How to Learn Animal Tracking

How to Learn Animal TrackingThough knowing how to read animal tracks and signs is no longer a necessity for survival, animal tracking has become increasingly popular as people wish to learn more about the environment and understand the animals in it. If you are interested in becoming more aware of your surroundings while hiking or backpacking or even in your own backyard, these suggestions will help.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

How to:

Things You’ll Need:
  • Guidebook
  • Ruler or tape measure
  • Camera or sketchpad
Step 1
Keep your mind open to seeing signs other than tracks. As Paul Rezendes, author of "Tracking and the Art of Seeing," says, "Tracking an animal is opening the door to the life of that animal," and they leave behind more than footprints. Sometimes there are no footprints, but the forest is full of other signs that can tell us something about the lives of the animals living there. The first step to animal tracking is opening your senses to what you may normally just pass by without a second glance.
Step 2
Help yourself do this by slowing down while hiking and consciously observing from the trail instead of just speeding through and thinking about what you are going to make for dinner that night. Learning the art of seeing can be used for tracking animals as well as paying closer attention to the details of your own life.
Step 3
Concern yourself first with noticing, then with identifying. Classification and identification can give one a false sense of knowledge. One can move through a forest and pick out the general traits of trees and say, "that is a white pine, that is a sugar maple and that is a birch." But have they truly noticed these trees? How about their crooked bark, the insect making a home under a protruding branch or the oval area of peeled-away bark, fresh with oozing sap where a porcupine has been feasting?
Step 4
Compare any tracks that you have found with the illustrated or photographed tracks listed in a field tracker guidebook. Know that the tracks you find may not be perfect; you may only find part of a track, and tracks from the same animal can look quite different on different surfaces such as sand, snow or mud.
Step 5
Check your suspected animal's range first. Guidebooks are also good for this, whether it be a tracking guidebook to North America or a Pacific Northwest guide to mammals, if that's your region. There is no sense in pursuing the notion that the track you found could be a mink if they do not exist in that area.
Step 6
Document the track or tracks you have found by measuring size with a ruler or tape measure. Measure the length and width of the track. Take a photo to remember what it looked like or sketch it if you prefer. This way you can better compare it to those in your guidebook and learn first-hand what that type of track looks like so you will easier spot the same type later when searching for where this particular animal went or for future times. Also measure distance between a series of tracks and note what pattern, if any.
Step 7
Familiarize yourself with track patterns for the main types of animal strides, which are alternating walking or trotting (quite common among mammals), 2-2 bounding (such as in the weasel family), 2-2 walking (like bears, felines and sometimes canines for example), bounding of small animals such as mice or squirrels and 3-4, 4-4 patterns of the weasel family. These can all be studied and referred to in your tracking guidebook. If your guidebook doesn't have this information, get rid of it and get one that does.

Article Written By Naomi Judd

Naomi M. Judd is a naturalist, artist and writer. Her work has been published in various literary journals, newspapers and websites. Judd holds a self-designed Bachelor of Arts in adventure writing from Plymouth State University and is earning a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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