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Tracking Animals When Exploring

September 04, 2019 3 min read 0 Comments

Tracking Animals When Exploring


The best thing about regions with outdoor recreational opportunities is observing the patterns of wild creatures. Where we may travel for hours, days, weeks or months at most, the critters calling our trails and parks home have an entire life lived out.

If you learn to spot the signs of wildlife, you can get a glimpse into the natural world, and add a different perspective to your outdoor experience.



Tracking Animals When Exploring


Tracks

Tracks and prints are obviously the best indication of where animals have been. Unfortunately, most animals only leave tracks in very particular substrate, like muddy or sandy trails. Any area with a lot of detritus (buildup of dead leaves and vegetation) won’t take imprints. If your favorite hiking haunt has the necessary conditions, don’t get over-excited at seeing what appears to be an exotic print. Consider what is common in your area, as well as what kind of traffic it gets. If dogs are allowed on the trail, you can generally assume that’s what you’re seeing, not a wolf, bear or cougar track.


Trails

Not all animals leave visible trails, but cervines — deer, elk, caribou, etc. — travel the same paths repeatedly, in groups, and it can be one of the best ways of tracking them. Look for unnatural gaps in the brush, or worn paths in the ground. You won’t always see both, as not all terrain will show noticeable wear, and some types of brush can obscure the paths. Look closely. The paths will appear to you as much narrower than the animals creating them. The wear that is visible may only appear to be a few inches wide. Smaller animals will leave ‘runs,’ which can be harder to spot, but often use the paths already established by their larger friends.


Rubs

A number of animals leave their mark on trees and underbrush. Stags rub trees with their antlers, and bears rub against trees to leave a scent. Bears will also claw or bite off bark and underbark for their bedding. Broken branches and saplings can be a sign of feeding. Deer love eating the leaves off small trees like oaks, and bears have been known to pull low-hanging branches down to snack on nuts. Even smaller critters like rabbits and squirrels will leave clues behind — you’ve probably seen the nut shells or bits of pinecone left by the frenzied feeding of a squirrel, and rodents leave telltale angular bite marks on leaves and foliage.


Beds

Every animal sleeps, and their beds can be an easy indicator — if you know what to look for. Deer bed in groups, and they usually choose places protected from the elements, like hollows or valleys, or areas with tall grass and brush obscuring them from view. Look for oval-shaped depressions in the ground, typically near game trails. Other animal beds aren’t as easy to find. Smaller animals like bobcats and foxes will find nooks and crevices obscured from view to sleep. Even if you do find one, it’s best not to disturb, especially those of nocturnal creatures who may be catching their beauty sleep during your hike. Though bears are often associated with sleeping in dens, that’s usually only for hibernation. In the warmer months, they bed out in the open, much like deer. Look for large, cleared areas near the base of larger trees. They will shred the bark from trees for their bed, and bed in the same spot over several days, so the indicators like scat and tree rubs should be more prevalent near a bedding area.


Left-behinds

Whether from rubbing, bedding, feeding, or fighting with other animals, just about every creature leaves something behind. If you keep a sharp eye out, one of the strongest indicators of recent activity is fur or feathers snagged on a branch or tree trunk. Or, if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll find a shed antler from a deer or one of their cousins. And of course, scat is a common tracker’s tool. Learning the different types of scat in a particular region is one of the first steps in animal tracking.


Think like an animal

If you’re struggling to find anything on your next hike, it helps to think like the creatures you’re tracking. Ask yourself, what does that creature need to survive, and where would it go to get it. Often, marks and clues will be found near a food or water source, and you can follow the trail of nut shells from there.





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