Category Archives: tracking

tracker type



When reading an article by the legendary Jim Lowery at EarthSkills about Tracking and the Four Directions it struck me how right he was. In his article Jim talks about describing our natural tracking perferences in terms of the Medicine Wheel. He talks about how we recognise what natural bias we have – and to celebrate this – but to also work on the other styles of tracking in order to become a better tracker. I instantly recognised that I had a major preferred style in what he described and understood why it was that I felt blind when trying to adopt another style when needed.

According to this interpretation there are four types of tracker. The following is my take on it. Its my take because I have directly observed or used all these methods but certainly struggle at three of them!

The perspective tracker – this tracker sees and feels the shapes and patterns in the landscape. They wander paths and see the view through the eyes of the animal they follow. They can almost see the land from the air in great wideangle perspective like a contoured map. They feel where the animal goes by reading the land and understanding  – as that animal – where they have gone. I recognise this tracker. This is my natural self.

The micro tracker – its all in the detail. This tracker lives the animal’s life vicariously through every nuance of each and every track. These trackers can peel back the layers of sign, revealing more and more information in excited discovery. Even the slightest disturbance in the baseline or substrate the tracker notices it.

The sense tracker – these trackers can feel the energy of a track and intuitively know there the animal is heading. These trackers can not only feel the force of a single track but the energy of an area and sense where an animal may have been and gone. These trackers rely on inner vision, a sixth sense telling them the way to go. Many indigenous trackers have this remarkable gift.

The literal tracker – these trackers do not let doubt or previous assumptions cloud their judgement. They just look at a disturbance and see the track for what it is, accept it, not judge it or doubt it or reason with it – the more you do that the more your vision gets clouded. These trackers see what they see – no more and no less. They see things in ‘the present’ and not clouded with a busy mind. It is empty and clear. Every track is seen as for the first time and they gain their energy and excitment from this innocent approach. The direction of the trail is clear to them because ‘it just is’. Children often exhibit this gift. I know, my son does.

So which tracker are you?

curiousity tracked the cat



The other night, whilst staring into the flickering flames of the fire, I was pondering about what it is that makes a good tracker.

I know that a good awareness of nature is key, and part-and-parcel of this is being a good observer. So having finely tuned senses is probably a given.

But what else? What is the other keystone? I would like to venture that it is an irrepressible sense of curiousity. Curiousity is the way into tracking. Curious people wonder why something is the way it is. They see, hear, smell, touch, taste or feel something and this raises a question for them. And it is this questioning that leads them into the inquiry about what is in front of them. They simply like to wonder. If nature awareness and observation is the ‘door’ and good knowledge/memory is the ‘latch’ to tracking then curiousity must be its key.

Jon Young and Tiffany Morgan in their seminal book Animal Tracking Basics frame it well with their “Elders of Tracking”. These are the foundations for your growth as a tracker. These allow your quest(ions) for answers to unlock the potential of awareness and memory. These questions are those of:

  • Who – the question of identification. Was it a dog or a cat? Was wild or not? Was it an old male or young female? Was it fit or injured? Was it hungry or full?
  • What – the question of interpretation. What was it doing? Was it ambling or running? Was it looking right or left? What made it to look in that direction? Was it searching for food or escaping pursuit?
  • When – the question of aging. When was it here? Is it an old or fresh sign? Before or after the last downpour?
  • Why – the question of habitat. Why was the animal here? Is it a place rich in its food or a place for mating? Is it out of ite normal habitat, and why?
  • Where – the question of following. Where is the animal now? Where is it going?
  • How – is the question of emotion.  How does the animal feel? Anxious? Hungry? In pain? Relaxed? Hunted? Nervous? Was it hunting or being hunted?

