Decipher Animal Tracks and Sign
Tracking animals is just like solving a mystery. Animals leave clues behind and the challenge is to figure out what they are telling you.
Bowhunters, wildlife photographers, and other outdoor enthusiasts enjoy finding out more about the wildlife they are trying to see or hunt. Scouting helps determine if the animal you’re hunting is present during hunting season, and helps you decide where to put a ground blind or tree stand. The first step in learning to track animals is being able to identify an animal by its tracks or footprints.
Tips to Identify Tracks
- What animals are in this area? Whether you’re in a city, suburb or the country determines what wildlife you can expect to see. Make a list of animals in your area. This will make it easier to figure out what animals made the tracks you found.
- What is the size of the track?
- What is the shape of the track?
- How many toes are there?
- Does the track have claws?
What is the Track Telling You?
To learn more about the animal that left tracks behind, answer these questions:
- Which direction was the animal heading?
- Was it traveling alone or with others?
- Is it a male or female? Can I determine that?
- Was it on a well-worn path?
- Was it running, walking, hopping or trotting?
- Are there other signs along this path?
- How far can you follow the trail? Where does the trail end?
You can’t always answer these questions, but trying to answer them can help you learn more about the animal you’re tracking.
Animals leave other clues behind too. When tracking animals look in all directions to make sure you don’t miss anything. Investigate everything that catches your eye or looks out of place. And while investigating one thing, you might be surprised what else you find along the way. When in doubt, check it out.
- Scat (poop): Scat can tell you what the animal ate. For example, black bear scat often contains visible seeds from berries. Coyote scat often contains fur and bone fragments of small mammals.
- Food: Learn what your target animal likes to eat and look for these foods when scouting, you may find more sign around it.
- Body Parts: Antlers, fur, feathers and bones.
- Food Caches: Places where animals store food to be used later. Beavers and squirrels store food in places away from nesting areas. Beaver caches resemble small beaver lodges.
- Scratches in the ground: Cougars, bobcats and lynx bury their scat in sand and dirt and leave scratches behind.