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Ground Sign Awareness

Ground sign awareness is a military term that is mainly used in the context of spotting improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The basic premise is that tampering with the ground in some manner is easily spotted – disturbed ground looks substantially different than untouched ground. Ground sign awareness also has many civilian uses that transcend military applications – it’s an extremely pertinent skill to use when hunting for use in tracking animals.

Precepts of Ground Sign Awareness

Ground sign awareness has some basic precepts that apply nicely to hunting:

  • The track that a human or animal makes erodes and decays. By looking at the track, one should be able to tell how long ago the track was made.
  • The feces, trash, or residue of an animal erodes or decays. By looking at the feces or residue, one should be able to tell how long ago said feces was deposited.
  • Untouched terrain looks untouched in every way. Terrain that has been trampled or recently trodden through is very distinctive.


By simply utilizing the three points above and honing your eyesight, you should be able to increase your tracking skills tenfold with a little practice. But how do you recognize how old a track is? How can you tell how long ago a pile of animal stool was laid? Some will tell you it takes a practiced eye, and this is absolutely true. But how do you get that practiced eye? You need to determine the age of the above three items, plain and simple.

The Art of Aging

A track left in soft mud, sand, or underbrush will last for a certain amount of time. How much time the track will last for depends on the climate and environmental features. To use an extreme example, footprints that the astronauts left on the surface of the moon are still there – because there is no wind, rain, or other people present to wash them away. Where the aging of tracks becomes a bit of an art is based on where the tracks were found. In some parts of the world (i.e. tundra), tracks can last for months and look as if they were left hours ago. In other parts of the world (i.e. jungle), tracks can disappear in a matter of hours!

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To find out exactly how long tracks last, conduct a simple experiment. Rope off or designate an area in the place you want to hunt in, or find a good substitute. This can be anywhere with similar terrain, climate, and features, but the most accurate way to conduct this experiment is by doing it in the place you wish to hunt! Within an area of about ten feet square, take off your shoes and walk on the ground. Have your dog walk on the ground too, and use other animals if you have them available. Then, quickly rope off the area to keep people out. Note the way your tracks look like after they have just been made. Note the sharp edges where your foot or the dog’s paw sinks in. Photograph these tracks. Come back a day later. Two days later. A week later. Note the tracks and how they appear now. They will have softer edges the more time goes by, until they disappear completely.

After a week of observation and careful photography, your experiment should show you the difference between old tracks and new tracks. Especially note the tracks on the first day and how they look after just a few hours. Can you tell the difference? In some environments, no difference will be discernible, even after several days. In some environments, even a few hours will show a change. It is obviously harder to track in environments where the climate preserves tracks for a long time.

It may sound disgusting, but you can also defecate in this roped off area, or (preferably) have your dog do it instead. This will also show you how stool ages out in the open, and you can uses this method to date animal stool you come across. Fresh tracks and fresh stool means animals are in the area – exactly what a hunter is after!

Finally, trample some of the ground in your ten-by-ten experiment site. Observe how the branches and grasses look on the same day they were trampled, as well as a day or two later, and a week later. You will notice that the plants will yellow and die at the points where they have been broken, and this won’t take but a few days to show. If you can correctly discern the age of tracks, feces, and trampled underbrush, you’ll go a long way to determining whether animals were recently in the area, which will make you a better hunter. When you spot an animal track, it is impossible to tell when that track was made, but with this experiment, you will know the exact time you made the track and be able to visually see how it ages – the first stages of ground sign awareness.

©2012 Off the Grid News

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