The footprint’s shape, overall size and the size of its gaits will give you a lot of information.
Before metal measuring tapes, trackers used a wooden stick to look for track signs and measure the stride length of prints.
Tracking is an art that takes lots of practice and organization. You must meticulously record every footprint found to identify your quarry’s gait and tracks.
Here we see a human print along with an animal print.
In the old days, most trackers used a tracking stick, but now most top track- ers use a metal measuring tape to look for track signs and to measure the stride length.
Advanced tracker Tom Brown demonstrates how to track, not only days or months in the past, but years.
Expert hunters and trackers know exactly what the front and back hoofs of their prey look like. By being able to distinguish these prints the hunter can they determine things like the pace that the animal was walking.
Tracking can be approached in two different ways whether it’s for tracking humans or animals. You can either master the minimum skills needed to determine the number of your opponent’s forces and use that knowledge to your advantage or you can step up to become a true hunter and tracker. To do that you will need more than marksmanship, tactics and fieldcraft. You will need to become a “predator.”
The only way to train your brain and gain the experience you will need is by repeatedly tracking humans and hunting prey in a controlled scenario before bet- ting your life against enemies in a real-life environment or having to successfully hunt for survival.
To be able to track your opponent you need to be able to determine the number of humans or animals, their direction of travel and the time they passed through your current position, as well as figure out where they are heading and when they will get there. When tracking humans, this knowledge will allow you to make a guess to their intentions. These questions may not sound like much, but you will need a lot of experience to answer all of them with your tracking skills.
This mental attitude will give you a lot of insight. You will be able to do much more than count the number of people
or animals. You will be able to estimate their direction of movement, learn when they passed the point you are at, interpret what they were doing at this location, reasonably anticipate where they are going and when they’ll get there. You will also be able to follow their trail as long as required.
When tracking men, you may even feel that he may be young, fit and trained. Or he may be middle aged and tired. He may be so focused on his mission that he won’t fall into distraction, or he may be patrolling loosely without much attention. You have to feel if they know you are following them or not. You have to learn to identify if they feel threatened just by the way they leave their tracks.
In Major John Plaster’s own words, “Taken to its ultimate, the truly gifted tracker learns to see his surroundings through his quarry’s eyes. He isn’t follow- ing him; he anticipates his quarry’s next move and heads him off at the pass.” This is the final objective of learning to mantrack.
After you find a spoor, the normal procedure is to determine the number of prey and to identify footprints, specifically the size of each and which direction they are moving. Check your boots and the animals around camp and start making your own track data cards. Add all the kinds of markings you know of to your track-and- footprint list. Add the personal ID marks of all the enemy boots you can. Add all the special footprints you find in your area of operations. This will allow you to potentially identify every animal and human that crosses your grounds.
After talking to a very experienced tracker, I have come to a conclusion regarding the differentiation between boots with similar soles or those made by the same manufacturer. His suggestion here is to cut notches in the boots of team members so they will be readily identifiable. Trying to remember, draw or photograph each boot sole can be unreliable and time consuming. A notch cut into the same place on each person’s boot will better serve the purpose of knowing whom your friends are. At least you will have greatly reduced the footprints to track as only the rest will be your problem.
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Tracking animals is nearly the same, but with one additional complication and one definite advantage. You are not an animal, so you will need to learn about animal behavior and how they move, even what their footprint phases are, and this is a lot of work. The advantage is that animals won’t ambush you if you get too close or disguise their position, so the learning process is far safer with them.
Footprints may identify some of your quarry. They will tell you if a woman or heavy men are among the group you are tracking. But you need to know how many there are; you must also learn if some of your identified footprints are among them so you know you are still following the right party. You need to extract from their tracks as much information as possible about their speed, their load and their possible intentions.
The footprint’s shape, overall size and the size of its gaits will give you a lot of information. Smaller, thinner footprints and shorter steps will tell the tracker that the tracks were made by a shorter, smaller person or maybe a woman. If the track is thinner, with more earth scrapped around it, and has a longer gait, then the footprint is from a person running.
Read The Signs
The real problem with tracking is that it is very difficult to find complete tracks, and even if your enemy does not try to hide or disrupt them, it is difficult to find full footprints. This does not mean that without full footprints you cannot track your foe. You will use all kinds of indicators, called “signs.” These are the clues of your prey’s presence that can barely be seen. Finding, identifying and following signs is an art in itself, and you will need much more than this article to master it.
But to give you an outline, it is all based on visual tracking to identify the quarry’s gait and its tracks. This is the case whether your quarry is a human, a bird or four-legged prey.
In the old days, most trackers used a tracking stick, but now most top track- ers use a metal measuring tape to look for track signs and to measure the stride length. Remember that human footsteps have three phases—the contact, the mid- stance and the propulsion phase—and that each will leave unique markings. Learn to differentiate footprint styles (and each phase) so you can better identify each prey you’re tracking.
And if tracking humans, do not forget your own security as your foe may try to ambush you. Take your time and observe carefully the area in front of you with your binoculars before continuing the tracking. If you take your time, take a close look at your map and man-track correctly, you can predict what his path will be. Then find a way to cut him off, overpass him and ambush him.
Even though reading books may give you a taste of what tracking is all about, you will need a good course and must spend many hours in the field before you are able to read the signs. Contact good tracking schools from experienced trackers such as John D. Hurth, Tom Brown and Joel Hardin. They are the best in the industry. Government agencies are relying on outsourcing their tracking training for elite spec-ops units like the Navy SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force and now you know why. This is an art and you will need a true artist to learn it.
This article was originally published in SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Winter 2015 magazine. Print and Digital Subscriptions available here.
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