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  • Eduardo Abril de Fontcuberta

Tracking Basics

Year 2 - Week 26

Tracking can be approached in two different ways, be it human or animal hunting. You can either master the minimum skill needed to determine just the number of your opponent forces and use that knowledge in your advantage or you can step up to become a Hunter Of Gunmen. To do that you will need more than marksmanship, tactics and fieldcraft. You will need to become a predator.

The only way to train your brain and gain the experience you will need is by repeatedly tracking humans and hunting prey on a controlled scenario before betting your life with your enemies on real combat tracking or having to successfully hunt for survival.

How to start

This article is an excerpt from my book 100+ SNIPER EXERCISES in which tracking is one the skills in which I test my sniper students. More oriented to sniping my book is not a true tracking manual but if you are looking for one, take my advice, the best tracking books I´ve read are Combat Tracking Guide from John D. Hurth and La ciencia de las huellas from F.Gomez and D. Pueyo. . This last one is in Spanish, but it is simply the best animal tracking manual ever, and easily understandable though its animal graphics.

Reading these books you will get the feel of what’s involved in tracking. To be able to track your opponent you need to be able to determine: The number of humans or animals, their direction of travel, and the time they passed through this point, figure out where they are heading and when they will get there. When tracking humans, this knowledge will allow you to make a guess to their intentions based on intel and how loaded they are.

These may not look like much but you will need a lot of experience to answer all of the above questions, with your tracking skills.

You have to think like your prey

This mental attitude will give you a lot of insight. You will be able to do much more than count the number of people or animals. You will be able to estimate their direction of movement, learn when they passed the point you are at, interpret what they were doing at this location, reasonably anticipate where they are going and when they'll get there, and follow their trail so long as required.

Put Yourself in Your Quarry's Mind

When tracking men, you may even feel that he may be a young, fit and trained SF soldier. He maybe middle aged and tired. He may be so focused on his mission so as not to fall into the trail distractions or he may be patrolling loosely without much attention. You have to feel if they know you are following them or not. If they feel threatened or not, just by the way they leave their tracks.

In Major John Plaster´s own words ”Taken to its ultimate, the truly gifted tracker learns to see his surroundings through his quarry's eyes. He isn't following him; he anticipates his quarry's next move and heads him off at the pass." This is the final objective of learning to Mantrack.

Mantracking works in a step-by-step process. Once you have mastered counting your preys you have to step up and master the art of reading the signs, footprints, track varieties and varieties stride measurement. Now you are ready for real tracking.


The normal procedure is just after you find the spoor, you determine the number of prey, ID footprints size of each and which direction they are moving. Check your boots, the animals around camp and start making your own track data cards. Add all the kinds you know of, to your track and footprint list. Add the personal ID marks of all the enemy boots you can. Add all the special footprints you find on your area of operations and pass it around to your team members. They will add the tracks they find, so combined with all the others, you can try to ID every animal and human that crosses your grounds.

After talking to a very experienced tracker I have come to a conclusion regarding the differentiation of boots of similar soles or same manufacturers. His suggestion here is to cut notches in the boots of team members so they will be readily identifiable. Trying to remember, draw, or photograph each boot soles can be unreliable and time consuming. A notch cut into the same place on each person's boot will better serve the purpose of knowing whom your friends are. At least, you will have reduced greatly the footprints to track, as only the rest will be your problem.

Tracking animals is just the same but has an additional complication and one definite advantage. You are not an animal, so you will need to learn about animal behavior and how they move. Even what their phases of their footprint are, and this is a lot of work. The advantage is that animals won’t ambush you if you get too close or disguise your position, so the learning process is way safer with them.


Footprints may identify some of your quarry. Tell you if a woman or heavy men are among the group you are tracking, but you need to know how many are they, in addition to knowing that some of your identified footprints are among them so you are still following the right party. You need to extract from their tracks as much information as possible about their speed, their load and from these clues, their possible intentions.

The footprint shape, the size of it and its gaits will give you a lot of information. Smaller, thinner footprints and shorter steps will tell the sniper tracker that those tracks were made by a shorter smaller person or maybe a woman. If the track is thinner, there is more earth scrapped, and has a longer gait the footprint is from a running person.


The real problem with tracking is that it is very difficult to find complete tracks and even if your enemy does not try to hide or disrupt them, it is difficult to find full footprints. This does not mean that without full footprints you cannot track your foe. You will use all kinds of indicators, called "signs". Meaning those clues of your prey presence that can barely be seen.

Finding, identifying and following signs is an art in itself and you will need much more than this few pages, to master it. But to give you an outline , It is all based on Visual tracking and ID of the Human or Animal Gait, the tracks and track identification. Be it a human, bird or a foot legged prey.

In the old days most trackers used a tracking stick, but now most top trackers use a metal measuring tape to measure the stride, look for tracks and fill in the data cards and measure the stride length. Remember that human footsteps have three phases, the contact, the mid-stance and the propulsion phase and that about the animals, each will leave different tracks too. Learn to differentiate the footprints and each phase so you can better ID each prey you’re tracking.

And while tracking humans do not forget your own security as your foe may try to ambush you. Take your time and observe carefully the area in front or you with your binoculars before continuing the tracking. If you take your time, take a close look at your map and mantrack correctly, you can predict what his path would be. Then find a cutt off, overpass him and ambush him.

Even though reading books may gave you a taste of what tracking is all about you will need a good course and spending many hours in the field before you are able to read the signs. Contact good tracking schools from experienced trackers such as John D. Hurth and Joe Hardy they are the best in the industry. Gov. Agencies are relying on outsourcing their tracking training, just as the most elite special ops units, like SEAL and DELTA. Now you know why, this is an art and you will need a true artist to learn it.

Artículo publicado en la revista Survivors Edge, número de invierno de 2015.

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