Why is tracking important in bushcraft? You may think you don’t really need to know how to properly track an animal, human, or group, but any good bushcrafter should know how to track - and here’s why.
Tracking knowledge can help you:
- Find your way back if you get lost in the wilderness. This is essentially knowing how to track yourself. If you get lost coming into an area, the best way to get out is by tracking your own steps backward.
- Find a friend or member of your group that’s gone missing. You’ll be able to track down someone who’s wandered off or gotten separated from your group, and you might even be able to uncover how or why he got separated.
- Discover what animals are around you. This can help you better understand what areas are the safest for you, what animals to be on the lookout for, and where you can best find food if you’re foraging.
- Leave a trail for someone else to find you should you go missing. This isn’t always necessary, but is a good practice, especially if you’re exploring an area for the first time or there are added factors such as weather that may make your trip more dangerous.
- Cover up your trail so no one can find you. Contrary to the point above, if you’re in danger and trying to get away, knowing how others would track you down will help you cover up your tracks and give you a better chance of survival.
Now that we’ve covered the bases of why tracking is important, let’s talk about what you need to know as a bushcraftsman in order to be successful in tracking.
Things to remember:
- Get down and dirty. Just looking at a track is not enough; you’ve got to get down and dirty in order to pick up on all the details you need in order to successfully track your target. Getting down at eye level will help you really encounter the track and gain all the information you need. Just be sure not to disturb it (see below). If you’re leaving your own track or covering up your own track, it’ll take more effort than you think - so be prepared to get your hands dirty.
- Don’t disturb the track. It’s important in tracking to look at the small details and the big picture. You never know what elements surrounding a footprint could actually help you understand whatever you’re tracking even more, but if you disturb it, you’ll never be able to be certain. Plus, you don’t want your target to know you’re tracking them. Even animals are creatures of habit, and will likely take the same trail each day. If you disturb their trail too much, they may be onto you.
- Have patience. Tracking isn’t easy. It takes lots of time, patience, and failing. You may think you’ve figured out a trail only to lead to a dead end. But don’t let that discourage you. Continue to hone your skills and learn from your mistakes. It’s the only way you’ll reach “master tracker” status.
- Take note. As a bushcraftsman, you likely already carry a notebook around with you everywhere you go. GOOD. Take note of whatever you learn, see, or leave behind. If you’re tracking someone or something else, it’ll be tough to remember all that you’ve noticed - and sometimes, those little details that you don’t think mean anything will come back up later, and writing them down will help keep you from forgetting them. If you’re leaving behind a trail for someone else or covering up a trail, take note of what you’re doing to keep yourself organized and to learn from your experience later.
Tracking is an extremely useful skill for anyone in bushcraft, but not many out there really get it. Take some time to work on this skill for yourself, and set yourself apart from the rest of the world. After all, that’s what BattlBoxers do.