Exercises and Routines

Trailing Wildlife is divided into four parts, based on the student’s ability:

  1. The Introductory section (the Trailing section of this website) is about helping you to locate a trailing site where you can do the Basic Practice for 30-60 minutes.  It is also meant to give you a taste of the overall curriculum
  2. The Beginner section is about learning the basics of following trails
  3. The Intermediate section is about learning the basics of aging trails
  4. The Advanced section is about learning when and how to approach so that you can see the animal you are trailing

The four sections include nearly 140 exercises, most of which can be done as you do the Basic Practice.  Each exercise follows one of these routines:

Sign of a Porcupine's cambium feeding, as shown by the scraping of its incisors.

  • Mapping

    Mapping requires you to use maps and to make them.  Here, maps serve two primary purposes:

    1. To locate productive tracking sites and
    2. To study landscape features that will help orient you in the field

    You will sketch maps quickly after returning from the field as a way to remember where you have been and to interpret your experience there.

  • Finding the Trail

    Finding the Trail involves

    • Seeing a trail
      • You must first spend time looking at the ground.  Attune your eyes to the substrate in the current conditions, and just see what is there
    • Recognizing who made it
      • This is to say that you need to learn basic track and sign identification
    • Assessing the value of following it
      • You must decide whether the trail is worth pursuing. To do that, you must learn to understand how the appearance of tracks and sign changes over time.  Your assessment of the trail’s age becomes the basis of your decision to follow the trail or not.  Sounds simple enough, right?  How sign ages is as complex as the host of environmental factors that come to bear on it.  So, we never stop learning how to age trails, and this simple process drives learning even for the most advanced students.
  • Moving on the Trail

    Moving on the Trail requires keen attention so that there can actually be a chance of seeing a buck or a bear without it knowing we’re there.  This routine requires attention to the form, the dance steps of moving on a trail, how to hold your head, where to put your feet in relation to your partner (the quarry’s tracks), how to move smoothly and develop momentum, when to change tempo, how to play the breeze.

  • Following the Trail

    Following the Trail is about techniques that help us to relocate the trail when we can’t see it anymore, including:

    • Knowing where your last clear track is
    • Locating the likely routes of travel from that spot
    • Knowing where you’re most likely to see tracks or not

    It is still important to move according to “the dance steps” even when you’re not sure where the trail is.

  • Interpreting the Trail

    Interpreting the Trail helps us to see the behavior reflected in the tracks.  Importantly, we gain clarity about the sorts of information that might actually be shown there as well as in scats, beds, feeding and other sign that we encounter.  We gain confidence about clearly identifying an animal’s gender and relative maturity, and we sharpen our vision for the trail of an individual that is walking with a group of animals.  We use our interpretations of what we see the animal doing to speculate about where the animal may be going, which adds significantly to our ability to follow trails.

    A black bear paused in its travels to stand and rub its back on this tree.

  • Approaching the Animal

    It is in the approach to the animal that we discover our skill as trackers.  First of all, what evidence will let us know that the animal is close?  Then, if we see evidence, what do we do?   What do we do if the wind is in our face?  What if it's at our backs?  What do we do if we do not yet see evidence in the trail, but our understanding of bedding preferences makes us think that the animal might be resting in an area we are looking at?  This section helps us develop strategies for these questions and more.


In addition to the field routines, some exercises can be done on- or off-trail, in the woods or in a building, wherever you happen to be, and others are better done near your home than at a distant trailing site:

  • Awareness exercises for sharpening our senses
  • Aging exercises so that we can become clearer about how to assess the relative age of sign that we find

A Tracker's


© Nate Harvey, 2015