tracking the most dangerous game

Posted: May 27, 2011 in animals, animals, arizona, desert, security, weekend
Tags: , , , , ,

Part of the Complete Survivor Class from Ancient Pathways was a brief introduction to tracking.  We practiced tracking humans and then looked at animal tracks as we came across them.  Just like everything else in the class the key to this skill is practice. 

I liked how our instructor, Tony Nester, set up the tracking exercises.  Both of these exercises could be done in the backyard, and I am debating doing it some Saturday at the Firehouse in beautiful downtown Phoenix.

The first exercise we did was block off a small patch of desert, walk across the patch and then inspect our footprints.  Notice how the edges look, study what a fresh print looks like, and then return multiple times over the next couple of days and see how the print ages.

The second exercise was to track Tony for about 20 paces.  Tony had us turn around, then walked for a while and when done told us to turn around.  We tried to figure out where he had stepped.   We marked the heel print of each step with a popsicle stick so we could mark our progress.

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Once you have figured out a few steps, mark with a stick how long the normal stride of the person is. Then you can use as a guide as you come across the harder to read prints.

Get all up in the print, look at it from multiple angles. Don’t assume you will be able to read the print from several feet away.  Try to think through if the person is walking, limping, stumbling, running or anything else.

Below: Studying the print.

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To become a good (or even half-decent) tracker one would need to practice this a lot. I was reminded of the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell which is about “rapid cognition” or the ability to know something in the blink of the eye. Instinct, it turns out, comes from doing something over and over until you know something so well you process it without having to actually “think” about it. Tracking would be a great example of this.

The flip side of knowing how to track is knowing how to not be tracked. The most useful tip we covered for how to (hopefully) fool someone tracking you is to use the human inclination for open spaces. Our eyes and feet are drawn to them.  If you are trying to fool someone, look for  a stretch of desert that was narrow because of the brush and then opens up walk through the open part. Stop, then walk backwards stepping on your own prints and break off carefully through an obscured part of desert. When walking backwards you take smaller strides so when walking through the false path the first time take smaller strides so it will be easier to walk backwards later.

When Tony pulled this trick on us, he fooled up completely. He said this would not fool an expert tracker. But how many expert trackers are out there?  My hope is that one rises to the challenge of one’s nemesis.

Below: Trying to decipher a print.
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