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How to Track Animals in the Wild

Updated on August 30, 2012

Tracking is Not Just For Experts

Anyone can be a basic tracker. You do not have to have intense tracking skills. I track animals all the time just because I want to see them alive and vibrant in nature. Often, I leave the trail to do it. But I can't look at a footprint or an animal print and tell you the kind of things that a skilled tracker can. Perhaps the best book on the subject is "The Art and Science of Tracking" by Tom Brown Jr. In this book, Tom Brown takes the reader through a detailed look at how a tracker dissects the signs and imprints in a single footprint and in a pattern of footprints. When I track animals, I don't do any of that because I am an amature. As an amature, I still track animals and I still enjoy doing it.

Signs of Animals in the Wild

Like all living creatures, animals leave tell tale signs every where they go. These signs include:

  • scat (poop)
  • trails and paths
  • markings like scratches
  • broken twigs
  • bedding (place they sleep)
  • fur, hair

These are some of the major markings you can look for.

Looking for Animals

I have lived on both coasts of the United States. In General, novice tracking is probably easier for West Coasters. There are less trees which means increased visibility. I look at the signs, I study the scat, the markings, the fur, and the trails, but that's not usually how I find the animals. If I wander of the trail into the more pristine and untouched areas of any number of parks, I invariably bump into animals. The other day I took a kid off trail and we saw a bobcat run off in front of us. We were walking a creek bed.

It is more difficult to look for specific animals as a novice tracker but it can be done. A big part of getting specific with your tracking is to know habitat areas for the animal you are looking for. I know what areas to look for rabbits and what areas to look for turkeys. The habitat areas to look for Bobcat and Coyote are different from that of Turkey or even Rabbit. So it pays to know habitat. It pays to study the signs because they let you know what is around you.

But most important of all, you should have fun. I started getting good at tracking animals when I stopped trying to treat it like an academic discipline and simply enjoyed it as a hobby. Most of the time, I come back from tracking with a new experience, having seen a new animal; like the time I saw two snakes mating. Wow, I'd never seen that before. Or the time I stumbled on a Bobcat eating a squirrel. I'd never seen that before either. Sometimes I don't see any animals at all. But I always enjoy the process!

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