Diary 9

The Science of tracking part II

    The science of tracking; part 2. As I wrote in the first part about tracking, that just touched on some points for tracking, the true science behind it comes from, learning animals and their movements, to the weather and the land you’re on, you need to know fairly well, as its best to learn how one area of land is during different condition’s. Now if you have an 80 acre shoot or an 800 acre, all land is different in the way it drains and dries, and also the soil and plants can change field to field. A prime example of this is one of my shoots, comprised of reclaimed moorland, now there is around 85 acres , of good fields and a small granite quarry now disused, there are several slag heaps(slag is waste sand from quarry production). Dog print.    Cat print. And a river gully with granite rocks on both sides, so just in this small area there is a lot to contend with. To start with the soil is a peat mix that is dark black in colour and holds a hell of a lot of water, but dries very easily and then bakes hard in summer time, so tracking can be 2 extremes in the same place, now say we have had rain 2 days ago mild temps of 11° with a gentle breeze at 5 mph. Any track made in that time starts to dry as soon as it’s made, the environmental conditions dictate how long it will be a perfect track, with these conditions in mind, we will say that a fox travelled through here at some point during the night, allowing for a dew point (night temps and humidity) of 30 % which is a day temp of 11° and a night temp of 5°, the dew falls as an even layer on grass but more on stones or colder surfaces. And drips of rocks and trees, sunrise is 6am and morning temperature is 6° and rising slowly, we find the track around 7am. The track has dew on it so was made before sunrise in the 2 coldest hours, around 3-5 am, these are known as the dead hours, as many people sadly die during these times when the entire world is still and quite. The track if formed any earlier would have small pits in in where the dew and other moistures penetrate the track itself, So we now have a timeline that the fox came through between 3 and 6 am, 3 hours sounds a lot, but if you can track it further it will then lead you to other areas and be able to see where it travelled during its journey and that way you will see fresher prints and confirm the time, as the day warms up, it is best to track in the morning as the long sun light helps highlight and tracks in the ground. Tracking during the rest of the day with the sun up high does not show off the tracks as well, there is a huge following of trackers around the world and here in the UK, we have a few greats and some very good trackers, These people do not boast about their skills but use them every day whether they stalk deer or offer pest control for land owners.   Dog print. As a tracker I hone my skills daily, you see we are always looking for tracks, clues or signs that someone or something has come through an area, for many years there have been sightings of “big cats” now looking at the following images you can clearly see a dog track has 2 toes together followed by 2 more on either side of then centre pad. As the cat tracks have the centre pad with 4 toes spread evenly around the top half of the print, it can sometimes look like a cat track from large dog breeds as their weight is about the same.     Cat print. Please remember these cats have lived around us for nearly 40 years and can cover vast distances in their home ranges, eating deer and small game birds and possibly very successfully breeding with each other, as they have been heard to call to one another from time to time, with many females having home ranges and males crossing between them. Now for those amongst you who think I’m talking nonsense, I have seen cats and their tracks first hand, and being a fairly big built chap (6’ 2”) with a stride of just over 6 feet (Gait is when all legs have moved once). I can measure most tracks, using my own stride as reference, and have found these cats stride is around 1 meter, and the full gait is just over 2 meters, that’s over 6 feet distance from moving all 4 legs . Now bearing in mind an adult cat maybe cougar or leopard weighs in at around 60 kilos or 130lb, they are evolved into a prime hunting machine, and can take pro trackers 3 or 4 days to find them.     Cat print in sand. Now Many of you will be thinking “he’s talking crap”, but I assure you there are many people out there who have seen and spotted cats, myself included, now please don’t go out looking for them on your own, just in case you do surprise one as may be taking a nap, they don’t wake up well. Right so back to tracking, you find a track in the mud, there are a few questions you need to ask to get the information you need.

  • How long has the track been there?
  • What made the track?
  • What are the current weather conditions?
  • What were the weather conditions for the last 2 days?
  • How deep is the track?
  • How far apart are the prints?
  • How deep are they?
  • Are there any others around them?