I have been tracking in some form as long as I can remember. As a kid I would find a track, or what I thought was a track, and follow it. I remember searching for and finding sign of different animals- birds, muskrat, rabbit, beaver- from a very young age. I never had any sort of formal instruction and did not know that there were any formal terms or techniques for tracking until after I had done it for many years. Not that my tracking followed any form of technical or traditional tracking lines of thought, or so it seemed- I went out, found tracks, and followed them. I used common sense- moved quietly, slowly, moved around tracks, observed them from high and low and made it a point to try and think like the animal I followed. After reading a number of tracking guides I found that these are the basics to tracking. And again I was reminded that our nature as creatures of the wilderness has not been lost to the modern world. If you let yourself go with it, it will come back to you.
Tracking With My Son
Since my early endeavors at tracking I have read a few of Tom Brown’s guides including his Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking and his book The Tracker. I have picked up bits of tracking skill over the years from other books such as texts about the Kung of the Kalahari desert, Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee novels (it’s true- Chee can teach you something), and from locals during my travels in the jungles of Mexico and Belize. In recent years I have given much more thought, time and effort to my tracking endeavors. Much of this has to do with tracking with my son and teaching him the skills. Tracking is an important part of his wilderness education and is something I am now “formally” teaching him.
Tracking is another great way for us to spend calm, quiet time together as we hone our powers of observation and enjoy being outside. We are lucky in that we have access to a few square miles of old ranch land close by which has become a sanctuary for wildlife escaping the encroaching subdivisions. We visit the place often observing coyote, fox, prairie dog, rabbit, and red tail, Swainson’s and marsh hawks, to give a short list. My son really loves the aspect of stealth- we walk slowly and quietly together, without talking, and when we get close enough, we change from tracking posture to stalking posture, crawling along the ground and observing from behind cover. We have even developed our own hand and arm signals for communication. My goal is to make tracking second nature, whether we are walking across the grass at the park or up a remote desert canyon in Utah.
In a recent post I mentioned an old friend of mine who was attending the British Army Tracking School in Brunei. You can read his informative posts at MichaelYon-online. Since reading his near daily posts from the school, I have become motivated once again to move forward with tracking skills. I have done some research on tracking, tracking schools, and books on the subject. Much of what I found had to do with military and law enforcement tracking, and many of the guides were written with tracking mainly humans in mind. However, I personally recommend both of the Tom Brown books noted above as a place to start. They are simple and clear with story lines that develop as they entertain and inspire. They introduce you to basic animal tracks as you read along and treat tracking as an almost spiritual undertaking. When you reach the end of them you will have a thorough understanding of basic animals tracks, tracking techniques and of the “tracking mind”.
Another recommended title, which has just come out in a revised edition, is Bob Carss’ SAS Guide to Tracking. Carss was an SAS soldier for 20 years and taught at their tracking schools. His book starts by giving definitions and explanations and is aimed not only at soldiers, but at teachers and parents- he wrote it as a guide to help teach tracking to his son. The book is much more technical in its layout than Tom Brown’s guides, and has chapters on finding lost tracks, types of sign, aging of sign, stalking, and observation. You cannot come away from this book without learning at least the basics, even if you do not do any of the exercises or drills that Carss provides. This book has become our textbook for the formal study of tracking.
These volumes together are very complementary, covering human and other mammal tracking, and the technical, military side of tracking as well as the spiritual side. They both stress the same points for the beginner who wants to explore tracking, such as lots of practice, moving slowly and quietly, observation, study, and thinking like your quarry. Both volumes also discuss the need to let go of the modern world and move into the tracking mind to be a competent tracker. Tom Brown explains it as developing a “deeper awareness”, making the process a sort of meditation, which is reason enough to read his work.