One of the early Christmas presents I received this year was a book on tracking. I should clarify for younger folks that when an older person speaks of tracking, they are not referring to the progress of Amazon parcels. No, they are actually discussing tracking an animal – which is a whole other thing.
Tracking is the art of following a set of footprints and associated clues until they lead you to the animal that made them.
People new to tracking tend to focus on the animal’s footprints. But the associated sign is really what helps you understand what you are tracking as well as the animal’s mindset.
I am by no means an expert tracker, but I do know that, if I was following grizzly bear tracks and noticed a lot of scat along the trail, I would assume that the bear was aggressive and in a bad mood. Otherwise, why would the tracker ahead of me leave that much of a sign?
This is what tracking is all about, interpreting the clues.
The book I am referring to says that tracking, which was once solely the domain of hunters, is now becoming a hobby for many non-hunters too.
But before the non-hunter in your life takes it up, I think it is only right to point out one important thing. Namely, there are not a lot of books written by non-hunting folks who were really good at tracking big, dangerous game animals.
That’s because tracking is a game of diminishing returns. The bigger and meaner the animal, the less likely the tracker returns.
I once met an unarmed tracker, who had successfully tracked two alligators right to their resting spot under the bank. He was not unarmed before then.
Don’t get me wrong, non-hunters should take up tracking because it does get them outside and leads them to a closer understanding of the animal and nature in general. They should just limit their efforts, however, to tracking animals they could best in a fair fight. And remember, a gang of four red squirrels is not something it is wise to underestimate. Don’t ask how I know.
Besides, if you are just looking to build your skills and have fun, tracking small game is better suited to both. Anyone can identify a deer, moose, caribou, elk or bear track but it takes a true expert to differentiate between a white-footed mouse and deer mouse track. Which is why when you run into a mouse track if you appear confident before you guess the answer, no one will challenge you.
Not to bash the book, but I did notice the author forgot to mention the most important part of tracking. And that is the sound of a thoughtful “hmmm.”
If you know how to do this convincingly enough, you are halfway to being considered an expert.
For that sound gives the appearance that the tracker in question has analysed the length of stride, the track width, the imprint and accompanying sign and is now in the process of determining what animal left the prints and how long ago, right down to the exact minute.
All the good trackers I know also hold their chins or stroke their beards and utter “hmmm.”And, after that, they are free to pronounce exactly what type of mouse made the track.
Trust me, no one’s going to argue.