Tracking History

November 17th, 2011

Tracking History

Tracking has been with us since early hominids learned to read signs to get preferred prey within range of weapons or trap-snares. Since early weapons were more likely to wound prey than kill it outright, tracking would have been essential in following wounded or poisoned prey when the animal itself was out of sight. Knowledge was passed along through training and oral tradition.

As bands of humans proliferated, many societies encouraged raiding more successful neighbors to improve local nutrition. The use of tracking in reconnaissance prior to tribal raiding or pursuing successful raiders added new dimensions to the skill. Human prey could be aware of the sign they left behind, allowing them to disguise or conceal their sign; the size of the raiding/pursuing force would allow the development of cooperative tracking techniques rather than the lone hunter relying only on his own skill.

Since raiding existed among many cultures worldwide, modern societies could often find many men for whom tracking was an essential skill, which literally made the difference between living and dying by an enemy’s spear. Colonial-era armies made use of these “native trackers” as scouts and trainers to augment the skills of ranchers and hunters among the ranks.

Animal tracking as a skill persisted among hunters and ranchers until modern times, and starvation helped to select the best of them (starvation as natural selection). The fact that the United States and Canada developed (e.g. kept a frontier) later than Europe allowed them to maintain a domestic source of trackers into modern times. The most famous of these American scouts were the Apache Scouts who helped the US Army to capture the rebelling Chiricahua Apache band. This unit was dissolved in 1920. Internationally, examples of these “native trackers” still exist today, although reduction of habitat and the allure of easier lives have forced them into isolated pockets.

In between the World Wars, the British Army and the US Marines were involved in a series of small wars across the globe. Post-WW2, British Special Forces (SAS) learned tracking from the Iban tribesman of (Borneo) Indonesia. These skills contributed to the deadliness of these troops during the Malayan Emergency including the conflict with Indonesia, Kenya, and Yemen.

Rhodesian SAS/Portuguese in Africa use a mix of native trackers and their own skills (due to variable reliability of native trackers); U.S. Army Special Forces (USSF) in Vietnam and early Border Patrol also used native talent. The Border Patrol used resources from local ranchers and trappers. Later most BP agents became static leaving tracking to a very small percentage of its officers like Jack Kearney and Ab Taylor. Today, a dying art has recently gone through a re-birth and has been put into use by the Military, Law Enforcement, and Search and Rescue.

Anything that moves will leave some type of sign that indicates its journey across terrain. Animals, people and machines all leave signs. A trained and highly skilled tracker can detect and follow that sign while untrained persons cannot see anything at all. If it moves over the ground, it must leave sign and a tracker can identify and follow that sign.

Anything that moves will leave some type of sign that indicates its journey across terrain. Animals, people and machines all leave signs. A trained and highly skilled tracker can detect and follow that sign while untrained persons cannot see anything at all. If it moves over the ground, it must leave sign and a tracker can identify and follow that sign.

Written by Fernando Moreira

Copyright © 2010 By Professional Tracking Services

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