Monday, October 17, 2011

Tracking - Dragging Sign Cut Areas

I have previous wrote about cutting sign and using areas such as road or natural lines of drift to facilitate locating disturbances, color changes, flat area or any regularities outside of nature that would indicate something has traversed that ground. Dirt roads, the shoulders of roads, open areas, natural lines of drift, fencelines and slopes are all good areas for sign cutting. Fencelines can catch pieces of clothing and give away transit. And if someone is climbing a fence there is a good chance they will leave a heavier pressure release as they come down across the fence. On slopes, it is very common to see a gouge (indicating downhill movement) or a scuff (indicating up hill movement).

Many tracking applications can be enhanced using drags or otherwise preparing areas for sign cutting. The biggest use of sign cut drags are to smooth out any previous sign (animal, man or vehicle) and put a timeline on when the sign cut area was drug therefore give the tracker another way to indicate the time or age of any sign he subsequently cuts in that sign cut area. Additionally, cuts along this sign cut area can be performed more quickly and sign located easier after that area has been drug.

The Border Patrol primarily uses tire drags, which are tires placed on the ground in a triangle type shape, and connected together by drilling through the tires and using steel cable. Sometimes flat or channel iron is used, either between the rows of tires, or along the side or front to stabilize these drags. And if you ever want to get a glimpse of hard work, try drilling holes through steel belted radial tires! Here’s a hint – radial ply tires are easier to make tire drags with.

I have used a simple broom to brush out previous sign at foot trail and vehicle road intersections so I could rapidly determine if there was any transit, or in this case, trespassers or potential poachers. Use of any drag or brush-out will by itself create flat spots, regular patterns, color changes, and it’s own unique disturbances, however the change to the pattern will be much more easier to see.

On a search and rescue for example, once a timeline has been established and projected fastest movement routes of the person(s) being tracked determined, someone will normally run a drag across the roads, sides of roads or natural lines of drift past the projected movement timeline (in a perimeter fashion) so that these sign cut areas can be checked after that to determine if the person being tracked has crossed. This is a valuable tool to reduce the search area as pretty much all search and rescues are exercises in the efficient use of minimal resources, so minimizing the search area enhances chances of success.

When I was on horseback patrolling areas for trespassers, archeological thieves or poachers I would often use my lariat rope and a stout Chamisa bush to drag a section of dirt road or animal trail so future sign cutting in that area would be quicker and let me know what has passed through giving me a timeline.

All along the Southwest border with Mexico you could probably fill up a book with counter tracking tricks that illegal immigrants have tried. Everything from using brooms to brush out sign, tying carpet or other material to their feet, wearing horseshoes nailed to wood and then strapped onto shoes,....the list is practically endless. The only advantage of attempting to cover your sign like this is that natural effects such as rain and wind may obscure the sign more quickly than if it was left alone. So each counter tracking technique will have a weakness. Whether it is brush marks from a broom or brush, carpet fragments or a regular design from the carpet making a very unique pressure release, or the really odd gait (usually too wide or too long) of what seems to be a horse.

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