How to Read a Distorted or Indistinct Track

By | May 20, 2013

An animal’s track will often distort when an animal accelerates or changes direction on a slippery surface such as mud or wet sand. With acceleration, the track will elongate; and with turning, it will broaden. The same is true with animals traversing an upgrade or downgrade. I’ve watched people who are otherwise fair at track identification get thrown off and misidentify a track they would otherwise know.

To see what an elongated track might normally look like, sketch it on paper and hold it vertically, directly in front of you, with the toes pointing either up or down. Now tilt the top of your sketch away from you until the track appears to take on normal proportions. For tracks that are broadened, tilt your sketch to the right or left.

Another technique—often not as accurate, but quicker—is to view the actual track at an angle. With elongated tracks, look from the front or rear; and with widened tracks, look from the side.

When an animal’s track is hard to discern because it is either indistinct or only partially visible, draw the outline of what you can see, on the ground right beside the track. The outline will accentuate the size and shape of the track, and may also reveal the track’s symbol (see pp 249-71 of Entering the Mind of the Tracker). With a distinct outline of what is there, the missing part of the track will often come to light. This technique can also be executed on paper.

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