How to communicate with Morse code (using visual, audio, and pressure forms of communication)

International Morse Code chart

About Morse Code

Early Morse code telegraph machineMorse code (not “Morris code”) is a method of transmitting textual messages using a series of patterns.  Each text unit in the pattern can be represented (or reproduced) using on-off tones (sound), flashing lights, or clicks representing “dots” and “dashes” (known as dits and dahs).  The traditional Morse code encodes the 26 Roman letters but extensions have been added to allow for representation of non-English languages and a small set of punctuation and procedural signals.

To improve efficiency and transmission speed, Morse code was designed so that the length of a character in Morse varies inversely with its frequency of use in the English language.  For example, the letter “E” is the most used character in the English language and is represented by the shortest possible Morse code – a single dot.

Interestingly, individual Morse code operators differ slightly, for example using slightly longer or shorter dashes or gaps, perhaps only for particular characters. This is called their “fist”, and experienced operators can recognize specific individuals by their fist alone. A good operator who sends clearly and is easy to copy is said to have a “good fist”. A “poor fist” is a characteristic of sloppy or hard to copy Morse code.

Using Morse Code

Morse code using audio tones

Morse code can be transmitted in a number of different ways.  Originally designed to be used as an electrical pulse along a telegraph wire, it can easily be represented as an audio tone.  Used as an audio signal, Morse code can be transmitted via a radio signal with short and long tones or even the sound of a car horn.  In survival situations, Morse code can be produced via the banging of pots and pans or knocking loudly on a hollowed log.

Morse code using visual cues

Morse code is commonly transmitted as a visual signal using flashing lights or reflections but can also be used as a non-detectable form of communication using the tapping of fingers or even blinking of eyes.

Using just two states (on and off), it is a form of digital code and can also be represented using 1’s and 0’s.  For example, a Morse code sequence may be made from a combination of the following five bit strings:

  1. short mark, dot or “dit” (·) : 1
  2. longer mark, dash or “dah” (–) : 111
  3. intra-character gap (between the dots and dashes within a character) : 0
  4. short gap (between letters) : 000
  5. medium gap (between words) : 0000000

Morse code using touch or pressure

Early Morse code telegraph machineFinally, Morse code can be transmitted using touch or pressure.  For instance, some miner rescues have used tugs of a rope as a means to transmit Morse code to an injured miner.

How to communicate using Morse Code

Each Morse code character is represented by a unique sequence of dots and dashes.  A dot (or dit) represents a single unit whereas a dash (or dah) is three times the duration of a dot.  Each dot or dash is followed by a short silence equal to one dot.  Letters in a word are separated by silence equal to three dots (one dash) and words are separated by seven dots of silence.

  1. Dot – one “dit”
  2. Dash – three dits or “dah”
  3. Space between letters – three dits of silence
  4. Space between words – seven dits of silence

Learning to receive Morse code

The easiest way to learn Morse code is to find Morse code recordings, listen to them, and work out the encoded message on paper.  While learning, do not get into the habit of counting the dots and dashes in the Morse code.  Instead, learn to recognize the sound of each letter. If using a software application that helps train you in Morse code, never slow down the letter speed but rather, only slow down the letter spacing.

A dichotomic search tree can be used as a means to improve speed too (see example in the gallery).  Using a dichotomic search tree, each time you hear a dit (short beep) you move down and to the left on the tree.  Each time you hear a dah (or long beep), you move down and to the right.  Practice with a dichotomic search tree can dramatically improve your Morse code transmission speed.

Another option when receiving Morse code is to simply jot down the dots and dashes and then use a chart (download below) to decode the Morse code message.  “Pros” however, will point out that this effectively doubles the time is takes to decode the message.

Learning to transmit Morse code

Practicing Morse code can be done in your head or using the buttons on a smartphone device to produce audio Morse code tones.  Pick a word you wish to transmit and hear the sound in your head.  Dit is pronounced “di” with a short “I” and silent “T”.  Dah is pronounced with a short “A” sound.  Thus, “cat” would be pronounced dah-di-dah-di  di-dah  dah.  Again, hear the code in your head.  The letter “C” in cat sounds like dah-dit-dah-dit (long short long short).  In Morse code, cat would look like this:

Morse code example - cat

When transmitting, pay particular attention to your spacing.  Each letter should be separated by a space equal to the same duration as a dah (three times the duration of a dit).  Each word should be separated by a space that lasts about seven times the duration of a dit.  The better your spacing, the easier your code will be to understand.

Morse code tips

It helps to know the number of dits and dahs in each letter.  This will help you narrow down the possibilities when you receive a Morse code encoded message.

