Gastro Gnome - Eat Better Wherever

Tracking big game for hunting and follow up


New member
Jun 21, 2001
Rural Wa. State/ Ellisras South Africa
How many of you guys track game to locate it after it's shot VS tracking game to find it while hunting for it?

I have been tracking game for much of my life. As a kid running a trap line I did not know much about setting traps
but I knew if I could follow the game to it's hole I could set traps in the opening of the hole and catch it 99% of the
time. The other guys I trapped with used bait and trail sets and a multitude of other various sets. I spent my time
tracking game to it's hole and setting up there.

I was not the most successful trapper. I was actually a poor trapper by Expert trapping standards. I could however
follow the tracks and trails left by game better then those guy catching most of the game.

A lot can bee seen by the tracks that most people ignore or don't even consider. I was after a raccoon which I had
never seen but I knew it the middle finger or toe of it's right hind foot missing. I saw it's track all the time. I also
caught a fox with a deformed front paw which twisted out at a funny angle. I knew this guy like a friend. After I
caught him it was strange, I had followed his adventures for a couple winters before.

When tracking game as a follow up I have seen hundreds of times were the animal I am following is favoring one leg.
When we come to an area with dozens of the same kinds of tracks I always revert back to the childhood learned idea
of seeing what makes the track I'm following unique. I have managed to sort out tracks like this almost all the time.

I noticed stride lengths and limps or light steps on a certain foot. I also found that because an animals(or human)
weight shifts when turning or looking one direction or another you can see from a last track which direction the animal
is going to go even if you cannot see the next track. Cutting a stick the stride length of the animal will allow you
locate the next logical place a step will be. There will always be something disturbed there and this may allow you to
place the stick and find the next step so on and so forth.

The weight shift an animal will have is always reflected in it's foot prints. I have walked 100's of miles behind my
goats while they are in my pack string. I can see their tracks vary with every action they make. This too has helped
me to understand tracks when hunting or following up game.

One of my friends in South Africa who is a great hunter and tracker told me years ago that you can tell more from a
track then you can from seeing the animal. If you see a quick glimpse of game in the bush but cannot tell if it was
male of female, old or young, healthy or sick from the visual you can tell quite a bit from the trail it leaves behind.

You can tell it's sex with experience, if it is limping or if all the tracks are pressed into the earth at the same depth. If
it was able to jump and land without a problem. One glimpse of the antelope gives a second or two to absorb
everything given. Or does it?

The trail it leaves will give you quite a bit of information. Long lasting information that you can study and follow. Look
carefully at each track and find something about it that will make it different or identifiable from others of the same
size and species.

It was hard for me in the beginning to tell all the different species of tracks apart in Africa. Hoofs are hoofs right?
Heck no! They are actually difficult to tell apart until you study the differences between tracks of the same species.
Then the ones made by other species become real easy to distinguish.

My friend Dave said to me once when we were tracking an Eland bull we had not seen yet, following his tracks are so
easy compared to the Bushbucks he was doing a few days earlier in the riverine bush. When we were following this
track for several hours we were getting close and you could easily see the "freshness" of the tracks as we were
gaining on them.

We saw several tracks and he said they were looking over there and he pointed to the right. I could see the tracks
easily but I found it hard to tell they were looking a certain direction. When we walked over to see what was there
you could see where the ground was disturbed by a small group of Red hartebeest. It was easy to see the Eland
spooked the hartebeest and that is what the Eland were looking at. That was great, I could see what an animal was
looking at and it was there probably an hour before me!

He said to me when we get back to camp I will show you a trick to learn how to tell the direction an animal is looking.
I was very curious to learn this "magic" trick.

When we were back to camp he said to me take off your shoes and socks. Then stand on this big flat rock next to
the pool. Ok done, my feet were hot and sweaty and the rock felt ice cold. He said to me stand very still and look to
the right by moving only your head. Tell me if you feel that cold rock on other areas on the sole of your foot.

Sure enough I could feel "my track" change by moving my head, when I moved right and left from my waist up it was
a big difference. When looking at a track you can see the weight shift from the feet of an animal. Granted you need a
good sandy or firm muddy media but it is not as hard as it seems to do this. He showed me a couple tracks months
later while tracking an wounded impala. He said it was real sick and it's head was hanging down. He showed me the
tips of the hooves spearing straight down on the front feet and the normal track has a nearly flat pressure from the
bottom of the hoof to the surface of the earth. Hmmmm I could clearly see the difference but would never have
noticed it unless I was told. Within 100 yards we can see the Impala standing and coughing with it's head down and
walking slowly away. I finished it off for the client who was waiting in the truck. When we walked up to the impala we
could see clearly the tracks made which confirmed all our thoughts while looking for him and following his trail.

Later in the weeks of hunting I would study tracks for much more then the species identification. To this day When I
look at tracks I follow much slower then others who are also tracking the same animal because I probably read much
more into what I am looking at then I need to. I have also found that I will on occasion be off in another completely
different direction then the others and when we were all about to give up I will see a spot of blood, or where the sick
animal has laid down.

There is a lot to be said for very slow and deliberate tracking with indepth study of each track to see something that
makes it different then others of the same species.

So many people will just race along the track and then it runs out and they stop!...... In that time they have walked
over all the evidence! Anyhow, I guess this is rambling on and on but Tracking game is very close to my heart and I
think it is so big a part of hunting before and after you shoot. Some of the people I admire the most in the hunting
community are those that get into it at this level.

The reloading, special optics, and raingear, caliber choices, bullet construction, and all the other misc "hardware"
along with the sub MOA groups are fine but that is not hunting to me. walking in the bush and learning things like
what birds will start calling when they see a coyote or a bear, or which direction the wind will be in the evening VS
the Morning in the mountains. The tracking, and the natural history of the habitat is where I gain most of my
enjoyment of the hunt. jj


New member
Dec 23, 2000
Good stuff JJ.
I really like trying to get into the mind of the animal I'm tracking. Several times while tracking a deer and the tracks dissapere on hard rock I've looked around and ask myself, where would I go if I was that deer ? I pretend to be the deer and go where comman sense takes me and bingo, I find the tracks again.
Next time I go to the hills, I'll try lookink for differences in side of track depth, and guss what what the animal was looking.


Grand poopa
Dec 9, 2000
Boise, Idaho
JJ In Africa with the Desert like sand (Just guessing here
) I think It might be a bit easier then to track in the mountains covered wit hPine needles and leaves...

I do think More of us should pay more attension to things, ESPECIALY ME
I watch videos all the time on Bush trackers and am amaised that they can "SNIFF" out a animal in africa and locate it. I would like to see this first hand real soon.......