trail into the hardpacked forest floor littered with pine needles and various rocks and briars and thorns, etc. it became exceedingly difficult, almost impossible, to follow those trails. So I suggest that a student find himself an area that he can use for tracking in this manner.

Another way of reading animal tracks is to build an outdoor sandbox, or tracking box that can be baited.  Something about 5 x 5 feet is adequate and should be located in the corner of the yard or the woods where animals are most likely to pass through. The center of the tracking box should be baited with meats and vegetables to satisfy the appetite and draw both predator and herbivore.

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