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Basic Tracking Primer

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  • Basic Tracking Primer

    An obvious fact is that a great many folks do not live at their BOL and must travel there once their personal criterion has been met to do so. Many may have to move on foot for the entire distance or for a portion of it. Either way, foot travel can be just as dangerous as motorized transportation… you will not be alone. If you think it was no longer safe to stay at home than you can bet a great many other folks will also have reached the same conclusion. The difference between you and them is that you have a well stocked BOL as a destination, a planned route of movement with alternates, necessary equipment & supplies… you have the knowledge, skills, and ability to execute your plan; they have no plan. They will head to the hills using the “sheeple shuffle”, the great exodus of refugees also known as the “golden horde”, pillaging every home & every town they encounter. At all costs you must avoid them; you need to be able to recognize the signs of the passage of other humans when travelling cross country so that they can be more easily avoided and to note the passage of animals (food sources).

    Being able to read an interpret trail sign is a skill once common in frontier America and like many of those early skills it is one that you may need again. Reading about it is one thing, but like anything else you must get out in the field and apply your new found knowledge… even simply going down to your neighborhood park and walking there will give you practical application on reading signs of human and animal passage. A well-developed set of tracking skills will help you to avoid those you need to avoid, follow those you need to follow, and to make your own path without fear.

    Tracking Tips in grassy field and weeded areas:
    1. If the grass/weeds is high (above 3 feet) the trails will be easy to follow as normally the grass is knocked down and will either be broken or will stay down for several days. If the grass is short it will spring back in a shorter length of time and is less likely to be broken.
    2. Grass/weeds will normally show a contrast in color with the surrounding undergrowth when pressed down.
    3. If the grass is wet with dew, the missing dew will show a trail where a person/animal has travelled.
    4. Mud or soil from boots may appear on some of the grass.
    5. Remember, if new vegetation is showing through a track, the track is old.
    6. In very short grass (1 foot or less) a boot/shoe will damage the grass and a footprint can be found.

    Tracking Tips for Rocky Ground:
    1. Small stones and rocks are moved aside or rolled over when walked on. The soil is also disturbed, leaving a distinct variation in color and an impression. If the soil is wet, the underside of the stones will be much darker in color than the top when moved.
    2. If the stone is brittle, it will chip and crumble when walked on. A light patch will appear where the stone is broken and the chips normally remain near the broken stone.
    3. Stones on a loose or soft surface are pressed into the ground when walked upon. This leaves either a ridge around the edge of the stone where it has forced the dirt out, or a hole where the stone has been pushed below the surface of the ground.
    4. Where moss is growing on rocks, a boot or hand will scrape off some of the moss.

    Tracking Tips for Rivers, Streams, Marsh/Swamp:
    1. Footprints on the banks and in shallow water.
    2. Mud stirred up and discoloring the water.
    3. Rocks splashed with water in a quietly running stream.
    4. Water on the ground at a point of exit.
    5. Mud on grass or other vegetation near the edge of the water.

    Tracking Tips for forest :
    1. First, this terrain includes all the associated undergrowth, dead leaves and trees, streams with sandy/muddy banks, moss on the forest floor and rocks- all things that make tracking easier and outright enjoyable!
    2. Disturbed leaves on the forest floor, when wet, show up a darker color when disturbed.
    3. Dead leaves are brittle and will crack or break under pressure of a person walking on them. The same is true of dry twigs.
    4. Where the undergrowth is thick, especially on the edges of the forest, green leaves of the bushes that have been pushed aside and twisted will show the underside of the leave- this side is lighter in color than the upper surface. To find this sort of trail, you must look through the forest instead of directly at it.
    5. Boot/shoe impressions may be left on fallen and rotting trees.
    6. Marks may be left on the sides of logs lying across the path.
    7. Roots running across a path may show signs that something has moved through the area.
    8. Broken spider webs across a path indicate (normally) that something has moved through the area.
    9. Broken branches and twigs.
    10. Leaves knocked off bushes and trees.
    11. Branches bent in the direction of travel.
    12. Tunnels made through vegetation (like the bear tunnels in the Pocosin forests of Hyde county, NC)
    13. Pieces of clothing caught on sharp edges of bushes.

    These are just a few tips that when applied will help you to have greatly improved situational awareness when traveling cross-country. It should go without saying that as you travel you will also want to work at concealing your own trail in order to prevent someone else with the requisite skills from tracking you to your well stocked BOL. You need to be familiar with tracking deception skills, skills you will need to employ, but also signs you will be looking for that tell you there is someone out here who also does not want to be found… friend or foe, you should err on the side of caution.

