Beginners guide to track animals in the great Outdoors

What Animal Tracking is about

“Many tracking books use the analogy of the earth as paper, the animals as writers, and the tracks and
trails as the letters and words left behind for those who are fluent in the language and willing to pause
and read. Tracks and trails are truly a script for those with trained senses, and they tell many stories rich
in drama, suspense, mystery, love and sometimes horror.”

Mark Elbroch (“Mammal Tracks and Sign”, 2001)

Animal Tracking is the practice of spotting, interpreting and following animal tracks finds two main fields of application: hunting and wildlife conservation.

This touches me in a deep manner.
In 2018, after attending to a two weeks course, I became Certified Antipoaching Ranger for Conservation Rangers Operations Worldwide, a NGO based in Colorado.

I couldn’t stress enough the importance of locating animal tracks in what we do.
Animals’ signs of passage, in fact, represent an essential source of informations on the habits of a specific species as well as the potential threat they need to handle due to the drastic reduction of their natural habitat.
Not to mention the fact that the terrain gives back the presence of poachers and their illegal activities, like the settlement of snares into the bushes.

Abreast of antipoaching activities, learning to track wildlife can also provide you several leads in a Prepping situation.

For instance, locating and coming a long wildlife tracks allows you to determine the proximity of stream where you can collect water.
As mentioned before, it can be also a remarkable aid in order to avoid to be too much close to predators.

Furthermore, by knowing the habits of animals from their footprints helps you to understand the more suitable places to set traps.
By discovering funnels, feeding and beding areas you have clues on where start hunting activities.

Think to long-time hunting enthusiasts.
They surely rely on their expertise to find and follow animal footprints.
They do it with or without the additional support of hound dogs.

Being capable to evaluate a species from another is not an easy expertise that anyone can gain and master in one day or two.

In fact, it takes even years to develop an extensive and accurate knowledge of the local fauna of a specific are.
Let’s now focus on the core of where, when and how to identify animal tracks.

On wildlife tracking

Despite her longevity, nothing really changed inside the Art of Tracking.
In fact, this skill mainly consists of observation, so she preserved her procedures and modus operandi throughout the centuries.

Observation is intrinsecally connected to the awareness of the Outdoor scenario you are in.
Starting from scanning properly the whole area, observation provides all the necessary aids to acquire informations about the presence of wildlife.

Movements, habits, reactions to threats, intentions: this huge amount of data can be pulled out from the groud as well as from the surrounding vegetation which can be damaged by their abrupt passage.

The purpose of Tracking is collecting pieces of info and combine them together matching a systematic
scheme based on:

  • evidences
  • deductions
  • confirmations

Every contact leaves a trace, as Sir Edmund Locard stated back to 20th Century. By that, Wildlife tracking can be pretty immediate and everyone’s reach in uncomplicated terrains like mud, sands,snow. We call them “track traps” in the Tracking terminology.

Needless to say that wildlife tracking happens to be very challenging on dead leaves or pine needles beds, rocky grou, dry and tough surfaces or bush hogged praires. You name it.

It makes sense that even the smallest detail you can spot on a determined terrain, especially with the ideal percentage of moisture, is quite impossible to see elsewhere.

The main challenges of tracking animals can be interpreted as a specific sequence of actions.
The first one is related to put all your care in obbserving what it is around you.
Then you can start to gather data on the current weath want to study and to follow. Don’t forget to interpret them paying extra attention! Misleading yourself with other species is a very common mistake.
Ultimately you can try to follow some trails.

How you can start to read animal footprints

The essential step related Wildlife Tracking is the deepened study of the local fauna and flora.
In a natural perspective, they are of mutual benefits to each other, as you can easily imagine.
related to the area you are in.
A Tracker needs very few tools in order to accomplish his/her tasks once in the Great Outdoors.

An ordinary Tracking Kit, in fact, usually contains

  • measuring device, like a tape
  • flashlight to enhance inner details of tracks. This could be helpful either in shady areas either for night-tracking
  • tweezers. You can employ them to remove any debris fallen into the track while you are observing them
  • notebook, pencil, pen, rubber

Wildlife Tracking is all about expertise and “, abudance or absence of moisture, different vegetation are the main factors, along with good or poor personal physical and mental performances.
Making mistakes is absolutely compulsory! Without them, you cannot grow and your endurance in wildlife tracking is compromised.

