HomePublicationsThe Tracker MagazineVol 1, No. 4, Jun-Jul-Aug 1982

The Tracker Magazine - Vol 1 No. 4, Jun-Jul-Aug 1982

Advanced Tracking and Nature Observation Class
Fred Holder

"Tracking", says Tom Brown, Jr., "is the ultimate form of Nature Observation." This is why Tom teaches Nature Observation in conjunction with his Advanced Tracking Course. The course is five days long and is made up of extensive lectures plus many field trips to put into practice what Tom has just told the students.

Tom Brown, Jr. is the author of two books: The Tracker and The Search. The first tells of Tom's experiences from age 8 to 18 in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey where he grew up under the guidance of an old Apache Indian, Stalking Wolf. The Search tells of Tom's experiences from 18 to about 28 when he met married Judy and subsequently started what has become the largest tracking, nature observation and survival school in the United States. Tom is currently doing a series of articles in Mother Earth News and is working on a series of books dealing with wilderness survival, tracking, etc.

In d the September 1981 issue of Black Powder Times we reported on the "Standard Class", a survival course taught by Tom Brown, Jr. Arlene and I had attended that course in July. Then in November 1981 I signed up for the "Advanced Tracking and Nature Observation Course". The latter course was held at the Buck Creek Campground within walking distance of the White River southeast of Seattle, Washington. Since there was no prerequisite for the course, it repeated a lot of the material presented in the Standard Class. But it went much further into both aspects. The repetition didn't hurt me at all.

The tracking stick will be a slender, round stick three to four feet in length. It is pointed on one end and is outfitted with four movable washers (or markers). When measurements are taken, (1) will be the length of the track, (2) will be the width of the track, (3) will be the stride or distance between tracks, and (4) will be the straddle or distance between right and left hand tracks.

The first half of the class was devoted to Nature Observation because Tom feels that tracking is much more than just following a set of tracks until you lose them or find the animal that made them. Tracking is total observation. Observation of every bent twig, lost hair, rolled stone abraded bark, and the track itself. Every mark is a track.

All the wisdom is in the last track. It tells you what the animal was doing, where the next track will be, the sex of the animal, and much, much more. We learned to look at nature in a different way -- to observe it more closely and from a different viewpoint. To feel with our hands and feet and walk in the woods in total darkness without stumbling or falling over things.

Track measurements to be made with, and recorded on, the tracking stick. It is unlikely that any two animals will have exactly the same measurements.

In the afternoon we did the blindfold exercise. Then that night we stalked up a wooded hill in the darkness to try and find an instructor hidden up there. This was an interesting experience. It was too dark to see your hand in front of your face -- yet, I was able to find the top of the hill without falling or running into any trees. I would sense a tree was there and would put out my hand and it would be there. Before these courses, I could not have found the top of the hill and I would have stumbled and run into many trees in such total darkness.

There are four basic types of track patterns when animals are walking. The gallopers fall into two sub-groups: tree dwelling and ground-dwelling.

We learned to use what Tom calls "Splatter vision". This is an unfocused viewing of your surroundings which lets your peripheral vision do most of the work. It is very good for detecting movement. Something moves and you focus on it. With this method you can see an eye blink or a skin ripple, Tom claims. I still haven't mastered it in the woods, but I believe this is the basic vision I use when driving that allows me to see a ball roll into the street or a car move in from the side.

Good Nature Observation is best done in an active state of meditation, the way Tom describes it. All of one's senses are tuned to the finest degree by total concentration on the moment. All thoughts are suppressed. Those little internal voices are gone. You become one with your surroundings and know all that is there. Good tracking requires this total concentration. When your mind is properly tuned to observe your surroundings, the tracks are much easier to see. I learned to see tracks on hard, beaten trails that would not have been visible unless my mental state was properly tuned. One cannot track and think about that unfinished task at work or at home. You must concentrate only upon the tracks you are following and the woods around you. Live only for that moment!

Hair caught on a blackberry thorn is a track not made in the dirt. It is however a sign left by the deer.

What I have described here is the basic preparation Tom gives you to be able to track -- how to observe, how to prepare yourself mentally for the task at hand.

We learned to feel tracks with our fingers -- first in the classroom with a cup full of sand, and then in the field in the dark of night. We tracked elk across a field in total darkness. It was amazing how easy it was to feel a track and then to know where the next track should be. Perhaps what was really amazing was that the next track was where you thought it should be.

Once we were properly prepared to find tracks and follow them in either daylight or darkness, Tom began to describe how to analyze them and to more fully learn what the track was telling us. He could only tell us so much -- the rest we must learn for ourselves by observing an animal and then studying the tracks that it left.

Since we have only one track and it is net readily apparent whether it is right or left side, we can only talk about the track in "what if" terms. If this is a right hand set of prints, then it is the prints of a buck deer because the front track falls outside of the rear track. If however it is a left had set of tracks, it is a doe.

He taught us to make a tracking box to study the ageing of tracks and to study what tracks are telling you.

One thing I did learn: it will take a lot of time and study to become a good tracker -- more time than most of us will ever be able to devote to the subject But I've learned enough so that I can follow a set of tracks much better than I could before I went to this class. And I believe I could now backtrack myself if I became lost and could find my way out. This, in itself, is a comforting feeling and made the class worthwhile.

There are four basic toe patterns in animals: four toes up front and four toes in the rear with claw marks showing equals the Canine family; four toes up front and four toes in the rear with no claw marks is the Feline (cat) family; five toes up front and five toes in the rear is the weasel family; and four toes up front and five toes in the rear covers most other species.

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