T, E= 1 character each

A, I, M,N= 2 characters

D, G, K, O, R, S, U, W= 3 characters

B, C, F, H, J, L, P, Q, V, X, Y, Z= 4 characters each

Morse code examples

Below are Morse code examples which may help you visualize the encoding/decoding of Morse code into its textual representation.

Dog

Morse code example - dog

Survival

Morse code example - survival

SOS

Morse code example - SOS

Need water

Morse code example - need water

Taking fire

Morse code example - taking fire

Danger ahead

Morse code example - danger ahead

Basic Morse code

The chart below contains the complete International Morse code.  Downloadable versions of the chart are available in the gallery below.  In the charts, a dash is equal to three dots in time, while the interval between the dots and dashes in a letter equals a dot in time.  Between the letters in a word the interval is equal to three dots and between words, five dots.

Morse code alphabet and numbers

Morse code abbreviated numbers, punctuation, and other signs

Morse code Q-Codes

Q-codes are standard three-letter message encodings often used in Morse code communication.

Morse code Q-Codes

Morse code phrases

Other abbreviations are commonly accepted in Morse code communications including the list below.

Morse code phrases

Gallery of Morse Code charts

Below is a gallery of Morse code charts.  Click the diagram and then right click to save a copy.

 

How to use hand and arm signals (visual signaling) to communicate silently

image.png

In a military or survival situation where silence must be maintained in order to mask your presence from an enemy, foe, or target, several types of non-verbal communication (visual signals) are available including flags, pyrotechnic, chemical lights, ground-to-air signals, and hand and arm signals. The United States Army Field Manual 21-60 lays out the standard for hand and arm signals (see below) but other hand signals have been adopted and are commonly used in situations requiring visual communication.

The limits of visual communication

Visual signals are of course, limited to range and reliability. As such, weather elements and possibly terrain, can disrupt use of hand and arm signals when line of sight is disrupted.

Hand and arm signals are easy to misunderstand which is especially problematic when non-standard hand signals are used by the participants.

Lastly, hand signals may be vulnerable to enemy interception and allow the possibility that the visual communications is received and properly interpreted by the foe, possibly even without your knowledge that the communication was intercepted.

Uses for hand signals

Despite their limitations, hand and arm signals are useful in military and survival situations and are especially useful when participants remain relatively close together. Hand and arm signals may be used by participants to coordinate movement and actions in a silent manner and may be used by leaders to control movement of their team during patrol or combat movement. Hand and arm signals are also useful for hunting or tracking parties who must maintain silence to avoid alerting their target to their presence.

Common hand signals

Below are the various hand and arm signals that can be used when visual communication is required.  When receiving hand signals, be sure to pay attention to the signalers facial expressions too.  Eyes and head movement may be used to add emphasis or additional communications (e.g. nod of head for “yes” or “no”, tilt of head to indicate direction).  Recognize too that multiple hand signals can be combined in sequence in order to more accurately communicate the thought or action.

Counting and numbers hand signals

Hand signal for number one

One

Hand signal for number two

Two

Hand signal for number three

Three

Hand signal for number four

Four

Hand signal for number five

Five

Hand signal for number six

Six

Hand signal for number seven

Seven

Hand signal for number eight

Eight

Hand signal for number nine

Nine

Hand signal for number ten

Ten

 

People hand signals

Hand signal for you

You

Hand signal for me

Me

 

Movement hand signals

Hand signal for come

Come

Hand signal for hurry up

Hurry up

Hand signal for stop

Stop

Hand signal for freeze

Freeze

Hand signal for go here or move up

Go here or Move up

Hand signal for rally point

Rally point

 

Actions hand signals

Hand signal for listen or I hear

Listen or I hear

Hand signal for watch or I see

Watch or I see

Hand signal for cover this area

Cover this area

Hand signal for I understand

I understand

Hand signal for I don't understand

I do not understand

Hand signal for crouch, go prone, or lie down

Crouch or lie down

Hand signal for breach or breacher

Breach (or breacher)

 

Animals, people, and circumstances hand signals

Hand signal for enemy

Enemy

Hand signal for hostage

Hostage

Hand signal for sniper

Sniper

Hand signal for dog

Dog

Hand signal for a leader

A leader

 

Articles and items hand signals

Hand signal for pistol weapon

Pistol (arm bent)

Hand signal for rifle weapon

Rifle (arm straight)

Hand signal for shotgun weapon

Shotgun (pumping action)

Hand signal for ammunition

Ammunition

Hand signal for vehicle

Vehicle

Hand signal for gas

Gas

Hand signal for door

Door

Hand signal for window

Window

Hand signal for point of entry

Point of entry

 

Formation and position hand signals

Hand signal for column formation

Column formation

Hand signal for file formation

File formation

Hand signal for line abreast formation

Line abreast formation

Hand signal for wedge formation

Wedge formation

 

United States Army FM 21-60 Hand Signals

The U.S. Army’s FM 21-60 manual, albeit dated, provides many useful hand signals too, most of which are more sophisticated and complex than the examples above.  Some Army signals even have variants that can be used during nighttime activities.

