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        Let’s talk about being the tracker and not the tracker for a few minutes. Many people think tracking is simply following footprints. If that were so then anyone could do it. Probably the most important thing I can tell you is to practice before you have to do it.

        Bear in mind, we are relating this to tracking humans, who might be armed, and have bad intentions, not just some critter. In the situations that are spoken of on this site we are normally talking about a SHTF scenario, but no matter what, the next most important thing I can tell you to do, besides practicing, is KNOW YOUR AO! I can’t stress that enough, no matter how big or small your AO is you need to have a handle on it.

        You need to know the roads, the overall geography and topography of your area. You need to know what landmarks, either geographical or manmade nage intru would use.

        Fundamentally humans are lazy. They will take the path of least resistance if possible. This should be useful in finding intruders to start with and also a clue that maybe your intruder has bad intentions if they are taking a route that tends to be hidden. You do recons of your AO right?

        To find “sign” you need to be out on foot. Get out of the vehicle! Check along fencelines, go in about a 100 yards or so if need be. Do the same for roads and paths or trails. Folks tend to be lazy, but quite often they are not stupid.

        Once you find sign, take a good hard look around. They might still be in the area waiting for you to leave or getting a better sight picture. Once you are pretty certain they have moved on try to establish a general direction of travel. You can get a rough idea of how many are in a group by counting the number of tracks in an area about 3 feet long and dividing by 2. That is simply predicated on the fact that most folk have a stride of less than 3 feet when just walking.

        Checking the sign can give you some idea of how long ago the sign was made. Are there insect or snake tracks in the sign? This would indicate the group was traveling at night. Are the tracks single file or spread out? Since file also often means the group was traveling at night. Daytime, good visibility tends to spread groups out. So does knowledge of patrolling techniques. Are the tracks sharp around the edges or are they crumbling? Sharp edges are usually indicators of fresher sign. Has it been windy, wind tends to fill tracks, was there a dew, dew will make tracks hard on the edges. Crushed green weeds, or grass, will normally have what appear to be black spots where they were bruised. Your local climate will determine how long it takes for those bruised spots to turn brown. Brown generally indicates 24 hours plus, but that is not written in stone.

        It is normally not a good idea to try to track a group alone. Two or three people are much better. You need a primary tracker whose attention will be devoted to staying on the sign. The extra bodies are there to A) provide security for the tracker, and B) to parallel the sign and try to catch it if it turns off the main route of travel all of a sudden.

        Sudden turns could be innocent, but also could be an indicator that they know you are after them. Now it is time to use your knowledge of your AO. Is there some terrain obstacle up a head, (they may have been traveling at night without NVGs), are they by passing an open area, avoiding a populated area, or heading to a house or building? Is there some other feature, windmill or radio tower they may be guiding on? Are they finding some place to rest up?

        While all this is going on, if your group has comms, is large enough, and you have a decent idea of their direction of travel, you can get someone to leapfrog you and try to pick up the trail further ahead. This will help make up a lot of time and potentially help you set up an ambush if necessary. Remember, people can make tracks much faster than you can follow them.

        Finding places they have rested can add to what you know. Is the grass still pressed down? That could indicate they have recently unassed the area. Is there trash? This could indicate a lack of discipline or some indicaton of the group’s origin. Learn what sign the butt of a rifle leaves in the dirt. Cloth often leaves a crosshatch woven impression in dirt. Packs and containers leave specific impressions also, if you are luck enough to find them.Finding

        Don’t think you will always have footprints. Quite often you will only have toe or heel marks. Maybe you will only find a partial sole print. Early on you should have been making, at least mental, notes of the sign you had. Were the prints just flats, were they something like Vibrate soles, or were they more like Ked’s/Converse tennis shoes, was there a pattern, like a series of ‘s or straight lines? Your leapfroggers will need that info.

        If you lose the sign, check, from cover if possible, to make sure they haven’t set up on you. Once you have that out of the way, have one of your group stay with the last sign you had. You still should keep some sort of overwatch….ALWAYS! DO NOT let everyone try to re-establish the trail. I promise you the odds are you will destroy more sign than you will find. Get to the side of the sign you were on, it is helpful if you are looking into the sun. Sunlight helps highlight the sign making it shine in the light. If you have to use a flashlight at night, try holding it lower to the ground, usually a foot or two above the ground works, but it can vary.

        Start cutting arcs or circles around the place you last saw sign. Within 3 or 4 feet of the last sign is usually a good place to start. How far can someone step? Remember you are not looking for whole footprints, you are looking for partials or other indicators (sign) that the ground has been disturbed. If you find a whole footprint great! (I’ve had groups that looked like the space ship picked them up all of a sudden. The sign just flat disappeared. At least until I figured out that they had spread out on line and were stepping from one clump of grass or rock to another. A partial heel gave the away. They went over 200 yards like that, spread out over 50-70 yards)

        During all of the above, work the trail from the side as much as possible. You do not want to destroy the sign.

        My experience has always been working aliens or drug mules, not want what we can expect after a SHTF situation or dealing with armed groups who might have some idea of military tactics. So, your mileage may vary. But, the key, no matter what will be to get out and practice, practice, practice. Tracking is a skill that degraded over time.

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