Archive for February, 2012

The real skill of tracking is trailing.  Trailing is the ability to find a fresh trail, follow it to the animal and see the animal without it ever detecting your presence.  For the next couple years I am focusing on trailing rather than track and sign.  Essential to trailing is the ability to age tracks.  This is important for two reasons.

1.  To know that the trail you are following is really fresh and that you actually have a chance of finding the animal.

2.  To be able to decipher your trail from the tracks of other trails that are older.  This is really important for animals like deer because it is easy to confuse trails.

One of the best ways to practice aging is an exercise coined by Tom Brown Jr. as “Wisdom of the Marks”.  Basically you take a round stick and press it into the ground, then wait an hour and press another into the ground right next to the first one.  You can do this every hour for days or do it once every day or every 10 minutes or however you want.  There are so many factors that affect how a track ages that this is really a life-long exercise.  The main things that you look for are the dryness of a track and the crispness of its edges.  The rate at which tracks dry out and degrade depends entirely on the weather.  So its no wonder that great trackers are always paying attention to the weather and have a detailed memory of the past week’s weather.

Instead of using a round stick for the Wisdom of the Marks, I chose to use an actual deer foot!  I can’t think of anything else that will work better to teach me how deer tracks age.

These crisp edges are what you look for in a fresh track but depending on the weather and soil, a track can keep fresh edges for many days.

Wisdom of the deer foot. Being able to estimate how much sunlight has been hitting a track is essential to aging.

These two tracks were made a day apart. Can you tell which one is fresher?

Another huge part of trailing is stealth – the ability to get close to animals without them knowing.  To practice this I’ve been getting up before dawn and sitting by deer trails with the goal of touching one as it walks by.  But that is a story for a later post.

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