May I have your attention

Attention

 

I am ready, Ready to move, or are you ready?

I am ready, Ready to move, or are you ready?

 

Mount

Mount

 

Disregard previous command, As you were

Disregard previous command, As you were

 

 

I do not understand

I do not understand

 

Prepare to move

Prepare to move

 

Halt or stop

Halt or stop

 

Increase speed

Increase speed

 

Advance, Move out

Advance, Move out

 

Open up or spread out

Open up

 

Close up

Close up

 

Right/Left turn

Right/Left turn

 

Slow down

Slow down

 

Move forward (vehicle traffic signal)

Move forward

 

Move in reverse(vehicle traffic signal)

Move in reverse

 

Close distance between vehicles and stop (vehicle traffic signal)

Close distance between vehicles and stop

 

Stop engines (vehicle traffic signal)

Stop engines

 

Dismount (vehicle traffic signal)

Dismount

 

Neutral steer (used for track vehicles)

Neutral steer (track vehicles)

 

Stop (an alternate signal used to stop a vehicle)

Stop (an alternate signal used to stop a vehicle)

 

Message acknowledged (I understand)

Message acknowledged (I understand)

 

Move over or shift fire (gunnery signal)

Move over or shift fire

 

Fire weapon (gunnery signal)

Fire

 

Commence firing weapon (gunnery signal)

Commence firing

 

Cease firing (gunnery signal)

Cease firing

 

Out of action

Out of action

 

Disperse

Disperse

 

Assemble or rally

Assemble or rally

 

Join me, follow me, come forward

Join me, follow me, come forward

 

Increase speed, double time, rush

Increase speed, double time, rush

 

 

Take cover

Take cover

 

Air attack

Air attack

 

Nuclear, biological, or chemical attack

Nuclear, biological, or chemical attack

 

Check the map

Check the map

 

Pace count or number of steps

Pace count or number of steps

 

Phone or radio communication

Phone or radio communication

 

Head count

Head count

 

Danger area

Danger area

 

Stop and freeze

Freeze

 

Left and right traffic stop (traffic control)

Left and right traffic stop

 

Front traffic stop (traffic control)

Front traffic stop

 

Rear traffic stop (traffic control)

Rear traffic stop

 

Traffic from right may go (traffic control)

Traffic from right may go

 

Traffic from left may go (traffic control)

Traffic from left may go

 

 

Convoy open up distance between vehicles (convoy signal)

Convoy open up distance between vehicles

 

Convoy reduce distance between vehicles (close up) (convoy signal)

Convoy reduce distance between vehicles (close up)

 

Convoy – pass and keep going (convoy signal)

Convoy – pass and keep going

 

Convoy – move in reverse, back up (convoy signal)

Convoy – move in reverse, back up

 

Raise the hoist winch cable (used in recovery operations)

Raise the hoise winch cable (used in recovery operations)

 

Lower the hoist winch cable (used in recovery operations)

Lower the hoist winch cable(used in recovery operations)

 

Raise the boom (used in recovery operations)

Raise the boom (used in recovery operations)

 

Lower the boom (used in recovery operations)

Lower the boom (used in recovery operations)

 

In-haul the winch

In-haul the winch

 

Lower the spade (used to signal digging machinery)

Lower the spade (used to signal digging machinery)

 

Raise the spade (used to signal digging machinery)

Raise the spade (used to signal digging machinery)

 

Cut engine or stop rotors (aircraft control signal)

Cut engine or stop rotors

 

Load has not been released (aircraft control signal)

Load has not been released

 

Hookup complete (aircraft control signal)

Hookup complete

 

Release (ground to air signal for aircraft)

Release (ground to air signal for aircraft)

 

Depart (ground to air signal for aircraft)

Depart (ground to air signal for aircraft)

 

Go around, abort, do not land (ground to air signal)

Go around, abort, do not land (ground to air signal)

 

Land the aircraft (aircraft control signal)

Land the aircraft

 

Stop the aircraft (aircraft control signal)

Stop the aircraft

 

Steer the aircraft right (aircraft control signal)

Steer the aircraft right

 

Hover (ground to air signal for aircraft)

Hover (ground to air signal for aircraft)

 

Downloadable hand signal charts

Below are a collection of downloadable hand signal charts.

