ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Pets and Animals»
  • Animal Care & Safety

Tracking Animals in the Snow

Updated on May 20, 2012

Tracking in the snow is a fascinating and rewarding pursuit...

Tracks tell the story of an animal's life, its movements and habits, where and how it eats, sleeps and spends its time, and following these trails is a great way to become better acquainted with the creatures who made them.

Winter is one of the best times to begin your tracking adventure, especially if you live in an area where the ground is even occasionally covered in snow, as tracks are easily spotted and followed on this smooth, clean surface.

All photos taken by the author, unless otherwise noted.

Tracking wildlife in the snow is a great way to get out and enjoy the winter landscape

Beautiful, unspoiled snow just waiting for some tracks!

Whether you live in a remote mountain cabin, the city, a suburban neighborhood or anywhere in between, tracks are there for the finding!

During the winter in my area I frequently see the tracks of deer, elk, bobcats, foxes, bighorn sheep, birds of many varieties, beaver, muskrat, raccoon, ermine, marten and other members of the weasel family, squirrels, mice and other rodents, and occasionally, the large and majestic tracks of a mountain lion.

Regardless of where you may live, try getting out the day after a storm to see the new blanket of snow come alive with the tracks of rabbits, birds, deer and other creatures who had holed up during the wind and weather!

Tracking animals in the snow can lead you to some interesting sights...

Look what I found while following the trail of a squirrel!

A cache where a squirrel had stored its spruce cones for the winter. This well-used squirrel trail leads from the cache to a pile of cone pieces, where the squirrel sat and ate. You can see where the cache has been recently dug up to reveal fresh cones.

Not liking my presence and perhaps suspecting that I was there to steal a share of its carefully-stashed cones, the owner of this cache (a rather plump and healthy-looking fox squirrel) showed up and began scolding me as I looked!

Closeup of the squirrel's dining room...

More squirrel antics...

Follow the tracks and see where they lead!

Squirrel tracks bounding across a sparkling, untouched expanse of snow...

He was really making big leaps, wanting to get from a willow thicket to the safety of the spruces in a hurry. I wonder if he might have seen a fox or bobcat in the distance?

Fallen tree the squirrels had been using as a bridge...

Pictures of mountain lion tracks

Big cats!

I came upon these tracks one evening just before dusk, while exploring near an ice-choked creek in the heavy timber, spruce and fir trees closing in on all sides. It was apparently an area where the big cat felt comfortable, and judging by the rabbit sign I also spotted, it seemed he may have been hunting rabbits.

While these big cats are very people-shy in my area and seldom seen by humans, let alone closely enough to pose any threat, it does still give me a moment of pause to know that such a huge and powerful predator walked the same path I am now walking, and less than a day before!

One winter day, exploring a remote canyon where I had previously spent time and heading for a small cave which I knew to be up near the canyon's mouth, I came across the trail of a large mountain lion and began following it. Somewhat to my dismay, the trail led directly into the cave where I had been planning to shelter that night, and did not come out! I did not enter the cave that day, but went on out of the area...

Mountain lion track, front foot...

Hind foot is smaller than front...

Coyote bounding in the deep snow...

I wonder where he was going in such a hurry?

Chasing a rabbit for his supper, perhaps...

Leaping bobcat...

While his paws are neither as wide nor as furry as those of a lynx, they do act somewhat like snowshoes to keep him from sinking in the deep powder and having to expend too much energy when moving and hunting in the winter woods.

Determining the age of a track in snow can be somewhat of a complicated process involving the effects of sunlight, melting, wind and other factors on the condition of the tracks, but the sharp edges of these bobcat tracks indicate that they are very fresh!

Where the sun has been able to hit tracks and begin melting them out, you will find that they look deceptively larger than the original impression left by the passing animal.

Learning to judge the age of tracks - How long ago did that animal pass by?

This video gives a good introduction to the skill of aging tracks, both in the snow and under summer conditions.