Asking these questions enable you to create a framework for unlocking your potential as a tracker. We often we focus on the creation of awareness and the building of a large memory bank of prints and other sign. However, we often ignore curiousity as the means of accessing this strong-room of precious assets. Naturally curious people excel as trackers. This is often why children can be the ones that surprise us most – their natural sense of wonder and curiousity is at its peak. The great thing about curiousity is that it needs no study or years of apprenticeship to gain. It is within us all – once as children – sometimes lost as adults. So track down your curiousity and unlock the door to nature. You can then walk right in. Need you now question why?

greet great nature



Sometimes I suspect there is a broadly held belief that ‘the wilderness’ is far out there beyond the reach of ‘normal’ humanity. A place so wild and forbidding that great courage and skill need be your constant companion. A place where for every chance of delight there is a promise of danger. One wrong step and the ticket becomes just one-way. But those who know the wilderness also know that it is many things – it is a state of mind, it is a place which is as near as it is far…in fact we have wildness both within us and just beyond the tip of our nose.

So, put aside the dreams of far-off horizons a moment, and take a journey across your back yard. You know, the one you now ignore because of familiarity.

Take a walk; crawl even. VERY SLOWLY. Take a look. Take a REALLY good look – and by that I mean look, listen, touch, smell, taste….sense. If you look closely you will see winter is full of signs of activity as nature quests for survival over these lean, brutal months. The wilderness outside your back door is just as magical than those more exotic and bigger canvasses we all wax lyrical about. Wilder places are here, hidden between the broken paving of a derelict railway yard, as much as in the grykes of a highcountry limestone pavement. Wild places are all around us. You just have to look and feel. Its rediscovery, just beyond the tip of your nose, is one of the best presents you can be gifted.

Nature awareness is a foundation stone not only of tracking and hunting but of wilderness travel, foraging, gathering and living successfully in the back of beyond. As my grandfather once said to me – it is all intertwined with our ability to see, touch, taste, smell and be in nature:

“I cannot drink if I do not know where to look. But it is not just knowing where the water lies. Once I have found the water I cannot carry it until I know how to contain it. I cannot sew my canteen until I have learned to preserve its leather. I cannot obtain the hide until I have learned to hunt the animal. I cannot catch the animal until I can track. I cannot track until I have learnt to see [nature]. I cannot observe [nature] until I have learnt to become aware. I cannot become aware of nature until I learn to value it. I cannot value it until I learn to live with it. I cannot live with it until I have lived within it.”

packing for tracking

Tracking seems to have become a whole ‘genre’ in itself. But we should not lose sight of the fact that, at its heart, it belongs within the larger pantheon of outdoor skills and was originally borne out of a necessity to identify opportunity or threat.

You can of course track at any time. You do not specifically have to ‘go tracking’ and many of its skills are reflected in other aspects of getting close up, moving through and being in nature. You do not need equipment to track…in fact just yourself and your wits are all you need.

Having said that, many trackers have developed a range of equipment that they may take, whole or in part, to enhance their tracking experience. Below is a guide to a fairly comprehensive but by no means exhaustive tracking pack all packed into versatile (and one of the best value) tracking back-packs on the market.

click on image to enlarge

This list of kit is not definitive by any means or obligatory to take along – and not all of it is just for tracking but for a day (and at a push) a night out on the trail. This is really a guide to what you might consider taking out tracking.