 

How to identify Black Bear tracks and signs

American Black Bear signs and tracks

About Black Bear

Black bears, a medium-sized bear, are omnivores with diets that vary greatly depending on season and location. They typically live in largely forested areas, but will leave forests in search of food. Sometimes black bears are attracted to human communities because of the immediate availability of food. The American black bear is the world’s most common bear species.

Black bear Characteristics

Diagram of black bear skullBlack bears are highly dexterous, capable of opening screw-top jars and manipulating door latches. They are very strong with recorded cases of a black bear turning over 300 pound rocks with a single foreleg. Black bears can run up to 25-30 mph, have excellent eyesight, and a sense of smell about seven times greater than a dog’s. They are also very good swimmers and unlike brown bears, are excellent climbers.

Black bear size varies with those on the East Coast tending to be larger than those on the West Coast. Adult males typically weigh between 104 and 550 lbs. with females weighing between 86 to 375 lbs. Their fur is soft, with dense underfur and long, coarse, thick guard hairs. Despite their name, they show a wide variety of color variation with colors ranging from white, cinnamon, light brown, dark brown, or black. They differ from grizzly bears in size, shorter claws, and lack of the muscular hump between their shoulders.

Black bears tend to be territorial and non-aggressive in nature. During hibernation, they may remain dormant for months without eating, drinking, urinating, or defecating (their heart rate drops from 40-50 beats per minute to 8 beats per minute). Unlike true deep hibernators, the black bear’s body temperature does not drop significantly during hibernation which allows them to remain somewhat alert and active.

Black bear tracking and signs

Tracks

Black bear and grizzly bear track chart

Black bear tracks are flat-footed, large, and somewhat human in appearance Black bear tracks are flat-footed, large, and somewhat human in appearance except their largest toe in on the outside of the foot and their feet are rounder. Bears show five toes on both the front and hind tracks. The negative space between the toes is filled with fur.

The black bear’s front feet are more rectangular than the rear feet. The heel pad may appear in the track as a separate circle below the metacarpal pad. They will likely show claws too with the claws on the front feet appearing longer and with a larger gap between the toe and claw. With a good print, the rear foot will appear longer with a heel that tapers to a blunted point (sometimes the back of the rear foot does not register in the track).  Front feet measure between 4”-8” long by 3.25”-6” wide. Rear feet measure between 5”-9” long by 3.5”-6” wide.

Black bear typically walk but may also trot, lope, and gallop (read general animal signs and tracking for details on gait patterns). They travel in an overstep walk with rear tracks landing ahead of the front track. The overstep walk is generally between 19” to 28” stride length and 8” to 14” trail width. While in a lope, the stride length is generally 25” to 30” and group length (length of the entire set of 4 tracks together) is typically 38” to 50” long.

Grizzly bear tracks are similar to the black bear, but are almost always larger measuring 7″ – 13” long by 5-8.75” wide for front tracks, and 8.25″-14” long by 4.75″ – 8.5” wide for the hind tracks. Claws on the front feet of grizzly bears are also generally longer than those of black bears.

Scat

Black bear scat is commonly tubular and segments, often in piles.The black bear’s diet consist primarily of insects such as bees, yellow jackets, ants, and their larvae. They will also eat fruit, berries, bulbs, and catkins. And yes, they are fond of honey. Black bears in northern coastal regions will fish for salmon during the night. They may prey on deer and mule on occasion.

Black bear scat is commonly tubular and segments, often in piles. Often seeds, fruit, berries, and fur are visible in the scat. Black bear scat measures about 5”-12” long by 1.25”-2.5” in diameter.

Trails

Black bears travel freely throughout forests but may use trails to reach water sources and to search for food.

Beds and lays

After putting on about 30 pounds of fat, black bears enter their dens in October and November and may hibernate from 3-8 months depending on the region’s climate. They spend their time in hollowed-out trees, under logs or rocks, in caves or culverts, and in shallow depressions. Many times dens are dug out by the bear itself (especially common with female black bears).

Rubs

Black bears mark their territories by rubbing their bodies against trees and clawing at the bark. Bears also climb trees and may leave claw marks during the climb.

Misc Signs

During spring, black bears may feed on the cambium of young trees by pulling off the bark and raking the cambium with their lower teeth.

