Tracking Basics

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Hunting animals for food can be an adventure for wilderness enthusiasts, but it's not a skill that comes easily. To find your prey, whether for survival or sport, you'll must know the basics of animal tracking

Black Bear


Florida Panther




Step One

Pay attention to the easiest places to find tracks. Mud, snow, wet sand, and soil hold prints the easiest and are the most helpful in survival situations. Carry a guide with you picturing different animal prints until you become familiar enough with them to recognize them. You can find a guide at Beartracker's website.

Step Two

Keep the animal track between you and the sun. This helps cast a shadow that allows you to see the print better. When following a trail of tracks, remember the sun needs to be opposite you and you'll be less likely to lose the trail.

Step Three

Check to see how fresh the tracks are. If vegetation that was stepped on is dead in the track, you know the animal didn't come through recently. You'll have better luck tracking an animal that is closer to you.

Step Four

Look for signs of feeding. Animals sometimes drop fruits or nuts when the food supply is ample. They have the luxury of picking and choosing their preference. Pine cones are stripped so the animal can eat the seeds. Bark is torn from trees for food, often leaving clear bite marks. Sheep and goats have slanted bite marks where deer teeth marks are up and down. Squirrels usually feed from bark higher on the tree than bears or deer. They also tend to drop bark pieces on the ground at the foot of the tree.

Step Five

Study droppings. You can tell how big an animal can be by the size of its waste. Strong smelling feces usually indicates a mammal. Animals with diets of vegetation usually produce waste that's straw-like. Long tapering feces indicate a meat-eater. You can break open the droppings to get ideas for what to use as bait. Birds that live on seeds usually have small, fluid droppings. Meat-eating birds yield pellets.

Step Six

Hunt when your prey is out. Most mammals are active in the early morning and early evening. The ones who are out during the middle of the day are the large, powerful animals. Rabbits and other small animals venture out only at night to eat. Big, plant-eating animals usually eat constantly all day, as do extremely small ones. For emergency survival situations, you will probably want the largest animal that you can skillfully kill that will provide you the most meat.

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