Monday, November 22, 2010

Mantracking - Reading the Print

Several friends of mine have asked me to post some articles on tracking. So starting with this post, I'll do some basic tracking posts every so often in case there are any readers interested in learning and practicing this craft.

Cutting for sign. Sign is any evidence of someone or something's passing. Everything that walks on the ground leaves some sort of sign...the trick is to see it and read it.

Sign can be a flattening of the ground; a disturbance such as pushing a twig or rock into the ground; a regularity caused by lines in their footwear; or a color change or shine from the subject's passing. When I'm looking to pick up sign, I cut for sign by moving perpendicular to the direction I think the subject is heading and pick up a starting point...and like I said, we call this 'Cutting for Sign'.

It is valuable to place the area you are looking at between yourself and the Sun as this provides the best light situation, both contrast and shadow wise, to notice disturbances. If I pickup a track, I'll study it to ensure I can recognize it again. Sometimes I'll take pictures, like I did for evidence when I was building a case of Archeological or Environmental crimes as a Conservation Law Enforcement Officer. Sometimes I would even fill out a Track Report with full measurements and pattern descriptions for future reference and identification.

The basic sign you'll see is a foot print, full print or partial. You can tell many things from one or more prints: type of foot gear, rate of travel, and stride (distance between toe of one print to the heel of the next). You can gain some perspective on what the subject is thinking such as evidence left, such as the pressure release created by his footwear, which can show things like him turning around checking his back trail from someone trailing him or even looking up.

The disturbed area caused by the foot, called the Pressure Release, can give you an indication on the individual's weight, balance and speed. Normally the toe of the foot gear pushes sand or dirt forward in the direction of movement and this is called toe dirt.

An interrupted heel can add a little difficultly at first in reading the pressure release, but this can be overcome by comparing several prints or pressure releases to see what is normal.


  1. I will have to give my hat off to you! Living in Utah and being an outdoors man hunting and camping I never had horses. I decided to get into it. My trainer is great with horses and that is about it!!! Your clips are great not only great right down the alley I'm looking for thank you!!! This man tracking thing do you have a dvd or a class on it?

  2. How does a very windy day affects the tracking process, or rain?

  3. wind and rain are just a couple of the many variables that errode or age a track. other variables include ambient temperature, Ultra Violet rays, humidity, snow, frost, dew, shade, human and animal activity, insect activity, and so on.Wind is the most constant factor when it comes to aging a track. No matter where you are on earth you can count on the fact that air is always moving, these air currents include prominent wind currents and thermal air currents which occur at dusk and dawn. The tracker respects natures breath as she will provide many clues as to when his quarry left a track. For instance the fine edges at the top horizon of each lug and wall in a track will errode at a certain rate causing these edges to assume a series of geographic profiles ranging from a ckiff with a right angle to a smooth slope over time. Wind will also blow light foliage across the ground which consistantly becomes trapped in the suttlest of impressions. Rain will cause pocking or rain pock marks in a track which eventually washes out the detail of a track. Wind a rain like all other sign that a tracker reads can be your enemy or your ally; it is up to you to learn about them. All these elements must be analyzed by their frequency and volume in order to deduce the age of a track. Ageing is the mark of a true tracker.