  1. ID field guides. Slim enough to take with you for quick reference.
  2. Camera to record sign and sightings – possibly for later ID
  3. Catapult (useful for creating a diversion at a distance when stalking alert prey). This is pretty optional – I find it useful and it does not take up much space.
  4. Fire-starting kit (for the campfire or cooking at the end of the tracking day)
  5. Plaster of Paris for making plaster casts of tracks
  6. Plastic strips (30cm x 8cm) – hard to see in this picture – but using the paper clip can be formed into a circular cast to place over the print for the liquid plaster to be poured into it. Alternatively you can use cardboard strips / rings or even make a more durable wooden frame.
  7. Utility knife (Svord Peasant, reground to make it a UK legal carry)
  8. Chalk puffer – useful to puff a cloud of chalk into the air to detect wind direction (especially useful in light winds) in order to stay downwind of prey
  9. Chalk – useful to mark things on the trail – usually hard surfaces (rock, hard substrate or trees) can be used to help a return journey (like blazing a trail) or to mark out some tracking sign.
  10. Marking strips to mark out a series of prints (similarly you can use lolly sticks) so you can see spacing etc. Can be used to visibly mark other sign when photographing it
  11. Oopps forgot this one! But in the fire starting kit there is some face-cam creme to help disguise my bright face (and hands)
  12. Lamb docking rings – also useful to use as spacers on your tracking stick – to help gauge stride length and where the next track may lie in relation to the last one.
  13. Paracord – useful item  – always take some! Can be used to rig up a poncho/tarp or space blanket for shelter. 1001 other uses
  14. Ooops forgot this one aswell! But you could add ‘trail cams’ and night vision equipment if you so wished
  15. Magnifying glass for looking at fine detail
  16. Small ‘pick’ for using on a track to remove debris or expose fine detail from within the track without disturbing other sign.
  17. A small waterproof container with some emergency money in it – that is worn around neck. You never know when you may need it for negotiating your way home!
  18. Micro light sticks – useful for marking a route or something after dark.
  19. Tape measure for measuring larger distances than a ruler
  20. Mirror for using reflecting light to throw a print into relief for better viewing
  21. Water bottle and cup – not only for hydration but also for the Plaster of Paris
  22. Waterproof notebook, pencil and notebook wallet for recording notes and tracking journal
  23. Whistle (for alert or distress calls) or substitue this for an animal/bird call decoy whistle
  24. Ruler to measure the dimension of prints
  25. Utility roll to hold various bits and pieces
  26. Mesh net – useful as a mosquito head net, as face camoflage or as a bag to carry specimens.
  27. Sample bottle to carry delicate and small samples or remains (scat, fine bones etc)
  28. Rubber gloves for hygiene when touching scat, feeding debris or animal remains
  29. Small collapsible cup (useful) and a spoon!
  30. Bright LED light (nitecore) and also a multi-filter torch (gerber recon) with red, green, blue and white). Spare battery. Filters are useful – red does not ruin night vision (or spook game), green is also good for night vision and creates contrast when looking through foliage, blue is good to highlight blood trails. The bright white LED is useful to throw prints into sharp relief for better viewing.
  31. Universal head band to hold various small hand-torches and convert them into head torches
  32. Binoculars
  33. Various bags for specimens collected on the trail
  34. Tick-key for removing ticks. There is much crawling with tracking and stalking so best take a tick removal kit with you. This is one of the best, most durable and easy to use
  35. First-aid kit
  36. Map, compass and compass case
  37. Waterproof container for mobile phone and other small electronics or valuables
  38. Water-bladder
  39. Sit-mat for insulating you from the cold ground (you can spend alot of time sitting in one spot observing prey)

click on image to enlarge

40. Artkis Flecktarn Camo Windshirt. One of the best, most packable, water and wind resistant camo shirts available. Takes up as much space as an orange when packed
41. Watch cap – not only to keep warm but to help disguise head
42. Tracking stick with docking ring (see above) spacers for gauging stride length
43. Space blanket for emergency shelter / warmth or as a heat reflector or emergency signal
44. Gloves – important to disguise hands when stalking as they are sometime bright, white and move alot!
45. Scrim netting  – helps disguise head and shoulders, breaks up profile – can be used to make camoflage. Very versatile
46. Small poncho for rain protection or as a shelter/bivi
47. Snacks, drink and meal – can be eaten hot or cold

All of the above items fit into a 28 litre Small Assault Pack. The quality of this has clearly been overhauled and equals packs of much higher price.

It is made from 1000 denier pu lined Cordura. It has chunky, silky smooth zips with zip-pulls, the buckles and other fixtures are of good quality. It has molle attachments all over it for extra kit and even a compartment for a water-bladder. Inside there are two sets of tie-offs that I used for my water-bladder. It has a waist belt to secure it when fully laden and you are moving through the bush. Its narrow profile and mid-back placement means it is less likely to snag than a bulkier bag. It also has compression straps that allows it to ‘concertina’ down in depth for smaller loads.

There are a range of sized pockets, some of them stacked and most have mesh panels, sub-dividers or zipped pouches within them  – allowing for a whole range of different items to be compartmentalised, organised and securely stored.

It is available in a range of colours including this multicam and tactical black (aswell as olive green). The back system is a basic foam with mesh (could be the only negative point I would make that a foam could be a bit better quality – but understandable and pretty standard for this price). Most of the internal fabric edges (but not all) have been edged with webbing material and the stitching looks robust and accurate.

