My highest aspiration as a young boy was to be like an Apache scout, looking at one track and being able to tell the animal, the sex, how long since the animal came by and what the animal was doing. Growing up in the sandhills in S.C, identifying animal tracks, trying to follow them and deciphering their movements became part of my DNA.
My knowledge of tracks was hard earned with more unsolved mysteries than solved. Some mysterious tracks and signs took years to decipher, but my base of knowledge grew by watching animals and then going over to look at their tracks as well as reading all animal and nature books available. Learning this way, you don’t forget things, which is why I am highly dubious of all the iPhone apps that make it too easy/quick to identify birds, plants, and tracks. What is learned so effortlessly is quickly forgotten. (Stepping off my soapbox now)
My best friend and I would track each other, doing our best to lay down a confusing trail which would throw the other off. We soon upped the ante by trying to ambush one another with a well-placed BB gun shot while the other was following the trail. This game did wonders for paying attention to the terrain while tracking. The few times that it snowed in S.C., we tracked and harassed all the local wildlife, finding their dens and lays and feeding areas. It was almost too easy, those wonderful days.
Then in 1978, Reader’s Digest did a condensed version of The Tracker, a true story of Tom Brown Jr, a man who had lived my dream as a child and was trained to track by an Apache. To say I was inspired is an understatement on the level of saying Yellowstone National Park is a so-so place to visit. I vowed, much like Scarlet O’ Hara in the fading evening light, that as God is my witness, I shall meet this man or die.
It took me about four years to make this happen when I attended Tom Brown’s school at the age of 18 up in Asbury, New Jersey. He was an enigma and not Mr. Friendly, but the real deal when it came to tracking. My passion for tracking only increased during the week I spent at his school, though it was a little surreal to be surrounded by a group of people who were into all the things I was and who looked at me as normal. It was a nice contrast to my brother’s girlfriends who looked at me like a two-legged, hoofless pig when I came in from tracking.
Now skip some 30-odd years and I am still tracking. Umstead State Park has a lot to offer in that department. On a 70-yard stretch of Crabtree creek, I saw these tracks. Enjoy the pictures, make a guess of what they are, and check your guesses with the answers at the bottom. Most importantly, get out tracking yourself. There is no better way to connect with nature.
Please email me at email@example.com with any pictures of tracks that have stumped you, or if you want to find some good places to go tracking. One warning though: it can be highly addictive. If you want to see great trackers in action, go here.
The more you know, the more you see,
Otter with 13 inches gait
Otter Roll Area
Great Blue Heron
Beaver Scent Mound
Frog unknown species
Can you see the muskrat, coon, and coyote tracks?
The Umstead Coalition is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
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