Finding joy in the outdoors since 1988
Just like fly tying is just as much of a hobby as fly fishing is, tracking is just as much a hobby as hunting itself. One of the most important choices you make as a hunter is where. Where to set up your stand/blind/traps is perhaps the choice most related to a successful harvest. I love to follow the prints of the deer and small game that flow through the areas I hunt. To see where they go and when they go. It's much the same as a CSI forensic technician that is piecing together evidence at a crime scene.
The first step is to look at the land in the most general sense. You need to find the cover, water, and transitional areas of the landscape. Today this step becomes even easier with google maps. Looking at a satellite image gives you a rough estimate of distance between resources, natural funnels, easier paths of travel and other variables that might play a part in your efforts. This is important: Every animal must drink water every day. Deer have a pretty far range so this means that sometime during their waking moments they will travel to drink water. Your job is simple, find the direction they come or leave this body of water.
Another resource to note when landscaping is food. Where is your game's food source? If you looking for deer then you need to be sure your identifying food sources active at the time you are going to set up your hunt. In the early parts of the year corn is a major staple, along with all sorts of berries and nuts. Later in the year the bean and beet fields provide secondary food, still after that remains sapling buds in the thick of winter. These variables will play a large role in where to begin your tracking. With cover and food now identified you know two points on a map. These two points provide you with critical information. Point A and point B, you now need to look for an area of travel between these points where room for travel is squeezed into a small space. That is the place where you should position yourself, we call it a funnel.
What's in a good funnel?
Well hopefully, your target game animal. The funnel is a strategic point in which the population that uses the space you've found is condensed into an area where they almost have to pass by or through your hunting zone. But what does the funnel look like? Don't think that it must start out wide and condense down into a small area between rock faces, you'll drive yourself nuts looking for the perfect funnel. The funnel still works far from perfection. When searching for your funnel you should be looking for these things:
Transitional areas are great places to hunt in that the biodiversity increases in these specific areas. If your after smaller game species like rabbit, using the traditional areas are key. Look for areas where one habitat meets or overlaps another. These areas are important because producer level herbs and smaller herbivores are provided with dense cover and quick access to their food resource. Often times rabbits like smaller softer herbs found on the fringe between fields and the mature forest. This is also an area where sunlight is plentiful enough to allow for growth of shrubs and thorn bushes. In these areas the brush piles build alongside food sources to provide a natural hotspot for busting bunnies.
Finding the trail
Once you locate the trails within your funnel it's time to look for a few different indicators.
It's a skill to know what "normal" looks like in the forest; and also noticing when something isn't.
The fine details
The practice of tracking is as much art as it is a science. It's a skill to know what "normal" looks like in the forest; and also noticing when something isn't.
Tracking seems to be an area overlooked by many. This skill quickly turns into a hobby and even better: it's free. You can improve your hunting harvest, spend time outdoors, and view the animals you've come to love and respect. If you have't put your tracing skills to the test, it's time to find out what your made of.
More to come soon!