Trapper vs. Hunter Tracking Styles

By | April 26, 2013

I remember one day about 30 years ago when I was out scouting a trapline with my friend Bob. We skirted an open field, followed the edge of a pine plantation, then wrapped around a granite outcrop before crossing a small stream and dipping down into a Cedar bog.

“We’re crossing quite a few runs,” I commented after we had walked a ways. “Don’t we want to pick up on one of them and trail an animal?”

“I’d starve if I did that,” he replied. “Following a Deer around or finding where a Raccoon is denned up for the day isn’t going to give me the pelts I need to pay the bills.”

I understood. We wanted to intersect as many trails in as short a run as possible, so that Bob could quickly and efficiently prepare and regularly check a number of sets. And intersect trails we did: we crossed a Deer trail leading into the open field and saw sign of Fox on the edge of the plantation, and then we found a Coyote scat-scent marking area on the outcrop and Mink tracks along the stream. However if we were hunting, we would do the opposite—we would have taken the deer trail to find an advantageous spot to either set a snare or sit-in-wait.

The trapper wants to find as many trails as possible, while the hunter wants to follow one trail to the source. Following a trail, a hunter will generally cut across a stream valley, where it trapper will walk up the valley to intersect trails. On a beach, a hunter will pick up a trail and follow it inland, while a trapper sticks to the beach to pick up on as many trails coming down to the water as possible.

The best conservation wardens know these two tracking styles and take advantage of them to apprehend poachers. I knew a poacher who used the knowledge to raid traplines. Some of the best hunters and trappers I know rely on their respective tracking styles to apprehend their quarry. I sometimes use the knowledge to avoid hunters and trappers, and occasionally on a search-and-rescue, but most often I use it for the same reason I imagine most of you would—to immerse myself in the world that calls to my heart.

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