I struggle to see why you may pay tw0 or three times the price for a ‘premium brand’ or equivalent. This is a hugely versatile and very accomplished budget piece of ‘grab’ kit with a wide range of uses. At under £30 its a steal. It really is. This is available from Endicotts ( – or click here).

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on track and trail


“There are few things as intense as the experience of moving silently through a primordial Dartmoor forest: the majesty of nature buzzing around you and the promise of breath-taking vistas around every turn.”

Tracking may have its roots in the million year-old need for man to track to survive. But today it is more than just part of the survival process. Tracking is an expression of man’s curiosity and desire to discover new things and places. Tracking helps us engage with, immerse ourselves in and move through nature. It teaches us to understand animal behaviour, to see through the eyes of the animals we track. It stimulates our senses, encouraging them to work together to observe and more fully appreciate our place within the vast natural tapestry around us. I will never forget that first time of looking up, one afternoon, from the tracks at my feet and seeing the story of the animal kingdom unfurl around me: on a broken twig, in a creased blade of grass and under a turned leaf. Nature is full of clues even to the shyest of animals, and tracking can be our way of helping us feel even closer to them as we share those same paths.

For the individual and the family it is also a ‘great game’: it fires the imagination of young and old. Sharing the experience and the detective work creates your own mini-adventure. I remember the last time I went tracking with my son:

Early morning found us kneeling at the edge of a fresh trail: deer slots retreating in a steady line behind us but not ahead. For some reason there had been a sudden change. The left print was much deeper than the right. Both were deeper at the ‘toe’. The animal had stopped suddenly and looked left, pressing this cleave more firmly into the moist earth. Maybe there had been a noise? There was a raucous barking down the valley. Was this what the animal had heard? My son looked at me; we both glanced opposite and into the bracken. It had broken stems, the underside of the fronds turned skywards; pale and dry in the moist air. The deer must have shied away and bolted into cover. Success! There were the tracks again. Stray hairs on the rough bark of a Hemlock confirmed its new direction. The prints were deep, twigs and stones flung from their beds and spun wide of the track. Its gait betrayed a leaping. It was in full flight. We followed the charge along an avenue of trees, straight over a squirrel’s feeding site: the telltale cores of spruce cones littered around a tree stump, and down towards the lake. This is where we will head. Suddenly, off to the left there was a commotion. Predator alert calls rang out. Birds broke cover in a panic, then hid, motionless. We all held our breath. A sparrowhawk passed silently overhead. Long seconds later the world came alive again to the chatter of business as usual. Further down the slope we both sensed the sweet, almost cow-like, scent of a deer. Far below us was the unmistakable outline of a male fallow deer, antlers branch-like, moving into deep cover. We now had a sighting and would jump to that point. My boy was still hopeful of getting a snapshot to take to school next week.

Dartmoor: forest, moor and stream.

The best tracking on Dartmoor is not to be found across its vast moorland expanse but in, around and between its forests, lakes and streams.

Animals are creatures of habit: look for dens, trails, runs and feeding sites as these will give you plenty of ‘sign’.

It is also important to ‘read’ the land around you; to understand what channels, diverts or provides cover for wildlife. Along the margins of woodland is a good place to look.  Animals such as deer use this open land to browse but often stay near the to the protection of the woodland. Numerous intersecting entry or exit points along hedgerows or woodland margins will give you good places to look, as will trails running parallel with these sharp transitions in habitat.

Field and moorland boundaries such as walls will also encourage perimeter trails. Seek out obstacles. Walls, boulder-fields, very steep ground, rivers, ponds and saturated land will all channel wildlife in some way as they seek to traverse, avoid or enter and exit these features. A gate will not only provide a funnel for wildlife but it will also create a useful ‘track trap’ recording everything that has passed through its muddy aperture.

Fernworthy Forest is a good choice for both rookie and experienced tracker: accessible by road with several good parking areas giving direct access to its interior. Try tracking around the reservoir, rich in bird-life, or the ‘wet woodland’ fringe at its northwesterly ‘end’. Small pockets of deciduous woodland contrast sharply against the ranks of dense plantation forest which march up a high ridgeline to crown the moor. Its extensive forest margin is haven for all types of wildlife including Red and Roe deer.

