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Wild Animal Tracking

Just as man leaves signs of his passing, whether it be his footsteps, tire tracks, land cultivation, or even dwellings showing past civilizations, so to do most animals.

I believe that the majority of people live their entire lives without knowing about the animals that live around them .Most people know about the more domesticated animals that we have as pets or use on farms, and the smaller animals, such as squirrels, that have slowly become so accustomed to man, that they no longer try to avoid contact with us.

What alot of people don't realize, is that there is a whole world of animals that they probably never see except as an occasional blur in their car headlights as they speed down the road.

It's not that hard to learn about most animals. You can start by simply walking into the woods, or around the area you live in.

One of the best places to begin your search is around a lake or stream. All animals need water to survive, and usually the ground surrounding a water source is soft enough to make out the tracts an animal leaves.

By far, the most common wild animal tracks you will find in the south is the white tail deer. Deer, being hoofed, leave some of the most prominent tracks in the wild. A female deer or does' hoof print generally looks alot like a traditional heart shape, with the large rounded end to the rear of the print and the smaller point to the front.

A male deer, or bucks', hoof print changes as it gets older. When young, the hoof is separated slightly, and you can just make out the dew claws ( two small oval imprints ) right behind the hoof print. As the deer grows older, not only does the print get bigger, but the hooves will start to separate more and more.

In a field or wooded area, if you look around long enough you will probably find a deer trail. Deer travel all day between the area they bed down in, and their favorite watering hole, trying to find food. Once they determine that a route is safe, they will continue to travel the same route every day until the are spooked from the area.

The majority of the trails found, will be between four and ten inches wide, depending on how long it has been used and the number of deer that use the trail. As you follow the trail pay close attention to the sides and you can find where individual deer veer off to forage for food on their own.

Because deer are not traditionally a dangerous animal, and the fact that they are quite numerous in the south, make them a perfect choice for learning to track.

Another animal that is fun to track is the wild boar. You must be more aware of your surroundings when tracking a boar, because unlike the deer, a boar is not as easily spooked  by noise, and can be very dangerous if confronted.

The hoof print of a wild boar are more rounded than those of a deer. The dew claws are more pointed, and they extend much farther out to the sides of the hoof.

Wild boar get the majority of their food by digging or rooting up the ground. When finished rooting in the area, wild boar have a tendency to wallow in the torn up ground, and even rub on the trees and score them with their tusks. The fact that boars tear up the ground and are heavy enough to leave good tracks, make them another ideal animal to track.

One of the most difficult, and probably one of the most dangerous animal to track is the big cat.
The mountain lion or the puma family ( including the cougar and panther ) of cats, are some of the most elusive animals in America. They are wary of travelers and try to keep as much distance as possible from man. Occasionally you will hear of a person that startles or accidentally gets too close to the cats young, and then the cat will attack. Something that you have to keep in mind if you try to track the animal.

Canine and feline tracks are very similar. Cats generally appear to have a larger heel pad and they normally will retract their claws when moving. Another important note is that almost all cats will cover their droppings. With these things in mind it should be easier to tell the difference between a large dog or coyote. ( both will show four toes and a heel print, the toe print of a cats' track will normally be farther apart than the canines. )

The hardest part of tracking a large cat is finding the first print. At one time the big cats inhabited most of the United States, but now, they are gone from much of the territory. Finding a big cat in the wild, particularly in areas surrounding human inhabitants is very rare, but it does happen.

I remember as a kid, we were hunting raccoons on the Flint River in central Georgia,  a D.N.R. ranger approached us and stated that a couple had seen a large black cat behind their house, a mile or so from our campsite, and that they had indeed found large cat prints in their yard.

Over the years I have heard more than a few other sightings in the areas surrounding the river, and although most people, including the D.N.R. ranger, have told me there are no big cats inhabiting the state, it was noted just recently that the Southern Panther is listed on the endangered species list in the state of Georgia, show that there are at least a few of the panthers left in the state.

It just goes to show that instead of always listening to other people, sometime the best way is to try to do it yourself.
Tracking animals is not just an enjoyable way to spend time outdoors. Hunters will greatly increase their chances of taking game in the wild if they have appreciation of where animals live and how they travel in their own world.

---- W.J. Prescott , Staff Writer IFRS

Editor's Note: On a recent overnight in the Flint River area: we observed the unmistakable track of the Eastern Cougar. While the population in this area may be small - it does seem to exist.
In another related incident, a large cat has been observed along a roadway cutting across the southern part of Spalding County Georgia. This has been corroborated by two individuals without prior knowledge of the others admission.
So, keep your eyes open and if you see a cougar: please report it to the magazine.