Rabbit run

An entire world hidden away beneath the snow-covered brush

Well-trampled and snow-free ground mark an area where numerous rabbits travel beneath the winter vegetation, pausing to nibble on twigs and leaving droppings as further evidence of their passing. Coyote and bobcat tracks will often be seen near these runs, as the larger animals seek a quick meal, and such well-used runs provide a good starting place, also, for humans who might be needing to snare a rabbit for food.

Another view of the rabbit run...here you can see many tracks, as well as fallen bits of vegetation showing rabbits have been nibbling at the twigs.

Tracking supplies

Leatherman 830039 Wave Multitool with Leather/Nylon Combination Sheath, Silver
Leatherman 830039 Wave Multitool with Leather/Nylon Combination Sheath, Silver

In addition to providing the user with knife blades, a wire cutter, a diamond file and a number of other useful featueres, this tool incorporates a ruler which I find useful in measuring and identifying tracks. It's a great item to have along on any tracking expedition.

 
Find It Zip Stick Folding Yard Stick, 36 Inches - Bone (FT07403)
Find It Zip Stick Folding Yard Stick, 36 Inches - Bone (FT07403)

This handy, lightweight folding yardstick is easy to carry and helpful for measuring an animal's stride.

 
Carson MagniSlide 2.5x Power Fresnel Magnifier with Lock-On Case (MC-22)
Carson MagniSlide 2.5x Power Fresnel Magnifier with Lock-On Case (MC-22)

This little magnifier is not only handy for inspecting tracks to pick up on details you might otherwise miss, it also doubles as a firestarting tool on sunny days!

 

Often one can find other non-animal sign in the snow that is every bit as interesting as animal tracks. The wind, for example, can move brush or low-hanging evergreen branches to sweep across the snow and form intricate patterns and snow can fall from branches and power lines to leave perfect impressions of those items in the snow.

While winter is a great time to get started with tracking, the other seasons offer many opportunities as well. No matter the time of year, you can begin your adventure into the fascinating and rewarding world of tracking, whether that means tracking a housecat through the snowy streets of your suburban neighborhood, or following the elusive meanderings of a mountain lion up a steep, timber-choked ridge. Get out, get tracking, and you will not be disappointed!

Do you enjoy looking at, identifying and following animal tracks in the snow? - Tell us what you have seen!

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 5 years ago from New Zealand

      Nice lens, but have you a lot of Flickr photos, on this lens? As there are a lot missing links. Thanks for sharing, a great hobby.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      You really know your wilderness. Enjoyed your sharing.

    • profile image

      Auntie-M LM 5 years ago

      Ohmygoodness, you are such a talented person! I've seen tracks in the snow, but wouldn't begin to guess what they are from.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Einar, this is such a treat for me. I grew up in the woods and have seen many of these tracks over the years, it is a special part of the winter season to see how active the critters were just in our own yard. I love that you encourage folks to get out and look for tracks after a fresh snow, wherever they live...there is so much wildlife everywhere and we often miss seeing them. I love that you added your own footprints in the mix...always a delight sir!

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 5 years ago

      Enjoyed the lens. I has been many years since I have done it, but it is fun to do.

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 5 years ago from Connecticut

      A truly beautiful, artistic and informative lens, and I am very envious of the wildlife that you get to see in your area (in a nice way!). We have lots of deer and turkey, and the occasional bobcat, and my daughter and I enjoy following the deer tracks to their bedding areas.

    • suzy-t profile image

      suzy-t 5 years ago

      Great lens... No snow here in NJ this year but in years past when we did have some on the ground, the kids and I had a lot of fun looking for tracks... Most times it was our dogs !..(ha!) but sometimes we found some small animal tracks.. Glad it wasn't any as large as the mountain lion tracks you had a picture of !...

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 5 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      well presented lens. really enjoyed my visit. thanks for the tracking tips.

