Introduction to Human Tracking
Part III Teamwork, What to Look For and Training Yourself to See a Line of Sign
The preferred tracking team is a three person team consisting of a point person in the center and two flankers walking or crawling slightly behind. (See Figure 4) The flankers remain slightly behind the point person in order not to contaminate any unfound tracks that lie ahead. If the subject changed directions having the flankers slightly behind decreases the chances of contamination.
The point person swings their tracking stick to the next likely location of a track and the team works to identify a footprint. Some prints will be obvious and others are not. Each time the team agrees that they have a print then one of the flankers tears a piece of flagging tape and marks the heel of the print by pressing the tape into the ground. The team then moves forward in search of the next print, taking care not to damage the last marked track. The team should periodically rotate the person on point to provide a change of pace and a change of position. It can get tiring holding the tracking stick and anyone on the team who needs a break should speak up as your eyes will need a break now and then too.
Trackers will be working close together in uncomfortable positions, terrain and conditions. Good honest, communication, and a positive attitude can be critical to working well as a team.
What to Look For
Unless a footprint happens to fall on a slightly moist patch of perfectly flat, bare earth which is just about non-existent in an Adirondack forest you'll find that a footprint in the woods rarely looks anything like the idea of a footprint that you have in your mind right now. It took some work fluffing up the soil in this picture (Right) to make a full, easily seen footprint. Put that perfect footprint out of your mind. That's not how they look in the field.
A footprint in the woods might consist of the curved impression of a "heel strike" on some decaying leaves, an area of "compression" including some tiny plants that are crushed, broken or bruised, a pebble dislodged from where it sat for years, or a little bit of soil churned up from a toe scraping the ground as it moved forward towards the next step.
Observe the shadows in the footprint photograph above and then look at the direction of the sun diagram (right). Looking towards the light source will help you to see a small ridge that might otherwise be difficult to see looking more from the side of the light source. This concept is most important when tracking at night with a hand-held flashlight. Oblique lighting a the process whereby a flashlight is held horizontally and parallel to the ground while shining the beam at the suspected track. The light angle is moved to accentuate the sign detail by creating artificial shadows.