A Tracker's


Introductory Exercise 7:

The Tracking Stick

A tracking stick is a useful tool for helping to locate the next track when you can’t see it.  In this exercise, you’ll find or fashion one and use it.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Find tracks and follow them until you can’t see a next track
  2. Find a stick that is longer than the distance between any two tracks in the trail (one as straight as possible – this can also be done with a tape measure, length of string, etc)
  3. Lay the stick so that one end is at the back of the last track and the other end goes over the next-to-last track
  4. Now grasp the stick where it meets the forward point of the next-to-last track so that the distance between your grasping fingers and the end of the stick is the distance between the last two tracks
  5. Compare this length of stick to the distance between tracks as you go back through the line of tracks

As you go along the trail, is the distance between the tracks relatively consistent? If yes, then:

  1. Hold the stick in front of the last track in the trail, with your fingers over the front edge of the last track
  2. The end of the stick should theoretically be very near an unseen track.  If you sweep the stick in an arc, you might find a track indicating a slight veering in the direction of the trail

If “no” to the question after #5, then look at the trail for patterns of tracks.  Are two of the tracks regularly appearing as a pair?  Do the patterns appear to be in 3s or 4s?  Patterns of 3 apparent tracks are common patterns, but the middle “track” may actually be two tracks with one on top of the other.

The tracking stick can be used between groups of tracks.  Be sure, in that case, to measure either:

  1. The distance between the front of the last track in a group and the back of the first track in the next group, or
  2. The distance between one track in a group and the corresponding track in the next group (e.g., the distance between the first track in each set)

If the tracks are not regularly spaced (for which we measured in the first series) and also are not in clusters that you can identify as similar patterns (for which we measure in the second series), then move on to another trail or another part of the same trail, looking for regularly spaced tracks or similarly patterned clusters of tracks.

When you can, use a tracking stick to locate hard-to-see tracks.  If you don’t have any luck the first time you use it, try it again in another situation.  When you complete today's journal, please make a note of whether you found tracks by using the tracking stick.  Also, did using the stick help you become aware of the track patterns on the ground?  Did you find them confusing?  Did you see clear, repeating patterns?

© Nate Harvey, 2015