Out of Doors in Canada

The Scout's Lore of Tracks and Trails

A Page for Scoutmasters, Scouts and Others

December 1 1922
Out of Doors in Canada

The Scout's Lore of Tracks and Trails

A Page for Scoutmasters, Scouts and Others

December 1 1922

The Scout's Lore of Tracks and Trails

Out of Doors in Canada

A Page for Scoutmasters, Scouts and Others

IT IS one of life’s axioms that no man liveth unto himself. Our every act is recorded in some manner, shape or form and though we pass this way but once, we none the less

“Departing leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time.”

Each and every day the movements of any individual in a community can be easily traced. No matter how hard a man may try to hide his identity or his whereabouts, if he be righteous, the world will make a pathway to his door and, on the other hand, the most elusive criminal can eventually be brought to bay.

As with man, so with a broken twig, a tuft of hair on a bush and, above all, the imprint of a foot all tell their story and bear witness to the fact that some living creature has gone by. Tracks are footprints, traces are other testifying marks.

The Scout is always alert, his eyes are ever open and r.o trails escape his observation. Even as he is able to read “books

in the running brooks, sermons in stones,” so the merest sign in the great OUT-OF-DOORS will reveal to him intimate happenings in the lives of his many animal friends. In order that a Scout may make intelligent use of his powers of observation and, to use a colloquial expression, “put two and two together,” he must bear in mind a few fundamental points in tracking to making an exhaustive study of the form of each animal’s foot and the actions of the animal under varying circumstances.

It is commonly known that most animals are guided by scent when following a trail. It is probable that man originally had a much keener sense of smell than he has today, and that this sense has been practically lost through disuse, thus leaving him dependent upon his eyesight and his mental faculties when tracking. The dog, man’s friend and ally, “follows his nose,” while his master keeps his weather eye open and his reasoning clear.

Look into the Eye of the Sun

XX^HEN tracking a Scout must remember to look ’ ’ always into the eye of the sun, otherwise he will not get the true value of the shadows. If he goes down to a stretch of sand or mud and looks on the sunny side, he will see a mass of tracks which would not be obvious from another angle. This advice, therefore, to always look into the eye of the sun, cannot be over-stressed.

When a particular track has been discovered, the Scout must put his mind, as it were, into that of the animal he is tracking. For example, following the tracks of an otter, the boys says to himself “Where does an otter live?” “In the water” comes the ready reply. Suppose the tracks were first seen by the farmyard, 300 yards from water, and then disappeared. Where can the boy pick them up again? He will naturally look for them down by the

In the case of the rabbit and the hare. The rabbit lives in a burrow. When he goes out, he is always ready to dart into a near-by coppice, and is seldom seen in the open field. But the hare, on the contrary, will race across

country and may make a “form” right out in the open.

It is never safe to guess or assume when tracking an animal to his lair. Until there is a logical reason for moving, the tracker should remain still. Were the quarry a lion, one false move on the part of the hunter might prove disastrous. Taking nothing for granted, he must work only on hard fact as shown by the trail, keeping his eyes open and his mouth shut. Boys are apt to do the reverse.

Tell-Tale Grass

GRASS is a great track-recorder, and a trail in the grass will also show the direction that an animal has been travelling. For instance if the Scout looks at a field of grass and there is a track across it appearing lighter than the surrounding grass, then he may safely conclude that whatever made the track has gone away from him. If, on the contrary, the track of grass appears darker than the rest, the animal has come towards him. This is a very safe and sure sign, and is based on the fact that the light is reflected on their surface when grass or bushes are bent down at an angle.

When the connection is lost, a Scout must never walk over the tracks. He should mark the spot of the last track seen and cast around in circles. A track that has been fouled is useless.

The best places to notice tracks are soft mud, particularly around ponds, and also sandy spots. Other traces are overturned stones, a scratch on a rock and, as in the case of the beaver, cut willows or tree stumps. Where there are thorn bushes, bits of hair or fur may often be seen, and the distance that the latter is from the ground indicates the height of the animal that passed that way.

In winter, of course, the snow is literally an open book of signs which those “who run may read”, and Scouts

Trails

wanting a winter hobby have only to hike out after every fresh snowfall, where they will find before them a positive net-work of trails to beunravelled.

In a light fall of wet snow each footmark is clearly defined but tracks become blurred if the snow is too soft. * -o If there is much wind, the tracks are liable to get covered,

so it is advisable to start out as soon as possible after the snow has fallen.

General Grouping of Tracks

THE usual appearance of any individual track is naturally due to the anatomy of the animal which made it. Four general groups of animals may, therefore, be considered.

To the first class belong those mammals whose length of body is in proportion to their height, such as the cow, dog, cat, deer, etc.

The second class comprises animals whose hind legs are much longer than their front legs, such as rabbits, squirrels, etc.

The third class is composed of those animals whose legs are very short as compared with the length of their bodies. These are the marten, otter, weasel, mink, stoat or ermine, who is really a stoat with his winter coat on.