Other top spots:

  •  Bellever Forest. The huge internal clearings and network of paths in this forest plantation give plenty of opportunity to track from one side to another. Bellever Tor makes for a superb vantage point.
  •  The oak-rich woodlands of the Dart Valley, especially downstream from Dartmeet toward Holne feel like the land that time forgot. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to spot Otter. If you visit nearby Brimpts Farm then there are plenty of easy woodland walks to help you catch the tracking bug.
  •  The Teign Valley is home to black Fallow deer aswell as normal Fallow. Around Haldon Forest, Canonteign Falls and north of Dunsford to Castle Drogo have some of the best ancient woodland vistas anywhere in the world.
  •  The mixed woodlands and reservoirs of Hennock, Trenchford and Tottiford lie on the high ridge between the Teign and Bovey valleys. They offer a rich variety of habitats, packed with wildlife, paired with some less challenging gradients and with good access.
  •  To the west, the accessible and sizeable woodlands enveloping Burrator Reservoir offer a perfect setting – especially the edge that borders the moor.

Top tips

  • Take time to move to nature’s beat. Find a quiet ‘sit-spot’, spend some time sitting, listening and becoming a part of your surroundings. 10-20 minutes should help you see more, hear more, smell more…sense more.
  • Move slowly and quietly. Try to suppress our modern-day urge to rush through every task. Slow down and you will notice much more detail. The quieter you are the closer you can get to the wildlife.
  • Think like an animal. Tracking is a way of thinking. If you establish a link with the behaviour of the animal you are following then this can help anticipate where the next track will lie.
  • Feel the habit. Most mammals are creatures of habit. They have defined territories, routes and places that they like to feed, drink, sleep or even sit. Regular use of these places leaves their mark providing a good starting point to see and possibly discover the animal itself.
  • Patterns, sequences and stories. Individual tracks are not always as important in determining what animal made them, as are trail patterns. A single track will not tell you much.  Collecting together a clutch of evidence along with a sequence of events will tell you not what species they belong to and also help write the story of what was happening to that specific animal at the moment when those tracks were made.

 Take care

  • Take care especially at breeding times or birthing times. Don’t get too close to deer during the ‘rut’ as it can be dangerous! Red and Fallow deer rut from around mid-September to Mid-October. Roe deer rut in late July and August. In the spring, many animals will have their offspring and disturbing them may mean they abandon their young.
  • Try not to distress or disrupt the routine of other animals – often their survival is finely balanced – don’t upset it
  • Try not to damage the habitat you pass through. Leave as little trace as possible. You might also be spoiling the trail for others.
  • Be careful of tracking through undergrowth (pokey eye), over delicate or rare plants, falling into fast, deep water or over big drops!
  • Don’t track over private, enclosed land, damage crops or disturb livestock.

 Useful kit: for a detailed look at some tracking kit and a tracking pack then click here

 Reading list:

  • A guide to British mammal tracks and signs by the Field Studies Council. A laminated foldout guide, a brilliant piece of field kit for novice or experienced tracker.
  • Animal tracks and signs by Preben Bang and Preben Dahlstrom. Probably the most seminal piece of work on tracking and the basis on many other tracking guides.
  • Animals: tracks, trails and signs by Brown, Lawrence and Pope. An extremely authoritative, comprehensive but easy to read guide for Britain and Europe.
For a the original article (PDF) published in Active Dartmoor Magazine please click on image below to download the 2.6mb pdf

or if image does not show then click this link here

tracking with jon mac

“I can see that you have put a lot of thought and work into the things you do.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed my time and I would highly recommend time with this remarkable chap…”

Jon Mac

The other day I went tracking with my friend Jon Mac. Jon is a greenwood carver par excellence. His spoons and cups are amazing (see We spent from before dawn until after lunch together moving like spirits through the forest. He has written a fabulously flattering and very engaging blog entry about it. Thanks Jon Mac!

to read the blog entry click on image

an encounter with the wild

This is a rather lovely posting on the Embercombe Blog from Mel who was one of the instructors on the Wildcraft Course. It is about our face-to-face encounter with a big cat.

click here