Suppose you went camping on some weekend, and on the first evening, it rained. 

You got your tent up just in time and put most of your camping gear inside the tent, but you forgot a couple of food items. The next morning, you notice mud outside your tent where the ground had been dry the previous evening, and you see torn pieces of food wrappers in the mud. You quickly understand that the food you left out had been munched by some wild animals.

But what?

This is where knowing animal tracks come in handy. Why is that important? Well, the tracks left behind could be from a raccoon, a squirrel, or even from a bear. How would you know if you didn’t know how to read tracks? If it was a bear (especially a big bear), it could mean you need to move your camp. If it was a squirrel, not so much. Tracks tell you what you missed seeing, and at times, it becomes very important to know how to read signs. Being able to read tracks can also tell you if you should set up camp there to begin with. Would you want your tent set up on a bison trail? I think not (and I speak from experience).

Hunters usually need to know the signs of the animal they hunt, or they may be wasting their time in a place where there is no such game. Tracks tell them how big (and even the sex) of the game, if they know the difference. They can also tell you animal has been hit and if you need to track the animal for who knows how far. In one spot, they may have a clear print, and then ten feet later, nothing at all. 

What do you do? 

It’s not a matter if you care to find it, it is a responsibility to find it at all cost, and the better the tracker, the better chance of finding the animal. I have personally tracked wounded animals when not the slightest sign was found, and I had to think about what the animal would do. Where the animal would go and base that upon the color of the blood. For instance, if the blood is more watery and a weak red, then it means a possible wound in the intestines, and an animal often would go to a water source, so look for that. Also, tracks can get confused with other tracks. How do you know which is which? You go by direction of travel, and you do that by placing tissues (or whatever you may have) behind you on the trail of that animal so you can look back and determine the direction of travel ahead. Most animals will not be all over the place, but will generally walk or run in one direction. 

So how do you get to know tracks? Well one way is by seeing them in the wild and taking a snapshot or maybe even drawing them and looking them up later on. Or, you can have them made up on paper and compare them to the real tracks in the wild. (That could be some fun learning for the entire family.) Also, tracking can come in handy if a pet ever decides to go sightseeing, and you are able to have tracks to go by. You probably know your dog tracks from seeing them, but would you know them apart from another dog? This is where studying tracks comes in because most animals have individual tracks that they make, and if we don’t spend time to study certain tracks and their characteristics, then we don’t really know what to look for.                                                                   

Fresh snow and fresh mud would be the very best time to track any animal. But what if there is none of that? Well, then you look for things like scat, eaten food items, fur, broken branches, smashed-down grass, etc. When tracking, you must try and figure out (based on available signs) the pace of that animal, and maybe even the age of the print. You must remember too that weather plays an important influence on tracks (especially rain). The depth of a track generally determines the weight of the animal, but then the ground could be soft too, so that needs to be tested. In short, you have to make believe you are a detective trying to figure out a scene—which can be a lot of fun! 

Now, suppose you are asked to help in a neighborhood search for a missing girl in the nearby woods. It would really help to know what to look for with the individuals who are part of the search team. Having learned to do some animal tracking can really come in handy in this situation. You would, of course, not be looking for animal tracks, but then what if an animal tried to hurt the girl—heaven forbid—and drug her away? Animal tracking would definitely help here while others may likely be looking for shoe prints. Another example is what if a person just got lost and is injured and can’t respond? Walking miles and yelling his or her name would not accomplish much but having some tracking skills just might.  

Now tracking animals is one thing, but what about tracking people? What if someone was tracking you in order to harm you? Tracking can become a serious matter. It could spell out the difference between life and death. Learning how to track a human can be used in reverse if you are the quarry. So say you really don’t have any footprints to go by, what do you do? Well, just like with animals, you look for things that have been moved, broken, mashed or anything out of the ordinary. This requires a slow study process, no speed reading. Someone running will leave much more signs than if they are going slow and trying not to leave any sign. So if it was you who didn’t want to be tracked, which would you do? Tracking humans can be much more complicated than animals tracking, because most of the time, the animal is not trying to outthink you. I say “most of the time,” because whitetail deer have been known to outsmart hunters by doubling back around the hunters in order to keep an eye on their whereabouts. To be a successful tracker, you kind of need to be smarter than what you are tracking because you can also end up running animals away with your tracking methods.                                                           

