Why Walk with the Animal

Intuitive tracker illustration
It takes tracking to a whole other level. It’s not about identifying the animal or, for example, its gait. It’s having an actual connection with it. It’s on a much higher level. It’s like having a relationship. It’s intimate. ~Lori
You can’t separate tracks from the animals who made them. You can try, and most people do, but what about that particular animal and its place in the landscape? ~Wendy

STORIES
 

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  Kelly - Following a Bear

I was camping in Sequoia and went for a walk in the morning. At the other side of the bridge I saw some bear tracks. I started following them and doing my assignment, “be the animal”, so I wasn’t looking for every track, I was just trying to get into the head of the bear. I was moving pretty fast. I sort of fell into pace with the bear, I didn’t worry too much that I would lose him; I just kept running along and felt I was seeing the world through the bear’s eyes. He went off the track and down to the river where there was a series of step-stones and I did the same thing. I followed him through the water and scrambled up the slope and found his tracks at the top—so I was right! I followed him so far, to a riparian area that was shady and grassy and brushy. Then there was a patch of nettles [so I turned back]. I said "Thank you, that was fun!"

 

  Matt - Finding a Gray Fox

I come across a nice set of gray fox tracks skirting the edge of the road and a meadow. The tracks disappear either into disturbances from car tires or into the meadow just a few feet from the starting point. I calibrate through measurements, aging, observing soil movement, visualizing how the fox is moving, and then finally, I hold my hand over the clearest track.

I don't feel any temperature change, energy, or other sensation, so I get down on all fours and begin to move at the fox's level. But I'm stopped once again at the end of the trail. I feel a pull to return to the clearest fox tracks at the beginning, where I place my hand back over the tracks while on the fox's level. Suddenly I get a fleeting image of the fox moving in the meadow, off the road up ahead.  I open my eyes and mark the spot in the landscape.  Feeling suddenly quite connected, I place my hand back over the track, close my eyes, and get another fleeting image of the fox further on down the road. Have I asked for too much?

I cut trail to the first image. While I'm not sure where the fox went between here and the starting point, I find a definitive set of tracks there leading into the meadow, down into a draw, a logical hunting route for the fox, especially if it's trying to avoid the road. Without a clearer understanding of where the fox returned to the road in the second image, I follow the draw with my eyes, and then walk the road the 100 or so yards to where the fox's route in the draw might logically end. And sure enough, the fox tracks reappear at that point for the first time, coming back onto the road.

 

  Dave - Search and Rescue

During the search [for a lost person], even though practical methods weren't working, I had felt that intuitive tracking was out of the question for a search and rescue operation because of the [possible] consequences, and it would be difficult to convey this information to incident command without looking like some kind of medium so I didn't check in with the trail. There wasn't any trail to check in with. Still, I did get an intuitive read during my sign cutting, utilizing an expanding spiral from the point last seen. At the time, I didn't put much stock in it for the above mentioned reasons. What was interesting is where I got the intuitive read was in the same location where I got a significant concentric circles read. A bird was startled from some point ahead of me, about 100 yards. I also heard some rustling noises in the same direction. You'd think that these two reads, intuitive, and concentric circles, would have alerted me to be more aware and to investigate. No, I was stuck on my sign cutting route and looking down at the ground. Turns out we found the subject in this exact location later in the search, using a grid search technique. The lesson I take away from this is that intuitive tracking really does work, if you work it. And practice, practice, practice.