Since I was a youngster, wandering the fields of my Grandparent’s place in the northeast corner of Vermont with BB gun in hand, I’ve had a weakness for “tracker” lore. Whenever a cowboy movie would come on, and one of the Indian scouts would look at the ground and say, “White man come by here, two . . . three days ago,” I would eat that up with a spoon. Of course, it’s great fun to take the whole track reading thing to ridiculous extremes: “white man come by here, parts hair in middle, has 11 cents in pocket (two nickels, one penny), likes bluegrass music, is thinking about lunch” . . . and so forth. Nevertheless, when it comes to reading sign, I just think it’s cool.
About 30 years ago, I started to get more seriously interested in tracking. I found a book called “The Tracker” by Tom Brown, in which he claims to do some flatly amazing things in tracking. I’m not sure whether to believe all of Tom Brown’s exploits or not, but I can recommend his “Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking.”
If you are interested in tracking people, two books – both written by members of the US Border Patrol – are at the head of the class. Joel Hardin’s “Tracker – Case Files & Adventures of a Professional Mantracker” is one of the rare books that tells excellent true stories while teaching you at the same time. If you read Jack Kearney’s “Tracking: A Blueprint for Learning How” and practice everything that he presents, you’ll come out the other side of the process as a decent tracker.
I was so impressed with Kearney’s book that I called him one day to thank him for such a useful book. While we were chatting, he mentioned the usefulness of a bright flashlight for finding faint tracks. The gist of what he said is: shine the light sideways at ground level (if it’s during the day, you may have to shade the area with your hat or backback) and details that would otherwise be invisible will pop right up. At the time that we spoke, he mentioned that he was well into his 70s and taking several daily medications. “If I drop a pill,” he said, “immediately I turn off the overhead light, shine a light sideways across the floor, and the missing pill becomes visible.”
The same thing works if you drop a small airgun part. Check out the picture below. It shows a small screw on a wood floor with the overhead lights on.
The next picture shows the same area, with the overhead lights off, but illuminated strongly from the side with a flashlight. The screw is prominently visible.
And if you move your head to an oblique angle down near the floor, the screw becomes even more obvious (as does all the dust on the floor).
So there you have it: the tracker’s trick. The next time you drop a small part, kill the overhead lights, shine a flashlight sideways across the floor, and get your head down near floor level. Maybe that missing part will pop right into view.
Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.
– Jock Elliott