Manataka American Indian Council






Shared by Mèssochwen Tëme


Our ancestors used many skills to survive.  They used their tracking skills to find and hunt the animals used for food, clothing, and tools.  They had to make the bows and arrows, traps and snares, clubs and tomahawks used in hunting. 

While hunting, they had to know what plants, or parts of plants, were edible and how to prepare them.  They also knew what plants were used for medicinal purposes, and how to prepare the medicines.

They knew how to find their way through forests, mountains, and unfamiliar terrain without the aid of compasses and maps. 

Our ancestors had many skills essential to survival.  We should never forget these skills or how to use them. 

Tracking is identifying an animal by the footprints the animal left on the ground, by it's scat, and by the environment surrounding those footprints.  By identifying the animal in question, a person can know whether to pursue the animal or evade it. 

Footprints (tracks) of some of the most common mammals

found in the wilderness of the United States and Canada.





Big Horn Sheep

Bison (Buffalo)

Black Bear

Bobcat Caribou  Cougar Coyote Deer Elk Grey Fox


Grizzly Bear Lynx Marmot  Moose

Mountain Goat


Muskrat  Opossum  Porcupine Pronghorn Sheep Raccoon Red Fox

Becoming familiar with the footprints of an

animal is just the

beginning of understanding tracking. 


White Tail Deer

Wild Boar Wolf    

Pictures by Boy Scouts of America





Such things as gait, along with the distance between prints, can tell you if the animal is running or walking. The size and depth of the print can help tell you the size of the animal.


Seeing Tracks

One important thing to remember when following tracks is to keep the print between you and the sun. This way, the light casts shadows in the print and makes it stand out from the surrounding soil. You can use a mirror to reflect light into a track so you can see its details better. A flashlight also works well in low light conditions. You can even track at night using a flashlight!


Following Trails

The idea of tracking an animal is to follow the trail to learn as much as you can from it. It’s best to stay on the trail and try your best to find every print at first. This is how you learn to see the more difficult tracks. If you force yourself to stay on the trail and find every print, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your skill improves.


One useful aid to help you follow a difficult trail is a tracking stick. This is simply a stick about three feet long on which you have marked the measurement of the animal’s stride. Stride is the distance from the heel of one print to the heel of the next. You can also mark the measurement of the print itself to be sure you’re following the right trail. You may want to use rubber bands as markers since they are easy to move. Or, you can carve a notch in the stick to mark the measurement. An old ski pole makes a good tracking stick, but in a pinch, you can usually find branches lying on the ground. To use the tracking stick, hold it at the point where the stride measurement is marked. Hold this over the heel of the last identifiable print. Now, sweep the point in an arc and look where it points for evidence of a track. Sometimes, you may have to look for very subtle clues, such as broken pine needles, bruised blades of grass, or overturned and dislodged pebbles. Look closely and you will see it.


Other Signs

Animals leave signs of their passage in addition to tracks. These include chewed or bruised vegetation, droppings, scratches in tree bark, hairs snagged on branches or in bark, rubbings on trees, gnawed bones, feathers, opened nuts, dens, burrows, and nests. You may also find well-worn trails and runways through the grass that many animals use regularly. These signs may not be obvious at first, but with practice, you will see them.


Where to Find Tracks

When you’re first beginning to learn tracking, the best place to start looking is in soft mud or wet sand near water. These soils hold tracks well and often yield clearly identifiable prints. This is the best way to learn what tracks look like in the field. As you gain skill, you will learn to identify tracks in other soil types. You will also learn to identify tracks that show just portions of prints rather than whole tracks. To challenge yourself, try following tracks in more difficult soils.



"Introduction" text by Mèssochwen Tëme


"Tips for Tracking" text by Kim A. Cabrera