Instructor Corp Pro Tip:
Tracking is a discipline, which, for the uninitiated, can seem like total witchcraft. Trackers can see a clear path where others may see an undisturbed patch of woods, tell an entire story from a track or broken twig, and even accurately predict exactly where a person or animal is going to be before they get there.
Seeing a true professional tracker in action is an awesome experience, and it can take a lifetime to hone one’s skills to get to that point. But there are a few things that you can learn now that can make you significantly better at it.
One of those things is that tracking actually gets easier at night. This seems counterintuitive, right? It stands to reason that the more light there is, the better you can see tracks. But that’s not the case. The hardest time of day to follow tracks is, in fact, high noon. This is because we’re able to see tracks in sand, mud, snow, or soft ground by the shadows thrown by their edges. The more shadows, the easier it is to see the track. Early morning and late evening when the sun is low is advantageous, but night is even better, because you can control the amount and angle of light. If you’re following a trackway, you can get down low with a flashlight and shine it across the tracks – they jump out instantly. The low angle makes every nook and cranny of the print stand out clear as day.
Also somewhat counterintuitively, dimmer lights work better for this. In search & rescue, we typically carry three lights – one headlight to do our map work with and light our path, one high-powered spot beam to reach deep into the darkness, and a tracking light. The first two are usually extremely bright and the best we can afford. The tracking light, well, it’s not. The tracking light I carried for years cost a dollar and came from the checkout counter at AutoZone. It was a hopelessly dim little thing, with a yellow-orange incandescent beam powered by a single AA battery. But it worked beautifully for its purpose. The faint light threw huge shadows, and made even faint tracks stand out like neon signs. And this doesn’t just have to be used at night. Morning, evening, and cloudy days all lend themselves well to this technique.
Try it yourself: Go out into your yard or garden, or any place else you can clearly make a print. Pull out your light, angle it down low across the track, and see how every lug of your boot stands out clearly. Now, obviously there’s much more to tracking at night than this. But this little trick is a valuable tool to keep in your toolbox.
If you’d like to learn more about human and animal tracking in a challenging, hands-on setting, join us for Tracking Essentials on Saturday, December 1st from 9am-7pm. Register now at https://www.sarcraft.com/course-registration/tracking-essentials!