Tracks and Tracking


Who am I? Which direction am I heading? How long ago was I here? What was I doing here?

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What can you get out of tracking: detailed information that can be used for research, bring you closer to nature, exercise your mind and body, increase your awareness of wildlife activities, physically get you closer to an individual for the purpose of hunting or photography, allow you to identify den areas, and much more.


How can we use tracking in research: With animals that are difficult to locate or that which you do not want to disturb, tracking is an effective means of collecting much data. By repeatedly following established transects you can analyze movement and use patterns once you have collected enough samples (identified tracks). You can take this one step further and follow each set of tracks you find. In order not to disturb your study animal, you can backtrack (follow the tracks back from where the animal came from, rather where its going). Backtracking also allows you to come upon scat that you can collect and analyze in the lab, kill sites if it’s a predator, and accurately GPS the exact movement patterns of the animal.


Tracking is an art that humans have utilized to hunt animals across the globe for centuries. It may seem that in this grocery store age that tracking is a dead art, but that’s not so. People are still tracking; for fun, for research, and for sport. In your search for your first track book, you will be inundated with countless track books that all have their merits.


The basics: As you know, each animal leaves its individual mark (track or sign) when moving through a landscape. These marks are the trackers goal to find. Depending on your environment tracking can be incredibly difficult (hard surface terrain) or quite easy (fresh wintertime snow). By understanding how animals leave their marks, you will have an easier time discovering tracks and sign. For example, it is unlikely to find a coyote track on hard soil, but when the coyote crosses a stream he is likely to leave very clear prints in the muddy bank. Never forget that sign is not always on the ground. Study your entire surroundings- bear tracks on trees, antler scrapes on saplings, woodpecker holes in snags. Get yourself a track/sign book and start noticing the subtleties of nature.


Nature speaks to us. We need to relearn how to listen, how to see, how to move, how to smell, and most importantly, how to be.


Marten Tracks

Old Marten Track Pattern

In the picture to the left you can clearly see five digits and the weasel like pad. Weasels track pattern is quite distinctive; two tracks close together with one slightly in front of the other. When weasels bound in the snow they place their hind feet directly in the tracks the front feet made. This allows them to minimize energy costs while moving through the snow. The picture on the right clearly shows the bounding effect. Different weasels have different ranges of bounding lengths between tracks. Consult your track books.




Wolf Track


Wolves have an obvious large typical canid track. The track on the left is the size of my wife’s hand. Notice the size difference between the coyote track at the top of the picture on the left and the bottom wolf track. The only thing that a wolf’s track could be confused with is a large domestic dog. By evaluating your setting you could possibly decide if you are looking at a wolf track. In general, wild canid track patterns tend to run more or less straight, while domestic dogs tend to be all over the place, leaving tracks that show an animal who is careless with its energy expenses.