Introductory Exercise 1:

The Site Nearest You

In this exercise, you will explore an area as close as possible to your home where you might be able to trail wildlife regularly, especially wild ungulates.  The bigger the wild ungulate, the easier it will be for you to follow its trails.  You will map that area and your explorations.

A general note about mapping exercises: it is not important to draw the maps precisely.  What is important is to remember the features of the place in relation to each other.  If precision is helpful to you in this regard, then go for it.  Otherwise, it’s okay.

Ultimately, you should have several sites where you can reliably find and follow wildlife trails.  If you are working in an easy substrate, like snow or sand in certain conditions, then you can go through all the exercises in this section following any wild animal, or even a domestic animal that spends a lot of time off-road.  Unless you are at a very advanced level, though, your practice will primarily be on wild ungulates’ trails, because their hard, hoofed feet leave tracks that are easier to see in challenging substrates that those of soft-footed animals.  So, you will need to access sites where they are present.

Since improvement will depend so much on frequency of practice (many short sessions being better than a few long ones), it is very important to give yourself whatever time you need to explore and locate a productive site as close as possible to where you live (or work, if you will be going there from work).  These explorations are part of the Basic Practice, and as always, it’s good to journal them.

A productive site is one where you can reasonably count on finding a trail.  If, for example, you live in an area with an easy substrate and have a compost pile, then maybe you can regularly trail foxes.  Again, though, look especially for sign of wild ungulates.  If you can walk out your door onto a deer trail, there's no reason to look far.

If you do not yet have a site where you can do the Basic Practice, please go to Locating Trailing Sites.

As you explore potential sites, please note the location on the landscape of

  • Any tracks and sign you find and trails that you follow

Additionally, please pay special attention to the following landscape features so that you can map them when you complete your journal after returning from the field:

  • Fields and other areas of tall-growing, herbaceous vegetation
  • Openings in the forest cover, clearcuts or any areas that have been cleared of trees in the last few years
  • Stands of oak
  • Shrubby patches and places where the understory is thick
  • Wetlands – ponds, streams, etc
  • Vernal areas and drainages
  • Habitat edges – where fields meet woods, for example, or where one type of vegetation (conifers) meets another (hardwoods)
  • Human infrastructure – houses, roads, wood roads, and other human influence
  • Any sign of domestic dogs, especially if you know that certain houses are home to dogs that spend much time outside.  If you are uncertain whether they spend much time outside, assume they do and note their locations

It is not as important to draw precise maps as it is to get to know the site: to note the features listed and other places you’re drawn to and to note their approximate relation to each other on a map.

As you complete maps for journals, there are elements that are good to include always: roads, buildings, topography, ponds and prominent streams, direction (north), and other elements noted beside the map space.  For this exercise, please do include those in your map as well.

You can use whatever maps you have as a basis for your drawing, if you like, so that you can draw roads and topography with fair accuracy, but please try to add others of the listed features from memory.  This is, in part, about developing your memory of landscapes.  If you don’t feel that you remember the locations of things that well, that is okay; try next time to sharpen your memory of where things are.

It is a good idea to repeat this exercise at multiple sites so that you can feel certain you've chosen the one best for you.  As you go through the other exercises in this section, continue to notice and map the listed features in your journal when you return from the field.

A Tracker's

TRAIL

© Nate Harvey, 2015