The Prepper Journal

Observation in Tracking

Boot track in the dirt

Boot track in the dirt

The Power of the Glance

Tracking is an element of scouting that encompasses observation, stalking and the following of a trail.” [Wikipedia]

The quote above couldn’t be truer. As soon as we get into the world of Tracking, it dawns on us the certainty that a good Tracker must be, first and foremost, a good observer. 

Back in the day, the early leader of the Scouting movement, Francis Gidney (mostly known as “Gilcraft”, author of the remarkable book “Training in Tracking”, 1933) underlined that “…there is no better education than observation, deduction, memory, and ingenuity (…)” laying the foundations of this Art. 

© Kyt Lyn Walken Used with permission

As mentioned in the previous tracking article, Tracking allows you to build a mental image of what is not only in front of you but also what surrounds you. This is applicable to the environment as well as to human beings since all the details we are able to collect from an individual (such as somatic traits, nuances of the character and of the personality, habits, the way he/she is dressed, the way he/she talks and gesticulates) can be accurately analyzed as well as arranged in determining cultural, religious and ethnic categories.

Tracking’s roots lead to today’s use

This has proven to be highly successful, and has become the cornerstone of profiling for FBI and CIA, as well as part of the “Combat Hunter Program” (2007) which “trains the fundamentals of combat profiling, tracking, and optics-based observation, helping students become successful “combat hunters” in an irregular warfare battlespace“.

© Kyt Lyn Walken Used with permission

Decades before developing the topics of this specific program, trappers already employed what we can call a primitive tool of profiling during their explorations in the Old Frontier; their skill in recognizing at first glance if the Native Americans they ran across were friendly or not made the difference between life and death. They had to be accurate observers, trained to be as moved by the necessity and by the perspective of making a fortune thanks to their hunting and trapping skills. 

No doubt following the animal trails often led them through unknown situations through uncharted lands. The possibility of being captured by hostile Indians was more than a remote possibility, as demonstrated by the story of John Colter, who was a scout for the Lewis and Clark expedition

Captured in 1808 near Three Forks, Montana, he eventually escaped and made his way to the Madison River, wrapped only in a blanket he stole from one of the Indians.

© Kyt Lyn Walken
Used with permission

John Colter’s saga is a crystalline example of the natural and necessary process of enhancing all the senses and the effective employment of them: the situational awareness we spoke about in the first article leads us, in fact, in this specific direction.

Observation is the cornerstone of tracking

When I speak of observation, I mean:

  • acquiring details
  • analyzing the most conspicuous ones
  • process them
  • developing a mental database of what we may need to know in the future
  • calculating risks and benefits
  • move ahead wisely 

If these topics sound a little trivial, please think again. 

The fact is we do not spend a lot of time considering the effects of our actions; our observation skills are widely degraded by our everyday habits and duties. We have dulled our vision, which, in the terminology of Tracking, is often identified as “tunnel vision.” In short, we observe and recognize what we know, which places us in our comfort zone and fail to see anomalies unless directly in front of us. 

Certainly, being focused on our trackline (which corresponds to our “main goal”) is the basis of every pursuit. However, gaining the habit of observing what lays beside us allows us to develop a more distinctive situational awareness. The details are part of the bigger puzzle.

In the heat of the investigative pursuit, the shortest distance between two points is not necessarily a straight line.” 

So, how can we enhance our observation skills? Simply, by learning again how to look and where to look, as we will see in the upcoming articles.

One of the first thing you can do is to learn how to move more slowly, especially when you find yourself, for example, in the backwoods. Be deliberate in every single movement and adjust your rhythm to the natural one that surrounds you. I always tell my students that they need to allow their mind to really see what they are looking at. And to make sure their glance stretches from left to right, not only ahead.

In the next article, we will look at how much information we can gain through observing a set of tracks (the trackline), including discussion of size, measurements, and light angle. We will also look at the major difference between tracking men and animals.


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