A Tactical Approach by Kevin A. Gardner
With winter time upon us and a real shortage of outdoor activities to keep us going through the non-active months, why not spend some time honing some of those outdoor skills that can be truly helpful next fall when you are in need of a “tactical approach”
Mother Nature has a way of teaching us lessons all year long. We, however, are not always tuned in to her instruction. Nature has been given to us at eye level and seldom do we realize how fortunate we are to have such a gift and learn from it. Human and wildlife interactions are everyday commonplace in our modern world. Deer pass in front of our cars, turkey gather in a field corner behind our home or maybe a bear passes within arms reach of our deerstand. Whatever the case may be, we are able to have access to wild animals and the evidence of their activities within a short drive of our homes.
Wildlife evidence is a great learning tool for the outdoorsperson. When using the term “evidence “ I am referring to the disturbances left behind by the animal that used a given area you are observing. Perhaps the evidence may be in the form of droppings or rubs, maybe a shrub that was thrashed by a rutting bull elk or paw marks from a feeding deer. Whatever form of disturbance or evidence is present, it is a great learning opportunity for getting to know your wildlife.
Tracks left by passing animals are one of the greatest learning tools in the outdoors. Being a skilled tracker or even a semi-skilled tracker gives you an incredible edge when trying to locate game for hunting, photographing or even locating a wounded animal after a marginal shot. There is probably no better time of year to learn tracking and tracking techniques than in the winter months. Rain or snowstorms are very helpful when trying to learn how to track. They are on the other hand a detriment when in the process of tracking. A fresh bed of snow will allow you to see all forms of wildlife movement great or small. Taking the time to study tracks and monitor their deterioration can be a learning experience in itself.
Let’s say you want to locate deer in a woodlot during the hunting season. In your quest you happen upon a set of tracks left anywhere from an hour earlier to half a day earlier. Wouldn’t it be useful knowledge to be able to accurately assess the time frame in which the tracks were made? Even more useful would be exacting knowledge to be able to be 90% sure of your estimation. How can you get that knowledge? . Study tracks that you can say for sure the time they were made and monitor how they deteriorate over known periods of time in known weather conditions. When a deer runs by your stand, make a mental note of the track form and feel. As the day passes go back to the track and observe how it has changed, how it “feels “ to the touch. The same applies to broken brush or limbs nipped by a feeding animal. Note the discoloration over a known amount of time. You may need to come back to the site for several days to get a better idea of the process. This type of activity can easily be done right in your own front yard as well.
The imprint in a flowerbed or a nipped branch on a tree you pass very morning on the way to your car for work can be the subject of observation.
If being an observer of these types of disturbance is going to be worthwhile to you, very accurate noting of prevailing weather conditions will be an absolute must. I would recommend making a test area of ones own yard for research purposes. As I had mentioned flowerbeds and gardens make a great track test area, as they are normally not in use this time of year. Use different locations throughout the test zone to simulate the different weather situations. For example, an area blocked from the wind by your home is still exposed to the weather conditions, however the different deterioration speed can be of significance when summing up the research results.
As tracks deteriorate they change size and form. Knowing or even having a really good idea of how much a track will change over a period of time, will assist you in aging them. Having a good weather history for the area you are observing is vital to accurately age the existing tracks you will come upon in your search. Spending time processing the track in your mind and utilizing the results may tell you that you need to look for a different area to continue searching or perhaps there may be animals just ahead and you need to slow your stalk.
Once tracks are located or “cut” you are now faced with following them to the source. When tracking an animal you need to find a balance between watching the track and looking ahead for the target. Some animals are notorious backtrackers, and must be credited as such and special considerations made for that event. Others are roamer s and may travel several miles in a seemingly strait line. Never walk on the tracks as it obliterates them and renders them useless for backtracking if necessary. When a track is lost, go back to the last “known” track and begin to make circles around it, growing larger and larger loops until the next track is located and the process can continue. Look for special features the track you are following may have in case it becomes mixed with other tracks of the same type. All of these skills will take considerable time and effort to perfect, so be patient and lean from the many mistakes you will make.
All of this information you gather will help you immensely when you encounter a track or broken branch in the woods when in pursuit of wildlife. Enabling you to be more precise on estimating the time frame, in which the disturbance was done, is one of the tools in an outdoorspersons “toolbox” that can make the difference between locating game and hunting game. The best time of year for honing these skills and gathering knowledge is at hand. Make the most of it and enjoy your resources.