So what is the right outlook to have for tracking? For one, you have to be able to spend the time to do it and have a certain amount of patience. You have to be interested in the “class,” or you won’t be paying adequate attention. You have to want to get dirty and wet and maybe even smell the ground. Can you tell where a red fox was by just the smell of his urine? Well, that is also part of the tracking process. Animals in the wild all know what animal left a certain scent behind. In the case of whitetail deer, they can even tell the sex and age of another deer by their urine. They rub twigs with their glands to let others know who they are. They also make scraps, rub trees, and nibble on branches to communicate to all who care to know. You might have seen squirrels running up a branch and suddenly stop and sniff for a time. Squirrels have “scent checks” as well. They have their own travel routes planned as well as we take our roads to go to a specific place. Animals have a wonderful communication process that most people haven’t a clue about, and it’s all part of the bigger picture of knowing the animals who made a certain track.

You must also be careful to not disrupt whatever tracks you may find. Remember the detective scene and to not step on any “evidence,” for it may be the only one you have to go on. And you may think that one little track isn’t that important, but then again, who is to say you won’t find yourself in need of it later on? It’s better to have and not need than to need it and not have it. This is especially true if we end up being the ones being tracked for some reason. If we think that won’t ever happen, then we probably also believe we don’t need a spare tire because we will never have a flat or that our cell phones will always work, so we don’t have to worry about getting stuck or stranded. Well, you can only hope, but why not take the time to be ready for what could happen? Even if there is only a 1% chance? 

Learning to track is actually a really big part of a much larger picture in being more connected with a world that brought humanity to this era. Technology, as wonderful as it may be, really takes us away from the natural order of things. It makes what is real into a non-reality, and I believe that unless we partake of things like tracking and getting to know what those who came before us knew. Unfortunately, we have become attached to a world that offers a lot of things… until the main component is missing, and that component is electricity. Without electricity, we are back 200 years in time when almost nothing we have acquired would work. Then what? Then all who didn’t bother with learning the most basic things of life won’t survive, and that is really sad.

Tracking is way more than just looking at some little feet in the dirt. It’s using your mind to learn something that you may not otherwise learn, and also to think about what is real and how reality works, apart from the electronic devices we are so attached to. Be it learning about tracking or what plants that are edible, how to purify water, or a number of things, you are using your mind beyond the parameters you may have grown so familiar with. A good student is one who delights in learning new things and bothers to ask questions. And there is a great reward for those who bother to learn about the natural world. It’s that world that we go to get away from the caged world we often grow up in and feel the stress of it all. Real freedom is only found when you are at peace with your surroundings, and that almost never includes confusion, noise, timelines, etc.  

One of the bonuses as well of tracking animals is that it makes you have to be aware of where you are (without road signs) and you get to do what a lot of people don’t care for, and that is dealing with those bugs that seem to be everywhere and make you itch and itch. But again, that is all part of the world as well and getting used to those little pests (like it or not) is part of life. And while many are afraid of the diseases they might get from certain bug bites, there are of course insect repellents available and even common sense ideas like wearing rubber boots and putting a ring of Vaseline around the top to trap any bugs crawling up. Then again, getting bitten is not always a bad thing because the body gets the chance to build up resistance to diseases. Again, it’s all about understanding the bigger picture of life.                                      

Now as for this writer, he actually lives in a peaceful place where wild animal tracks are seen every day. He lives in the middle of a National Forest and is blessed by the most wonderful visitors. Just this morning, he looked out his window (with sleep yet in his eyes) and beheld a Whitetail buck licking on a salt block. He hurried to get some salted crackers and went out to win this buck’s friendship, and of course, the buck moved away when he approached, but after several minutes, he came closer and finally ate a cracker out of my hand. And then a couple more. Now, I didn’t have to bother tracking him because he stood right in front of me…lol. But you never know, tracking an animal could just get you a new friend, and that would be a great prize and make for some great pictures as well.

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Bill is known internationally for his art and has authored two books as well. Among his many interests is that of being a survivalist. He lives remotely and has learned much about the art of survival—from growing his own food, making his own natural medicine, to being inventive with what he has to work with. He has a long history as a big game hunter and understands what is required to live without the comforts of home when needed, and he doesn’t assume that tomorrow will be better, for it may just be the opposite. He considers it wise to be prepared in every way possible and believes what wisdom the Bible has promised. Bill is more than happy to share what he has learned because he cares and that care needs to be shared.