What we employ in tracking animals – senses

In order to do effective trackin, we employ all our senses but taste.

Dectecting noises and smells are not important then knowing how and what to look for.
Clues of wildlife can show themselves in a variety of different manners and forms.

Animals’ noses and ears are much more developed than ours.
They use them to catch any potential dangers to themselves and their packs.

We should always consider this point when we approach them in a follow up, especially at short distance.
That’s why you are probably familiar with the concept of “staying downwind”.

In relation to odors, you know you are on the right trail when your nose suddenly catches a strong smell of feces. Wildlife, in fact, has a distinctive one, more than any domestic animal’s.

What about touch? It can give you back a lot of valuable data.
If the ground has been interested by any passage, the substrate – defined “medium” by Trackers . results to be “altered” from the very own natural state.
In case of a fresh track, the soil will pop up darker, due to the moisture absorbed during the night.
This is called “color value” in Tracking, and it makes a huge difference when it comes to evaluate the approximate age of a track.

Interferences with the natural balance of an area

When we come across into tracks, we know that an alteration of the natural balance of an area occurred.

If we bear in mind this crystal clear notion, our approach to wildlife tracking will be more fluid and proficient.
In fact, signs of passage are nothing but disturbances.
Trackers often use this word to indicate different forms of tracks.

The critical point is to never understimate the type of terrain they have been dropped on. Soft? Dry?
Grassland or woodland? Moorland or desertic areas? Altitude? Suburban or wild context?

The most common tracks can turn out as leaves compressed, twigs broken, bent or ripped off vegetation, small pebbles disloged, grass flattened, or a transfer of sticky or liquid material (mud, smashed fruit, blood..).
Droppings are tracks too, along with food remains, blood staines, hair, saliva.

When and where to look for animal tracks

“The competent tracker is both scientist and storyteller. You must critically observe, collect good data,
and avoid rash conclusions, as well as use your imagination to interpret and celebrate the signs you’ve

Mark Elbroch, “Mammal Tracks and Sign”, 2001)

Early hours of the day are the most suitable time of the day to look for animal tracks.
In over populated areas, in fact, contamination occurred due to the massive presence of men and vehicle are the most negative issue to deal with.

As most of the animals are noctural, the moments across dawn happen to be the very best. Fresh tracks wait for you to detect and interpret them!

As introduced in the previous paragraph, track traps are the ideal dimension to start with.
River benches are the best option you may have to locate recent animal transitions and activities.

Be accustomed to be accurate and inquisitive. This attitude will serve you very well when you will dedicate yourself in tracking in more complicated terrains.

Never forget that animals are led by instinct!
By that, animal trails may be narrowed, winding, because they are moved by smells and behavioral patterns.

Keeping a journal or your findings is always a good way to go.
Record your successes by using a some footoprints chards can help you in creating a solid database, either mental either.. physical! Fill them in with date, informations of the terrain, typology and age of tracks and so on.

You can take advantage of the “Track Cards” I created and uploaded on my website.
They are for free, so feel comfortable in using and printing them whatenever yu may need.

They have been conceived to pave your way to become a better Tracker!

Animal Tracking can trust on thousands of people who are truly passionate of this ancient but still valuable skill. Sharing knowledge, being patient and willing to learn is top notch if you want to succeed!

cropped kyt lyn walken.jpg

Kyt Lyn Walken is the official European representative and instructor for Hull's Tracking School (Virginia, USA), and is a certified Conservation Ranger for C.R.O.W. (Conservation Rangers Operations Worldwide). She has been an outdoors and tracking enthisast since childhood. She is contributor as a writer for several magazines in U.S. and U.K.Kyt is author of the manuals "The importance of being a Tracker", "The Urban Tracker, "Tracking Compendium" (this one with Andy Martin), "Jungle Trackers: S.A.S. In Malesia and Borneo".

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