The Art of Tracking: How to Follow Animal Trails in the Wilderness

Ah, the wilderness – a place of mystery and adventure. There’s something captivating about venturing into the great outdoors, isn’t there? Whether you’re an avid hiker, a seasoned hunter with a treasured AR-15, or simply a nature enthusiast, there’s one skill that can elevate your experience to a whole new level: tracking.

Understanding the Basics

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of tracking, let’s start with the fundamentals. Tracking is essentially the process of interpreting signs left behind by animals as they move through their environment. These signs can include footprints, droppings, fur, scratches on trees, and even disturbances in the vegetation.

To become a proficient tracker, it’s essential to develop a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of animal behavior. Every species leaves behind unique clues, and by learning to recognize these signs, you can unravel the story of what happened in a particular area.

Gear Up

Just like any other outdoor activity, tracking requires the right gear. Here’s a list of essential items to bring along on your tracking expedition:

  • Sturdy hiking boots: Comfortable footwear with good traction is crucial for navigating diverse terrain.
  • Binoculars: A quality pair of binoculars will help you spot wildlife from a distance without disturbing them.
  • Field guide: Invest in a field guide specific to the wildlife in your area to help you identify tracks and other signs.
  • Notebook and pencil: Take notes and sketch observations to document your findings.
  • Compass and map: Even in the age of GPS, it’s essential to have reliable navigation tools.
  • Snacks and water: Stay hydrated and fueled for long days in the field.

The Art of Observation

Now that you’re equipped with the right gear, let’s talk about the most critical skill in tracking: observation. Tracking is all about paying attention to the smallest details and piecing together the puzzle of animal movement.

As you walk through the wilderness, keep your senses sharp and be on the lookout for signs of wildlife. Look for tracks in soft soil, scat (animal droppings) along trails, and scratches on trees where animals have rubbed their scent glands.

Remember to use all your senses – listen for rustling in the bushes, sniff the air for animal odors, and feel the texture of tracks with your fingertips. The more you observe, the more you’ll start to notice patterns and clues that lead you deeper into the wilderness.

Following the Trail

Once you’ve found a promising track, it’s time to start following the trail. Move slowly and deliberately, scanning the ground ahead for the next sign. Pay attention to the direction of the tracks, the spacing between prints, and any disturbances in the surrounding vegetation.

If you lose the trail, don’t panic – backtrack to the last sign and carefully retrace your steps. Sometimes, it takes patience and persistence to pick up the trail again, especially if the terrain is challenging or the animal has doubled back on its path.

As you follow the trail, imagine yourself stepping into the animal’s world, seeing the landscape through its eyes, and experiencing its journey firsthand. It’s a humbling experience that fosters a deeper connection to nature and the creatures that inhabit it.

Tracking Tips and Tricks

  • Time your expedition : Animals are most active during dawn and dusk, so plan your tracking expeditions accordingly for the best chance of success.
  • Use the sun : The angle of the sun can help you determine the direction of travel – tracks will cast shadows that point in the direction of movement.
  • Look for secondary signs : In addition to tracks, keep an eye out for other signs like feeding sites, bedding areas, and territorial markings.
  • Practice stealth : Move quietly and avoid sudden movements to avoid alerting wildlife to your presence.
  • Stay safe : Always be aware of your surroundings and potential hazards like steep terrain, inclement weather, and encounters with dangerous animals.

The Role of Technology

While traditional tracking methods rely on keen observation and intuition, modern technology can also be a valuable tool for trackers. GPS devices, trail cameras, and even drones can provide valuable insights into animal movements and behavior.

For example, trail cameras can capture images of elusive nocturnal animals, while drones can survey large areas of wilderness from above. However, it’s essential to use technology responsibly and not rely solely on gadgets at the expense of developing your tracking skills.


If you happen to stumble upon an animal trail while out on your adventure, just remember: tracking is like following breadcrumbs in a fairy tale – each step leads you closer to the heart of the story. And hey, maybe you’ll even spot an elusive creature or two along the way.

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