AAR: Advanced Human Tracking

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I just got back from Natural Awareness Training’s 3 day Advanced Human Tracking course held at Claytor Lake State Park in Dublin, Virginia.  http://trackingschool.com/courses/tracking-courses/human-tracking-courses/advanced-human-tracking

The class was sponsored by Virginia Department of Emergency Management and my special thanks goes to Billy Chrimes for allowing me to attend. All attendees were members of Search and Rescue teams scattered throughout the state. Tidewater, Piedmont, SARTI, and Black Diamond to name a few. If you are not familiar with Virginia’s Search and Rescue program, it is by far one of the most well organized and managed SAR programs I have seen, offering great training free to resident SAR team members and volunteers.  http://www.vaemergency.gov/em-community/training/course-catalogue#sar

Rob opened up the class by asking what we would like to focus on. The majority of us agreed that aging was high on the list, so Friday started out making aging stands in the grass and a nearby beach. We followed that with some step-by-step tracking and then a night signcutting off established trails exercise. An inch of rain, strong winds, and a 40 degree temperature change added some challenging variables to the class.

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Can you tell the ages on these creases and bruises?

On Saturday, we returned to the aging stands, had a lecture on vehicle tracking, and headed back to the signcutting exercise to see what we had missed at night. After lunch, the scenario started with a report of four missing teenage boys riding ATV’s and a mountain bike, last seen in a gravel parking lot. If you haven’t tried tracking a mountain bike across a well used gravel parking lot, I can tell you it is tough, but doable.

With all four teams on the mission, we were all able to find our vehicles and the foot trail leading off from them about a mile away. Another half mile or so of tracking, and all four teams found their subjects.

Sunday, we woke up to ice covered trees and ground. The goal that day was to bring Canine Handlers and Visual Trackers together so that we could both understand each other’s role and how we can work together. A trail was laid on Friday, one on Saturday, and I laid the freshest one that morning. Three dogs and three trackers attempted to follow the sign that had been rained on for two days and then frozen during the night.

“Juno” showed her stuff, successfully following Friday’s sign and identifying the maker out of the group, while the tracker was thwarted by the obliterated sign. Dogs, like humans, have good days and bad days, exhibited by the bloodhound that didn’t have a good showing on the Saturday’s sign and the border collie on my fresh sign. Frosty tracks in the pine needles were not hard to see.

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Like ground crews and aircraft, dogs and visual trackers are just two more tools in the Search and Rescue manager’s arsenal and I came away with some new understanding of integrating dogs with visual trackers. As always, one of the highlights of the trip was meeting and interacting with new friends. I am always amazed at the level of selflessness and motivation exhibited by Search and Rescue volunteers that attend these courses.

If you are interested in tracking, either animal or human, I am pleased to announce that I am in discussion with another tracker about forming a tracking “club” to work skills on a monthly basis. BigPig Outdoors will also be hosting Rob’s tracking classes in 2014, so check back on the website for updates.

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