Deer Tracks in snow
The most common thing I hear from people who view my website, and watch my films is that they have no wildlife in their local wild spaces.
My usual response, after a raised set of eyebrows is to say “really?” and ask why they feel there are no animals around.
Inevitably the response is almost always the same: “Because I haven’t Seen any”
This brings up an often misunderstood form of outdoor adventure: Tracking.
Tracking is something humans are born to do. Don’t believe me? How old are you? What is your phone number? What is the two best ways to get to your home from a neighboring city?
These simple questions show how we innately gather, store, and track information. It is what has kept us alive for tens of thousands of years.
To start tracking animals in the wilderness, we need to start by understanding some simple animal psychology. Animals generally fall into two categories. Predator, or prey. If you are a predator, you are not going to march down a trail in the middle, announcing your presence to everyone. This will scare off your next meal, and leave you hungry. If you are prey, then you want to be concealed at all times to make sure you can find food and water without becoming someones next meal.
Once we can understand how animals think when they travel in the woods, we can start to figure out where they are.
If you live in an area which gets snow, then you have quite an advantage from a tracking point of view. The best time to see what kind of animals have been moving about is shortly after sunrise after a snowfall. (Warmer climates can achieve the same effect after a good rainfall.)
Get bundled up, and go visit your favorite woodland. If you are there before any human and dog traffic, you will be truly amazed at the amount of wildlife evidence that can be seen.
The muddy paths that hikers use, now covered with fresh snow, will often be littered with animal prints. Large open fields will often have tracks strewn about them.
Fresh animal tracks in a field after a snow fall
If you get down on your hands and knees, and crawl around near the base of trees and fallen logs, you will often come across mouse tracks.
Mouse Tracks in a field – notice the tail marks
The animals are there. They will be watching you examine their tracks.
Often in a fresh snow, scat will be very evident. This can tell you an awful lot about the animal that has come by. You can often tell what the animal has been eating, what their health condition is, and of course what kind of animal has left the scat along the trail.
There are a lot of great guide-books out there which will help you identify tracks by size, shape, and depth. There are even poop-charts available which will tell you strange things like shape, size, density, and colour of poop. Things that may seem silly but are invaluable in the field.
Coyote Scat – what they have been eating?
The trick to tracking animals in any conditions is getting dirty and practice. It’s not something that can be learned solely from a book. It’s something that you have to get out there and do. The more you do it, the more intuitive it becomes.
Examine everything in the woods with a child-like innocence. Examine each tree, you will see evidence. Scratch marks, bite marks, missing bark, broken branches. Everything in the woods tells a story.
With time and practice you will move beyond what kind of animal evidence you encounter to more perplexing questions like
Where was the animal going?
What were they thinking?
When did they go through here?
Why did the animal come through here?
Were they in a hurry?
The questions are as limitless as your imagination. The more you study the evidence, the more questions will come to your mind. Special thanks to Bill C. for helping to proof-read this article!
Get out and explore your world!