Visual Man Tracking in action: A Search and Rescue Tracker, applying ancient tracking skills, scans the area for clues that show "Spoor," or evidence, of a lost person's trail.
What is Visual Man Tracking?
"Visual Man Tracking" is an ancient hunting technique still in use today for locating and trailing wildlife. But in modern parlance, you will most often find this term related to Tactical and Search and Rescue Mantracking.
What exactly is "Spoor?"
According to Wikipedia, "Spoor is a trace or a set of footprints by which the progress of someone or something may be followed. Spoor may include tracks, scents, or broken foliage." ~Wikipedia
A Tracker uses his eyes to visually locate clues generated by the missing person's movement over the ground. The arrow symbol made of sticks in the photograph is from an actual search. The person who left this clue for searchers had her thinking cap on.
Examples of clues
- Clothing can be snagged on bushes leaving a bit of colored thread along the trail.
- Personal Items: Belongings of lost persons may be accidentally dropped or even left on purpose.
- Sticks and branches: Broken branches or symbols built on the ground show the direction of travel.
- Footprints: The most common evidence a tracker scans for during a search is the lost person's tracks.
Use your natural senses in Visual Man Tracking
Vision is not the only tool used. All our natural human senses are employed in man tracking.
- listening - the missing person calling for help
- smell - perfume - cigarette - campfire smoke
- voice - calling out - yelling
- touch - hot & cold
- vision - seeing spoor
Elements of Visual Man Tracking
- Spoor recognition & identification
- aging Spoor - timeline
- trailing - following Spoor
- locating subject
Subject's Description and Information
A description of the missing person is vital to searchers. When Spoor is found the Tracker must decipher this information by adding the pieces together, and decide if the Spoor fits the identification elements of the missing person.
"The number one (1) most important element in Visual Man Tracking, is to distinguish Spoor belonging to the subject of interest from Sign that is unrelated.
Is Spoor fresh or old? A Visual Man Tracker can differentiate between fresh and old Spoor. Aging spoor means to distinguish Sign that looks promising, from the real thing. But a trained Tracker can tell if a shoe print was laid down minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months before
How to Age Spoor
To understand "Aging Spoor," Trackers study a variety of objects such as twigs, grasses, leaves, and tracks. They spend minutes, hours, and days watching the slow process of change or decay to the Spoor. Using this mental exercise over time, The Visual Man Tracker develops the ability to predict the age of Spoor with confidence.
Example of Aging Spoor
In this example, we are aging the remnants of a dead campfire. The campfire is in the middle of a heavily rocked logging road.
The question is; was the campfire made by our lost person? Did it fit the timeline? How do we know?
Applying the Skills of a Visual Tracker
- Is there a strong smell of wood smoke in the air?
- Are the ashes, charcoal, and burned sticks still warm to the touch?
- Do we see the subject's fresh prints in and around the fire area?
If we answer Yes to these questions; we can then answer the important question with surety. Yes, the campfire fits the missing person's timeline.
Weather has a profound effect on Spoor. Sunlight bleaches color, wind can distort, and rain washes the track away. As Spoor ages, Sign recognition becomes more difficult.
Going Deep into Aging Sign
Using our campfire example, let's assume the campfire was cold. The ashes, charcoal, and sticks are cold to the touch. If there were shoe tracks in the ash, the rain had long since washed them away. However, we can still smell the faint scent of wood smoke in the air. The smell is subtle. But it's there. And if we look closely at the burned wood in the campfire, we determine through aging techniques, that the sticks have been freshly gathered.
A close inspection and aging of the abandoned fire proved the fire to be out. The Spoor fell within the timeline of the missing person. The conclusion? The campfire is Spoor from our lost person.
Visual Man Tracking is following, or "Trailing" clues left behind by the person's passage. The Spoor trail can be a single clue such as our campfire example, or a variety of Sign.
Spoor such as footprints, clothing, broken twigs, pushed-down grasses, a beer can, or in the case of a smoker, a freshly discarded cigarette butt, can be a clear Sign. In the best tracking circumstances, Spoor is easily found and available. But the reality is the opposite. Trailing is a mix of clues and nothing found. Human tracks disappear under grasses or are removed by weather. Often, the hard compacted ground makes it difficult to impossible for trailing
Trailing on Difficult Terrain
Gravel roads and rocky terrain are especially difficult for Trailing. Some soils, such as compacted clay washed by rain, are examples of difficult substrates to trail. In the photo below, the Man Tracker recognizes the Cedar branchlet as a Spoor left by the lost person. The Visual Tracker can recognize Spoor deliberately placed.
Locating the Missing Subject
There are many variables to locating a lost hiker. Valuable information is needed to begin an earnest search in the correct area. Where was the person last seen (PLS)? Did they leave a note indicating where they have gone hiking? Who saw them last? Were they alone or with someone else?
The questions are many and getting the right answers are key in locating the missing person. By recognizing Spoor and Sign, the skilled Visual Man Tracker has a good chance of locating the missing subject.
Track studies are an integral part of a student’s training in Visual Man Tracking. In these photo examples tracks show the direction of travel. Is the subject stepping straight ahead or to the left or right?
In what direction is the subject is going?
What happened here?
What does this photo tell us?
Tracking can be explained as interpreting human (or animal) presence and passage upon the landscape. The terms: Visual Man Tracking, Man Tracking, Trailing, and Spoor encompass all of the elements of ancient tracking skills but are most often used in more formal settings such as in Search and Rescue operations or by military tactical teams.
Successfully finding a lost person takes training. It takes time, hands-on practice, and dedication to become proficient in the skills required. Visual Man Tracking is rewarding.
Our tracking classes highly benefit SAR volunteers who wish to increase their skills and military teams to increase their teams' ground tracking ability.
If you can imagine actually finding a lost person, whose best hope lies in the success of your skills along with other dedicated Trackers, Life Song Wilderness Survival welcomes you to dive in, thrive, and master your tracking and survival skills.
Begin with First Circle Camp.