The first installment in this three-part eFoodsDirect survival tracking series introduced the concept of reading human footprints and movements in the woods. Knowing who you are sharing a trail with, or learning as much as possible about prints found near the perimeter of your prepper retreat, is information that could save your life in a survival situation.
Key prints refers to the most recent footprints found in a given area. The average shoe size of an American male is 10 ½. The average shoe size of an American female is 8 wide. The majority of women in the United States wear shoes between sizes 6 ½ and 9 ½. This makes large female feet just a tiny bit smaller than the average man’s foot, making it harder to determine the sex of key prints. Male feet tend to be wider, but not always, as the average female shoe size reveals.
Determining print size in inches is a simplistic and long-used method of determining the sex of the person who left the tracks. Knowing what size your feet are in inches will help pinpoint the exact size of the key prints. Place a twig next to your foot and break it off to match the size as closely as possible. A size 8 women’s shoe is 9.5 inches long, and a men’s size 10 ½ shoe is about 10.75 inches long, making the average male foot nearly one foot long. From the bottom of the stick to the top, use a two-finger width to notch basic measurements with a knife. The width of two fingers is about equal to about 1 ½ inches. Using your body as a ruler will not foster exact measurement that will earn you an A in a math class, but it will allow for ballpark measurements of any prints that you encounter in the woods.
Military snipers have also perfected what has been deemed as the “box method” to enable the counting of prints to determine how many people were walking together.
To use the 36-inch box method, use the sides of the trail or road as the exterior parameters of your “box.” Measure a cross section of the box so that it encompasses 36 inches in length. The footprint measurement twig will come in handy here as well. Now count each print or indentation inside the box and divide that number by two. The answer gives you a close estimate of the number of people who made the prints in the box. Don’t rely on math alone; use the naked eye to match up the number of prints with the type of shoes or boots that made the impressions.
The stride method can also be used to determine the number of people who created key prints on a trail. Look for prints that match in size, shape, and location to see the stride pattern made. A stride is two paces, or steps. A stealthy individual may try to make two sets of tracks to make it appear that more people were actually in the group. Watch for signs of displacement along the sides of the trail to determine whether or not any member of the group doubled back and walked the same route a second time.
Signs of displacement may be slight and may require keen observation to detect. Look for moss, sticks, foliage, rocks and vines that are not necessarily broken but appear to be separated from like items, scuffed from being touched, or could have snagged a bit of clothing or bandage.
Patches of grass that are leaning or bent against the grain of the grass around it are also signs of displacement. When my rescued Sulcata tortoises walked about after a storm broke part of their large fenced enclosure, the lay of the grass is how I found them. Because the inclement weather had already disturbed the rock trail, an important visual tracking clue was lost. Average tracking skills would not have saved the life of my tortoise — he walked home hungry the following morning. Continually practicing your preps and advancing all of your tracking skills can have an impact on your survival during a SHTF disaster. Additionally, weather will almost always play a significant role in not only your ability to see prints, but to gauge displacement along a trail.
Animals can also help in determining displacement along the trail. Even if footprints do not appear to have deviated off the path, intermingled critter prints might be trying to tell you a different story. If you encounter a host of prints from rabbits, turtles, snakes or other woodland creatures near or over the human prints, humans may have gone into, and possibly back out of, the forested area at least once while traversing the trail. Don’t forget to look up. Panicked birds in the trees can also be signs of displacement when disrupted by humans, especially during or after a struggle or gunshot.
Insects do not necessarily leave prints, but a change in their normal pattern of behavior may be detected if you bend over and watch closely. If an anthill has been stepped on recently, the ants will flurry about for up to 15 minutes before calming and starting to work on a new mound. Spiderwebs dangling out of shape and frenzied bees are also signs you should notice when tracking.
Imagine your key prints disappear into a creek, stream or pond, so all is lost, right? Not necessarily. Although attempting to determine an exit point from a water entry is difficult, it is not impossible. If you pay keen attention, some sign of activity will be present unless the person being tracked dove into the water from a rock above. Look for a disruption in algae, water lilies, water plants, grasses, and rocks in and around the water. The footprints going into and out of the water will most likely depict a pattern of a sliding foot, which often appears as a distorted or elongated footprint shape. Jumping a foot or so to get into or out of the water is another stealthy anti-tracking tip, so do not limit your displacement and print search to just the water’s edge. When water has been disturbed by movement on the bottom, the dirt or sand will swirl around and cloud the water. You can view this displacement for only a few moments to several minutes before it resettles.
Read part 3 of the eFoodsDirect tracking series to learn more about wound and weather factors involved with assessing prints.