Hunters and gatherers used to study animal prints to find survival food.
You may not need to do that anymore but might want to know about it and would possibly enjoy identifying the tracks of critters scampering or sneaking through your backyard.
We start by giving you ways to recognize the common gray squirrel, chipmunk, rabbit, raccoon, striped skunk, and move on to the more surprising from there.
They are common in areas where oaks grow. They love acorns and also eat insects, larvae, vegetation, fungi, berries, and nuts.
Squirrels produce a hoarse, barking noise and reprimand intruders with a chirring sound. Squirrels use bark, sticks, and leaves to build their nests high up in trees and shelter in tree hollows in winter. Fall is the best time to see them.
They have four front and five hind toes. The large hind feet land in front of the smaller front feet when they hop.
Chipmunk tracks are a rare find. Chipmunks favor shrubby and rocky areas and deciduous forests that provide cover. We often see them in backyards and parks.
They make nests in bushes or logs or create burrows that include an underground tunnel structure.
They are active during the day – hopping, leaping, and leaving a galloping trail pattern.
Chipmunk imprints look much like those of mice. They have four toes on their front and five on their larger back feet.
They are timid and prefer areas they know.
Their four footprints form a capital letter J when they move at an average speed. Their larger hind feet land side by side to shape the top bar. The smaller front prints lie behind to mold the base of the J.
Rabbits place their front feet on the ground first when they move and then swing their back legs forward to land up ahead of the front footprints. The front feet are typically a little to one side behind the back feet.
Striped skunks live in brush areas, grasslands, and marshes. They eat berries, grasshoppers, and small animals, worms, eggs, and poultry, to name a few.
Their tracks look like tiny bear paws, with claws on the front feet look like dots that show well ahead of the five toes.
Skunks use their long front claws to dig up insects and roots. The large heel pads on the hind feet – that also have five toes – are long and rectangular.
Their footprints look like human hands and measure two to three inches across.
The front foot has five long digits that resemble four fingers and a thumb. The back foot has five long toes with a larger palm pad, and the thumb points forward. The back foot comes to rest next to the opposite front foot when the animal takes a step.
You will see a front foot and the opposite side’s rear foot next to each other in the snow when it walks.
Deer leave a well-defined print.
You may have mule deer, black-tailed deer, elk, moose, or white-tailed deer in your suburban town, depending on where you live.
Deer have four toes, but only the first two large hooves usually show. You may see the smaller dewclaws if they jump, run, or walk in a deep substrate.
Keep an eye out for their upside-down heart-shaped tracks that display visibly in grass, mud, sand, and moss. The imprint has convex sides with the hoof tips located towards the inside.
The tracks are not the same as dog tracks.
You may not see a coyote in the wild, but it would be thrilling to be able to identify its imprints.
The rear paws and pads are also smaller than the forepaws and cushions.
Coyote tracks have claws that do not show on hard ground. Their footprints are oval-shaped or oblong. Their nails are not as prominent, and the pads are more compact than those of dogs.
Gray or Timberwolves
They are the mightiest canines in North America and live in large parts of Canada, Alaska, the upper peninsula of Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Washington, and Minnesota.
They can be silvery, black, white, or gray. Wolves can journey for over 250 miles.
They have four toes on each foot, and you can see their claw marks. You may have a problem distinguishing their footprints from those of a large dog but will usually find them far away from human territory.
Their imprints may measure between 4¼ to 4¾ inches long, and their stride can be 26 to 30 inches. The expanse between groups of prints can be six to eight feet if a wolf runs at full speed.
Mountain Lions or Cougars
They roam where the deer are. Their favorite habitat is mountainous terrain and rocky or steep canyons – from sea level to 10,000-foot altitudes, coastal forests, and deserts in North-Western Canada to Patagonia in South America.
You can draw a C between a cat’s pads and an X in a canine track without colliding with a toe.
All cats generally have a leading toe, three lobes at the base of the sole, teardrop-shaped toes, and we only see claw marks when the cougar builds up speed or needs extra traction. Their tracks are about 3 to 3½ inches wide.
We conclude with the problem that hunters tracking black bears often kill grizzlies by mistake. It is against the law to kill, harass, or kill grizzly bears unless you need to defend yourself or others. The Endangered Species Act protects them.
We need to know the differences between the species in case we stumble upon a bear.
A black bear track is more rounded than a grizzly’s, meaning a straight edge will intersect the toe on the side if you hold it across the front foot. Grizzly tracks are squarer, and a horizontal edge in front of the pad and behind the toes will not cross the smallest toe on the other side of the front foot.
The Grizzly has long, gently curved, two to four-inch claws on its front paws. The nails can be a light color.
Black bear claws have dark, sharply curved nails that are frequently much shorter than two inches. Both species may range in color, and size is also not a classification indicator.
The Grizzly’s strong shoulder muscles look like a hump from the side. The middle or rear of the black bear’s back is its highest point when standing, contingent upon your sightline.
We wish all preppers and survivalists happy animal tracking, whether in your backyard or the wide outdoors.
Enjoy learning about animal movement and behavior, along with studying how modern societal development can either hamper or benefit our wildlife.