We’re going to cover some of the basics on how to track man, and some tips on how to keep from being tracked by men. All of your camouflage is to no avail if you are awakened by a boot kicking you in the ribs as you’re curled up in your sleeping bag in a hidey-hole. Please keep in mind: this is a post-SHTF action and/or a life-threatening situation that would call for the tracking of another human being.
Man is the Most Dangerous Creature of All
Be aware: this is not deer-hunting or tracking a game animal. The rules are different, because a deer won’t double back on you, climb a cliff, and snipe you with a suppressed .308 as you cross a predetermined, pre-ranged spot. If you are adept at tracking game, these skills can help you, but keep in mind you’re tracking the most dangerous, intelligent, and resourceful creature of all: man. You’re tracking down a creature with the natural and learned instincts of a hundred thousand generations of hunters and killers…no matter what culture or creed. Man is the most dangerous creature of all. Never forget that. Respect the potential of the guy or gal you’re tracking. Respect it, and let it temper your emotions and judgment as you’re tracking.
To track a man, you need to be aware of your surroundings, the changes in it, and use deductive reasoning all in combination as you’re moving. There are some questions you always need to ask yourself as you are following a man as well as observations you must make:
- Are you keeping aware of the potential for ambush? Most people don’t like to be followed, and in a SHTF situation you can bet the other guy is playing for keeps. Are you walking right into a trap? As you study the terrain in front of you, are you “gaming” it in your mind? Remember Rule #1: the hunter can (and often does) become the hunted at any time.
NOTE: THIS QUESTION # 1 AND RULE # 1 BOTH APPLY CONCURRENTLY AT ALL TIMES! THEY ACCOMPANY AND SUPERCEDE ALL OF THE SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS AND RULES!
- Minor deviations in the terrain (path) that would not normally be there: Broken hardwood branches at chest or head height, broken or “moved/displaced” vegetation, the tracks on the ground, bark rubbed from the face of fallen logs…. all of these are good indications that man has come this way.
- Major deviations in the terrain/path: perhaps a small mound of earth in the woods with what appears to be a “dent” followed by a long groove and crushed grass to either side…a good indicator your quarry stepped on the mound and slipped. Perhaps some good-sized trees chopped down, or good sized branches removed with an edged tool. These could be either fighting positions/lean-to’s/fortifications, or ground cover respectively. Look for signs of the hand of man where it is obvious.
- Changes to the earth. This means the ground. You’ve been tracking your quarry through a swamp, and now you emerge in a grassy field. Look for signs of tracks, and for mud to be tracked through the grass as well. If you’ve been walking through a dry riverbank with clay for a bed, then the color of clay will show up in front of you in the tracks of your target.
- Trash/detritus. Man is a messy creature, and no matter how careful he always messes up. It could be a food wrapper, or a cigarette butt he forgot to tote out with him. It could be a piece of paper or a dropped tool or even ammunition. It could also be part of a meal…even something so innocuous as crumbs. Your job as the tracker is to spot these deviances as they come out to meet your eyes.
- Smell. Man is (especially after several days in the bush or after physical exertion) a stinky creature. Yes, you can smell many things of man: his sweat, his deodorants and perfumes, his tobacco products (you can smell a cigarette for a long distance in the woods), and, of course, his stool. This last one (don’t laugh) is a really good giveaway, as most people will relieve themselves and not worry about covering up what they produce. This is not mentioned relative to hygiene, however, but in relation to tracking. Such people not caring about how they relieve themselves won’t give much consideration to someone using it to trail them.
- Noise. Man is, indeed, a noisy creature. He breathes heavily, belches, flatulates, grunts, groans, complains, talks loudly, and snores. All of these can be used to your advantage to find your quarry. He also drops things, bangs and bumps into things, and clatters metal against metal. He falls down, breaking branches and he curses or moans, depending on how badly he hurts himself. He also communicates to his fellow humans, either with a radio or with his voice.
- Light Discipline: man is as stubborn as they come on this one. Those flashlights are never “red lensed” and kept under a poncho or jacket as they should be…just everyone flashing the lights all over the place. Same for the cigarettes. Instead of cupping their hands around them and keeping the cigs low, there’s that orange dot right out to your front, head height. Man loves to use the flashlight when he’s moving around at night. It can be his undoing, and to your advantage if you look for your quarry being careless with the light.
- Changes to the quarry’s flight. A hunted man will always know he is being hunted. You need to be aware of an increased pace, a change of direction, changes in elevation…all factors that will indicate either distress or concern on the part of your quarry. The pace change can be noticed by footprints, especially the distance widening or shortening between them. Widening means he’s taking off. Shortening means the terrain is becoming more difficult or he’s tiring, or both. The runner usually uses the balls of his feet with a shallow heel-print. The walker sets his heels into the soil more deeply.
- Tread Depth: we covered this a little in #9, and in addition, if the guy has a size nine boot print and is really sinking into the earth? Well, he’s probably carrying some serious stuff in the form of supplies and/or weapons.
If your search is proceeding too well and too smoothly? It’s an ambush. We’ve covered these fundamentals, because believe it or not, it is easier to avoid the hunter if you first have been the hunter. What we just covered forms the basis for avoiding someone who is pursuing you. Believe it or not, you can practice this stuff in the woods with family and/or team members. It makes for both a good workout and a challenge to actually implement stuff you learn. Part Two we’ll focus on how to get away from the bad guys trying to find you. Until then keep studying and practicing. It’ll pay off in the end…especially after the SHTF.