Visual Man Tracking in action. Applying the skills of a Visual Man Tracker. A Search and Rescue Tracker scans the area for clues that show spoor 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.
A Tracker uses his eyes to visually locate clues generated by the missing person 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 person may be accidentally dropped or even left on purpose.
- Sticks and branches. Broken branches or symbols built on the ground showing direction of travel
- Footprints. The most common evidence a tracker scans for during a search.
Use your natural senses in Visual Man Tracking
Vision is not the only tools 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
- ageing spoor - time line
- trailing - following spoor
- locating subject
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
Subjects Description and Information
A description of the missing person is vital to Searchers. When spoor is found the tracker must decipher this information. Add 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 distinguishing 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.
Ageing spoor is distinguishing 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 "ageing spoor". Trackers study a variety of objects such as twigs, grasses, leaves, and tracks. And then 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 Ageing Spoor
In this example we are ageing 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. Then we can answer the important question with surety. Yes. The campfire fits the missing persons timeline.
Weather has a profound effect on spoor. Sunlight bleaches color, wind can distort, rain washes the track away. As spoor ages sign recognition becomes more difficult.
Going Deep into Ageing 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 close at the burned wood in the campfire. We determine through ageing techniques. We know the sticks have been freshly gathered.
A close inspection and ageing of the abandoned fire, proved 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 Trailing a lost person you find 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.
In the best tracking circumstances spoor is easily found and trailable. But the reality is the opposite. Trailing is a mix of clues and nothing found. Human tracks disappear under grasses or removed by weather. Or often hard compacted ground makes it difficult to impossible for trailing.
Trailing in Difficult Ground
Gravel roads and rock are especially difficult to trail in. Some soils such as compacted clay washed by rain is an example of difficult substrate to trail.
In the photo below. The Man Tracker recognizes the Cedar branchlet as 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 have a chance to begin an earnest search in the correct area.
Where was the person last seen (PLS)? Did they leave a note of 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 help in locating the missing person.
By recognizing spoor and sign. The skilled visual man tracker has a good chance of locating the missing hiker.
Man tracking takes constant training. It takes time and dedication to become proficient in the skills required. Visual Man Tracking is rewarding.
My tracking classes highly benefit SAR volunteers who wish to increase their skill in Man tracking. And for Government agencies who wish to increase their teams ground tracking ability.