by Christopher Wood
If you are a beginner at tracking, you will probably look for tracks in soft soil that are used by many animals. As you improve your skills you will move on to more difficult terrain.
Before you go into an area to hunt or try tracking, do a little tracking by landscape first, Look at the area from a distance and ask what types of animals it might support. Thick forest areas don't support a lot of wildlife because of the lack of a variety of vegetation. Look for an area that has grasses, brush, and trees. This combination provides food and cover for many animals. Look for an area that also has a water source, not just a big creek or reservoir. Puddles, springs, and seeps are also important so don't discount them.
Once you have located an area that you think will have the animals you are after, stalk it slowly from down wind. ( I will cover Stalking next week) Keep things quiet and go slow. Look for three main animal signs, trails, beds, and ground that has been disturbed. When you find large sign it will draw your attention to smaller sign like Tracks, scat, and hair.
Trails ; Trails are like roads from bedding to feeling and water areas. Sometimes a trail may be new or not used often it may be flat. With more use it becomes a U shape and if it is very old it is squared out on the bottom. There are many types of trails; Seasonal trails are trails that are used only part of the year, Summer ( used spring till fall ) trails will have little or no vegetation on it and winter ( used fall till spring) will show sign of vegetation fresh and green in the summer and trampled in the winter. You will find single use and general use trails. Single use trails are used by one type of animal and general trails are used by many types of animals. You will find some directional trails if you look hard enough, this is like a one way road and the reason may vary. Some animals travel in a circuit and if you follow the trail long enough you will find a feeding area, water, and bedding. Runs are like a main road that will lead to either a food, water, or bedding area. The use of runs depend on the time of year, some might be active in the spring for a special food, or the winter to get to water that is not frozen.
Remember animals almost always take the easiest rout to a location. Animals are smart, so that deer in the field has an escape rout that most likely ends at a hide( temporary spot it feels safe)
Feeding areas can be broken down into a few different types. General feeding areas are a location that a run ends in a large area that offers different kinds of plants. Single plant feeding area is an area that a run ends at a single plant group like an oak grove. There are also eat through and patched areas that are like an eat on the move. Horse tend to patch eat along the edge of a trail and some smaller animals will eat their way through a patch of vegetation and come out the other side.
Beds and lays are areas that are frequently used for sleeping. They differ by what type of animal use them, a hollow log, trees, rock piles, or thicket are some examples.
IF you are just trying to learn or are looking to find a place to hunt take the time to learn the land. Get a notebook and Pick a well traveled transition point ( like the field you see the deer in) draw the trails, runs, and any sign you see as you go. Look for rubs, nicks, scratches, chews, tracks, scat, hair, and anything that looks like it has been disturbed( rocks, leaves, even dry grass when the rest is wet) Take it slow and observe things.