    • lclchors profile image

      lclchors 5 years ago

      wonderful lens thankyou

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 5 years ago from Topeka, KS

      Wonderful and informative article! I love seeing tracks in our yard and on the patio after a good snow and then trying to figure out what animal left it. :)

    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 5 years ago

      We used to track animals in the snow when I was a child. Fox, hare, birds- but no snowman!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      My brother has a house in Tahoe and meet a his first bear recently, not sure that he saw the tracks in the snow

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      Wonderful page! "Reading" the tracks in the snow is one of the things that gets me outdoors - frankly, keeps me from going into full-on hibernation - when winter sets in. (The barefoot photograph: were you the brave human who made those tracks? Brrr!)

      *blessed*

    • Einar A profile image
      Author

      Einar A 5 years ago

      @flycatcherrr: Thanks for visiting! Yes, the human tracks are mine, but I will have to admit that making them did not require much bravery on my part. Snow, ice and cold water are things I enjoy, and experiencing them in that way is somewhat of a hobby of mine.

    • Einar A profile image
      Author

      Einar A 5 years ago

      @Aquavel: Wow, that sounds like an amazing journey!

    • Einar A profile image
      Author

      Einar A 5 years ago

      @lawrence01: They sure are organized and in some sense predictable--we just have to learn to see the patterns. Glad you enjoyed the lens!

    • Einar A profile image
      Author

      Einar A 5 years ago

      @BuckHawkcenter: Do you have a photo of that quilt on any of your lenses? I'd love to see it! We have lynx around here, also, but they're far less common than bobcats.

    • GollyGearHope profile image

      Hope 5 years ago from Skokie, Illinois

      Really enjoyed this lens!

    • Aquavel profile image

      Aquavel 5 years ago

      Definitely enjoying seeing them. Not sure if I want to track them without first knowing what they are! LOL Just returned from trip of a lifetime on African Safari and loved every moment. Saw lions, buffalo, elephants, hippos, crocks, a black mamba, etc. Felt very safe in vehicle with well fed lion just outside the door. (He had just fed on a buffalo). Great lens!

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 5 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Great lens. reminded me of years ago listenign to an instructor teaching me about how to spot tracks on the forests. He said that finding a track is like finding the highways of the animal Kingdom, just as organized (or chaotic) as a Human system, and better maintained.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is a really great articule with a lot of thought and great photo's the snow makes me so envious, we don't get a lot of that in Australia

    • DIY Mary profile image

      DIY Mary 5 years ago

      We get a lot of rabbit tracks in the winter (so cute!).

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 5 years ago from Albany New York

      Your lens made this subject very interesting. I've always like looking at the little tracts in the snow around my house in the winter.

    • flicker lm profile image

      flicker lm 5 years ago

      Excellent lens! Your photos and words tell such interesting stories. I very much enjoy seeing animal tracks and trying to identify them. And I *know* those "strange critter" tracks above are bigfoot tracks! :)

    • BuckHawkcenter profile image

      BuckHawkcenter 5 years ago

      I have been fascinated by tracks in the snow and actually made a huge 3-panel wall quilt of the tracks in our snow area. It was while tracking a dog's path one time that I found our Lynx. He had come out of the woods and caught a rabbit (we think) then turned and headed back into the woods. Pretty cool!

    • Valerie Bloom profile image

      Valerie Bloom 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Wow! Really cool lens!

    • Country-Sunshine profile image

      Country Sunshine 5 years ago from Texas

      I track animals - mainly coyotes - in both snow & mud, but not for pleasure. Coyotes are a problem in our farming community, so we have to set snares. The tracks I normally come across are deer, raccoon, bobcat and coyote. This page offers great photos and information for those who wish to track for pleasure or other reasons.

    • VladimirCat profile image

      Vladimir 5 years ago from Australia

      I love tracking animal prints too, but I've never seen snow. I'd really like to follow the track of a mountain lion (just to say hello)