    Tracking Deception Tips (what to look for/ what to do):
    1. Walking backwards- the heel mark tends to be deeper than that of the ball of the foot and the pace will be shorter, often much shorter. In order for you to utilize this skill, you must practice it.
    2. More than one person stepping in the same track- look at the depth of the print and overlaying treads. With practice you will easily be able to determine the passage of a single soul compared to that of a family group or larger.
    3. Walking in streams. Is more effective in streams will a moderate current that will remove stirred silt quickly.
    4. Walking along fallen trees or stepping from rock to rock. Personally, I do not recommend either one unless you are actively working to throw off pursuit as it is too easy to sprain and ankle, or worse, slipping off one of these.
    5. Covering tracks with leaves. If not done properly you will create a larger signature than the one you are attempting to hide.
    6. To alleviate your tread print and soften the impact of your own boots/shoes, slip a heavy pair of socks over the outside of them- if you have them to spare (something best planned for).

    All of these tips apply to what is referred to as “visual tracking”, but you also need to apply your nose and ears for “scent” and “sound” tracking. Put it all together for a successful movement to your BOL where you can pass the time in the lap of luxury while less fortunate souls suffer the shit-storm splatter.

    NOTE: All of this is worthless if your primary and alternate routes follow the roads on an atlas. Thinking of dressing like a sheeple and shuffling with the horde, then maybe breaking away later- not so fast- if you have a pack on your back, you may have something someone behind you decides they may need or want and a blow to back of your skull may be the end of the shit as you know it. There are always wolves amongst the sheep.
    Don’t take the sarcasm personally, or do, doesn’t matter to me.

    Please feel free to add to this as no one of us is as smart as all of us.

    Last edited by Long_Hunter; 11-22-2010, 04:06 PM.

  • #2
    Great info... Great post!!!

    The 12ga.... It's not just for rabbits anymore.


    • #3
      I liked the info, especially the sock over the shoe. Never thought of that one.


      • #4
        great tips long hunter I would just add one thing walking on the balls and side of the foot leaves less of an destinctive track. just something my grand father taught me


        • #5
          I think tracking is an essential skill to own. I consider myself to be a neophyte. My wife & I have taken two private classes from Horizon Tracking, LLC as well as the very first tracking class offered by Yavapai College. If one can back track themselves they are really never "lost" and all of ones survival skills will merely be academic. I think that scat identification is also a part of tracking.


          • #6
            Good read.
            In all of my prepping..never gave a thought to tracking skills. Thanks!


            • #7
              During the warmer months, and if it isn't too wet, I usually wear moccasin boots while playing in the woods. They don't hardly leave a mark unless you step right in the middle of a big mud pile. Very hard to track, even for an experienced tracker, especially when walking on the balls of your feet.

              Click image for larger version

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              Mine aren't exactly like these. Those in the pic have a sole on them, mine don't, all leather soles on mine.
              " If you want to live, treat me good " Peter Tosh


              • #8
                Originally posted by 10eckid View Post
                During the warmer months, and if it isn't too wet, I usually wear moccasin boots while playing in the woods. They don't hardly leave a mark unless you step right in the middle of a big mud pile. Very hard to track, even for an experienced tracker, especially when walking on the balls of your feet.
                If you walk and put the outside of your foot down first and roll the rest of your foot inward then grass/vegetation will not stay compressed as long as if one walks like most other people.


                • #9
                  Tracking after you start learning is like being trained as a Scout in the military, You are always looking and never stop. Try tracking a mouse on rocks. Observation is a plus factor.


                  • #10
                    In the winter in snow the wind will blow some old tracks (a week or more old) clear of snow and make them look like the are fresh tracks. When tracking big game in pine needles the tracks are not visible but if you get down on your hands and knees you can feel them under the pine needles. I make hard sole moccasins using buffalo rawhide for the sole I make them with the hair on the outside. Until the hair wears off they won't even leave tracks even in sand because the sand falls out of the hair covering the track they are also very quite when walking as in no sound at all.

                    Long_Hunter those are some good points you posted.


                    • #11
                      This is good I need to practice some of the finer skills...


                      • #12
                        One thing to look for is sign or clues ... if someone smokes look for butts people are always throwing trash around ... sometimes there are more "clues" then footprints

                        Another thing when tracking in grass you can see the different color of green when the blades of grass are broken you can also smell that track .. Yes smell it if it looks like a track but your not quite sure get down there with your nose and take a whiff broken or smashed grass will give off a distinct odor

                        You can also hear a track where you have stepped you compress material and if you tap on a track with your fingers then tap next to the track the thump will be just a little different sounding
                        Survival is not the art of living it's the art of existing