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tracking people in the woods


Learning how to track (and not be tracked) could be a life-saving skill during a SHTF situation. This 3-part eFoodsDirect tracking series has focused on the skills that will enable beginning trackers to identify key prints and displacement of the natural environment. The basics of tracking are decidedly low-tech and have changed very little, if at all, throughout the decades. Once you’ve committed to memory the fundamentals of tracking, it is time to practice, practice, practice to increase your observation skills.

Wound Detection

Bleeding wounds can reveal far more than just the presence of a person on a trail or the direction they are moving. A trail of blood is perhaps one of the most obvious signs of displacement on a trail, but if you encounter that much blood while tracking, a dead body will likely be sprawled across the path not too far ahead.

If you are searching for a loved one or member of your tribe (mutual assistance group), determining their condition as you look for them will be at the forefront of your thoughts. Even if the bloodstains predict a serious wound, do not rush the tracking process, unless a trail of blood is exposed. Missing the signs of displacement along the trail could cause you to miss an otherwise easy-to-track individual.

Using bloodstains to gauge the severity of the wound of a possible foe can help you to develop a better plan to thwart the potential marauder. It can also help you determine their group’s level of determination to take what you have in an effort to help save their pal.


Unless an artery has been severed or a person has been shot, you will most likely discover a bloodstain, not a blood trail, when tracking. A bloodstain is the phrase often used to describe any type of smear, splatter, droplet, or deposit of blood onto something in the natural environment.

Bloodstains are typically found on the ground, as gravity pulls on the dripping or oozing liquid. A wounded person may make frequent stops to rest or to tend to the wound, placing the injured part of the body even closer to the ground. While tracking and looking for bloodstains and signs of displacement, keep your eyes peeled for likely rest spots, such as a rock large enough for a behind to sit on it or a comfy-looking log. If it is summer or late spring, the wounded person would probably look for a shady spot and/or one near a water source.

Attempts to cover up the bloodstains left on the grass or dirt can also aid even a novice tracker. The signs will not exactly be obvious and “jump right out at you” but won’t likely be deeply hidden either. If the wound is on the arm or face, bloodstains might be found on chest or eye-level leaves or branches near the trail or resting spot. A piece of torn bandage found stuck to a twig or bush should not be touched, but definitely examined thoroughly. If the bloodstains found appear to be formed in similar size, as if they had steadily dripped, the wound was most likely on the trunk of the body. If the bloodstains are in a pattern that suggests they were formed in a distinctively forward, backwards or sideways motion, an arm or a leg was likely wounded.

Sliced arteries pump or pour blood outside of the body at fairly regular intervals; lemonade pouring from a pitcher is the least gruesome way to describe the blood flowing from a wounded artery. An injured vein does not pump blood the same way; it flows at a slower yet steady pace.

Blood expelled from lung wounds is commonly described as being “frothy” or “bubbly” in nature and pinkish in color. Head wounds bleed heavily, even when the injury is not worthy of stitches. Blood from such a wound usually looks thicker than from injuries to other parts of the body. Some have described head wound blood as feeling “more slimy” than blood from other wounds. If you plan on testing bloodstains for overall stickiness, please plan on packing a pair of latex gloves in your pocket; germs kill quickly during a long-term disaster.

Abdominal wounds are routinely referred to as the “smelly wounds.” A serious abdominal injury typically causes the release of digestive fluids, which have an unpleasant odor. This type of wound often produces a light red, but not pink, shade of blood.

Wound Displacement Signs

Look for signs that a makeshift crutch is being used to support the injured person as they walk the trail. Small round spots in the dirt or mud would likely indicate the individual is walking with the aid of a branch or other found object that can help support their weight.

Prints that show an uneven depth could indicate the person is favoring one foot or leg over another due to an injury. It could also mean one is leaning while walking to cradle a wounded arm or shoulder.


Mother Nature can either be your best friend or worst enemy while tracking. Rain can create mud, which allows you to find and examine tracks far more easily. At the same time, it can destroy signs of displacement and bloodstains along the trail.

On a nice sunny day, a tracker can look at the signs placed before them and gain a better understanding of how long they have been present on the trail. When blood has been exposed to the heat and sun, it turns a dark brown shade and hardens, just like a scab does on a cut. Disturbances on bushes or trees that expose the bark or sap also grow harder when the sun has been shining on them.

A fresh footprint left unspoiled by precipitation will most often show evidence of dirt or sand along the edges falling at least slightly into the concave space created in the ground. If the rim of the print appears dry or crusty, it is potentially at least one hour old. However, if the print was left in drought-ridden soil or in a hot environment and exposed to direct sunlight, a fresher print may appear to show a false age.

tracking human footprints

While a heavy or long steady rain will all but destroy the key prints, a light rain will merely moisten and round its edges. Being aware of recent weather patterns is always helpful when tracking. If a light snow or rain occurred earlier, but then the precipitation ended and the temperature rose, gently touch the print to gauge both its firmness and dryness level. If the prints have a small amount of water or moisture in the middle after a light snow, the flakes likely had time to melt as the thermometer rose, which means the print is more than an hour old.

Strong winds will almost assuredly make detecting signs of displacement impossible, but footprints should remain nearly intact. The wind will blow any loose leaves or nearby litter into the prints, yet it may also serve as a hardening agent and actually preserve the tracks. If it had not previously been windy, or only a little windy as you started tracking, there should only be small debris in the prints, and the hardening should be slight.

If a high wind had passed through earlier, larger litter will be present and not have had time to naturally blow away in the breeze yet. Look for signs that the debris may have destroyed the prints.

Committing these tracking skills to memory and practicing them should become a part of your overall preparedness plan. Cross-training is an integral part of any survival plan. The one tracking expert in the family or group could break a leg or be shot by the marauding hordes in the early days of the disaster. If only one, or even two, of the people in your group know a particular self-reliance skill, the safety of the tribe could be at risk. Learn, put your skills into practice, and then share your knowledge with your loved ones.

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