Group four includes those whose legs are very short in proportion to the length of the body, and whose bodies, nevertheless, are disproportionately thick—such as the beaver, badger, porcupine and skunk.

Thus we see that well-proportioned animals make even tracks. Regardless of size, the only difference between the track of a dog and a cat is the mark of the dog’s nails, as shown in his footprint.

The jack-rabbit uses his hind legs as a spring, and the forelegs are merely balancers. The foot is so well furred that the track in the snow is seldom sharp; but nevertheless, the large prints of the hind feet, which are placed in advance of the forefeet, are unmistakable. A Tenderfoot, however, has been known to assiduously track a rabbit backward!

The tracks of the front and hind feet of the otter are rather unusually round. If in dry snow, the individual tracks should be invisible, the form of the trail, together with the drag made at intervals by the long tail, are proof positive of the erstwhile passing of an otter.

The beaver’s tracks are very characteristic of the fourth group mentioned above. The pigeon-toed footprints of this corpulent creature are very amusing to behold.

Various Gaits

THE normal walk is the basis of all tracking comparison ; but with mammals of the first class, we have also to consider the trot and the gallop. Horses and cattle, dogs and cats plant the feet diagonally in the walk and the trot. The hind foot, is placed in the track made by the forefoot of the same side, or nearly so. There are four footfalls, the first hind-foot following diagonally after the first forefoot. In the trot, the trail appears more like a straight line, as the animal tries to plant the feet more under the middle of the body to keep from swaying, thus hastening speed. In the gallop, which is a succession

of leaps or jumps, the hind feet are propellers, while the body is supported and braced by the forefeet. Therefore the former are placed side by side, while the latter fall one behind the other, thus giving a magnified copy of a rabbit’s tracks, as by the velocity of the movement the hind feet hit the ground in front of the forefeet.

This movement is the invariable rule with animals of the second class, whose hind feet are longer than the forefeet, thus making it easy to recognize each footprint.

The lope walk, a rather snake-like movement, is the usual gait of animals of the third group. The hind feet are not placed as far ahead of the forefeet as are those of the second mammal group, on account of the long body; but as the hind feet are placed in the same tracks as the forefeet, the trail made is of a pair of tracks side by side at regular intervals.

The animals belonging to the fourth group seldom hurry. They walk mostly, but occasionally leap. The individual tracks are close together and, as stated above, regarding the beaver, the toes of the hind feet point inward. In the case of the skunk his pursuer is usually the first to take to his heels!

Toe Dancers vs. the Flat-Footed

ANOTHER important point to consider in tracking is the part of the foot that made the imprint. Bears, porcupines, hares, rabbits, and, in fact, all animals that walk on the flat of the foot are called (plantigrade) or sole-walkers.

Those that walk on the toes, such as cats and dogs, are known as (digitigrade) or toe-walkers.

Cattle, horses, antelope, deer, goats, pigs, etc. walk on the point of the hoof and are therefore named (ungulates) or nail-walkers.

Thus the track of the flat-footed bear could not possibly be made by anything that walked on the tips of its toes. Let us suppose that our Tenderfoot sees the track of a sole-walker. He is way up nörth and being far from human habitation, knows that it cannot have been made by a dog or a cat. It is long in shape and ha3 the mark of five toes and nails. A bear perhaps! He pursues in haste. Curiosity and excitement banish all fear. With eager eyes he follows the trail and after miles of tramping, at last reaches the goal, only to find alas that the bear is a porcupine!

Tracks of Birds

WILD birds may for convenience be considered in three classes, Upland Birds, Waterfowls and Predatory Birds.

Among the first are the wild turkey, various kinds of grouse, pheasants, prairie chickens, quails and woodcocks.

One can tell where a turkey has been because he scratches up the ground cover in search of food, and roosts in his favorite tree. A distinctive feature of the pheasant is his middle toe, which makes an almost straight line in the track. The Ruffed and the Spruce or Blue Grouse spread their feet in similar fashion, and walk with the middle toes pointed considerably inward.

The webbed-feet of the waterfowl make their traces quite easy of recognition as a class, but it is difficult to distinguish the tracks of the various species of ducks and geese.

The owl’s tracks are very rarely seen, but under his favorite roosting tree are usually emitted from his mouth hair, hones, and other undigested fragments of his prey, known as “pellets”.

The hawk is often attracted by animitation of his mating call, cac-cac-cac.

In the case of birds of the first class, it is well to notice whether the bird hopped or whether it walked. If it hopped, the footprints will be together, in sets of twos. If it walked they will follow one after the other, left and right. Thus none ever saw a walking sparrow, while a hopping hen would most certainly be a comedy of

Finally, the Scout who contemplates making a study of this fascinating subject will do well to begin with the first fall of snow, as the winter is all too short for acquiring first-hand knowledge of the ways and wiles of our four-footed friends.