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A guide to identifying animal tracks

This is an animal tracking guide for your reference and study. For more in-depth inspiration into tracking, we have a number of posts coming from both our internal voices and external voices.

Canine tracks are identifiable in a few distinct ways.  Claws are the most telling sign, as felines retract their claws when they walk.  Occasionally claws can be seen in cat tracks but most likely if you are seeing claw marks you are looking at some relative of dog.  You will find the light sketch of an X in the drawings below, the X isn’t perfect but you can generally draw this x across the pads in the track.  This is another telling sign of Canine.  Also notice how the back prints are generally smaller than the front.

1. Wolf is largest of the Canine in North America, they have 4 distinct pads that are relatively spread out.  Adult wolf tracks measure 4” long with the front print slightly larger than the back.  Wolves are generally more directional in their movement where dogs are more erratic, look for wolf tracks to be in a straight line. 2. Coyote tracks are more elongated than the world and smaller measuring 2.5 to 3.5 inches long.  They are generally more oval in shape with pads that are more spread than a dog.  The front pad is slightly larger than the rear. 3. Fox tracks are the smallest in the canine family.  Depending on conditions you may see fur around the edges.  Foxes often drag their feet which can be another identifying feature.  Tracks typically measure 2 to 3 inches long. 4. Dog tracks typically follow an erratic pattern.  They vary in size depending on breed making it difficult to tell the difference by track alone.  A few hints may be in the direction of the pads as dogs often face outward, instead of in a straight line. Feline tracks are distinct in a few ways.  First they are wider than the comparative elongated canine track and distinguishable by the lack of claws.  Cats retract their claws when they walk.  You will also notice that the X that is implied between the canine pads is much harder to distinguish in the feline print.   Lastly the width and length are approximately equal in dimension.

1. Cougar or Mountain Lion is largest of the Feline in North America.  Adult cougar tracks can exceed 3 inches long and equally as wide,  with the front print slightly larger than the back.  They are similar in size to a domestic dog, however distinguishable by the lack of claws. 2. Lynx are smaller in size to the cougar, but the tracks are roughly the same size (3+ inches).  Fur around the paw can distort the track and may be used as a distinguishing feature. 3. Bobcat tracks are smaller than their big cat cousins measuring around 2 inches in length.  Again no nail or claw marks help distinguish this track from the similarly sized Canines. 4. House Cat tracks are the smallest of the felines (1 to 1.5 inches) Ungulate Tracks are split hoofed animals like deer, moose, elk and cow.  The split hoof leaves two distinct impressions, size and shape vary by animal.  One distinction is wether the hoof has a curve or flat interior shape.   

1. Moose are the the largest of the Ungulates tracks, with two distinct curving features that end in a point forming a heart.  They measure 5 to 7 inches long and most easily distinguished by their size.  Moose enjoy the colder climates and are mainly found near the at and above the US Canadian boarder. 2. Deer are similar but much smaller than moose tracks, measuring at 2 to 3.5 inches long.  Deer have two hocks along the back of the leg that can leave 2 independent dots with the track.  3. Elk are larger animals than deer and smaller than moose and their tracks reflect this.  The tracks measure 3 to 5 inches.  The toes are not as sharp as the deer and Moose. 4. Bison tracks are 4.5 to 5 inches in size, and are more circular in shape. 5. Cow are similar to bison, but can have a more linear line between the lobes.  Because of the rarity of Bison, cows tracks are way more common. Small hoofed Ungulates are different species of hoofed animals  Antelope (pronghorns), Mountain Goat, Big Horned Sheep, and Wild Hog have distinctly different hoof shapes.

1. Antelope or Pronghorn, a small Ungulate, come in about the size of a small deer at 2.75 inches.  Distinctly antelope hoof has a concave portion on the outer edge.  Antelope can be found in prairie or wide open grassy spaces.  2. Mountain Goat tracks look similar to other tracks,  you will often see that the tips of the hoof are more spread than depicted due to the splaying that happens when they step.  They measure in at around 3 inches. 3. Big Horned Sheep  also similar to deer but more straight and less heart shaped.   Measuring in at 3.5 inches the tips are typically more blunt than a deer and the edges more straight. 4. Wild Boar tracks are similar in size to door at between 2 and 4 inches.  They are may splayed, less elongated and show the dew claw outside the primary track.  The rear dew claw is typically less prominent. This set of small  mammals have feet to match their size.  They all have 5 toes and can easily be identified if you know what to look for. 

1. Raccoon have very dexterous hands that resemble our own.  Compared to the picture all 5 fingers and toes can be splayed out in a number of ways.  They are both clever and coordinated allowing them to unlatch gates and trash cans, untie knots, and open jars.  The front typically measures between 1 and 3 inches, and the slightly larger regard measures in at 1.5 to 3.5 inches.  2. Opossum tracks also have five fingers and toes, and bear a resemblance to human hands.  Look for the oppose-able thumb on the rear track that helps them grip, climb, and hang.  Also look for the line between the tracks left by the dragging tail.  They typically measure around 2” in length.  3. Otter tracks are found near rivers lakes and streams.  They have 5 pads with a distinct claw mark.  Look for indications of webbing between the toes that helps them swim.  They measure 3 to 4 inches long. 4. Skunk tracks have 5 distinct toes with claws to aid in digging ad foraging.  They measure at about 1 to 1.5 inches long. This guide should be enough to set you on your tracking journey. Soon we will have this guide available inside the Tribe Pilot app for both android and apple so you can take it with you into the wild. Resources for you to check out:

1) Mammal Tracking by James Halfpenny

2) Mammals of the Pacific Northwest Tracks, scats and signs

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