Groups and species

Black bear tracksUrsus americanus altifrontalis
Olympic black bear
Pacific Northwest coast from central British Columbia through northern California and inland to the tip of northern Idaho and British Columbia

Ursus americanus amblyceps
New Mexico black bear
Native to Colorado, New Mexico, west Texas, the eastern half of Arizona into northern Mexico, and southeastern Utah

Ursus americanus americanus
Eastern black bear
Eastern Montana to the Atlantic coast, from Alaska south and east through Canada to the Atlantic and south to Texas. Thought to be increasing in some regions.
Common to Eastern Canada and U.S. wherever suitable habitat is found. A large-bodied subspecies, almost all specimens have black fur. May very rarely sport a white blaze on chest.

Ursus americanus californiensis
California black bear
Mountain ranges of southern California, north through the Central Valley to southern Oregon
Able to live in varied climates: found in temperate rainforest in the north and chaparral shrubland in the south. Small numbers may feature a cinnamon brown fur.

Ursus americanus carlottae
Haida Gwaii black bear, Queen Charlotte black bear
Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands and Alaska
Generally larger than its mainland counterparts with a huge skull and molars, and is found only as a black color phase

Ursus americanus cinnamomum
Cinnamon bear
Idaho, western Montana, and Wyoming, eastern Washington and Oregon, northeastern Utah
Has brown or red-brown fur, reminiscent of cinnamon

Ursus americanus emmonsii
Glacier Bear
Southeast Alaska. Stable.
Distinguished by the fur of its flanks being silvery gray with a blue luster

Black bear eating fishUrsus americanus eremicus
Mexican black bear
Northeastern Mexico and US borderlands with Texas. Very endangered.
Most often found in Big Bend National Park and the desert border with Mexico. Numbers unknown in Mexico, but presumed very low.

Ursus americanus floridanus
Florida black bear
Florida, southern Georgia, and Alabama
Has a light brown nose and shiny black fur. A white chest patch is also common. An average male weighs 136 kg (300 lb).

Ursus americanus hamiltoni
Newfoundland black bear
Newfoundland
Generally bigger than its mainland relatives, ranging in size from 90 to 270 kg (200 to 600 lb) and averaging 135 kg (298 lb). It has one of the longest hibernation periods of any bear in North America. Known to favor foraging in fields of Vaccinium species.

Ursus americanus kermodei
Kermode bear, spirit bear
Central coast of British Columbia
Approximately 10% of the population of this subspecies have white or cream-colored coats due to a recessive gene and are called “kermodes” or “spirit bears”. The other 90% appear as normal-colored black bears.

Ursus americanus luteolus
Louisiana black bear
Eastern Texas, Louisiana, southern Mississippi. Threatened (federal list).
Has relatively long, narrow, and flat skull, and proportionately large molars. Prefers hardwood bottom forests and bayous as habitat

Black bear tracksUrsus americanus machetes
West Mexico black bear
North-central Mexico

Ursus americanus perniger
Kenai black bear
Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

Ursus americanus pugnax
Dall black bear
Alexander Archipelago, Alaska

Ursus americanus vancouveri
Vancouver Island black bear
Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Found in the northern section of the island, but occasionally will appear in the suburbs of Vancouver metropolitan area

How to identify Gray Wolf tracks and signs

Wolf track

About Gray Wolves

The gray wolf (aka timber wolf or western wolf) is native to the wilderness areas of North America, Eurasia, and many parts of Africa. The male wolf weighs just under 100 lbs. while the female wolf weighs between 79 and 85 lbs. Its winter fur is long and bushy, a mottled gray in color (although nearly white, red, brown, or black fur can also occur).

Gray Wolf Characteristics

The Gray Wolf is a social animal travelling in packs that average 5-11 animals per pack (1-2 adults, 3-6 juveniles, and 1-3 yearlings). It is not unusual for two or three packs to travel together. Wolves are highly territorial and will defend their territory through a combination of scent marking (urination, defecation, and ground scratching), direct attacks, and howling. Scent marks are typically placed near rocks, boulders, trees, or the skeletons of other animals.

The Gray Wolf’s sense of smell is weaker compared to dogs but they are still able to smell upwind up to 1 ½ miles. Its hearing however, is stellar (a wolf can hear the sound of a leaf falling).

The gray wolf can be found in deserts, grasslands, forests, and even the arctic tundra. Habitat is limited only to the amount of prey it can find. Although largely predators, they will supplement their diet with fruit and vegetable matter.

Gray Wolf tracking and signs

Tracks

Difference between wolk, domestic dog, and coyote tracks

Wolf tracks are large and relatively symmetrical – they will show much larger than a domestic dog track (nearly twice as big). Although a wolf has five toes on their front feet and four toes on the rear feet, they generally only show four toes in either print (the fifth toe is small and higher up on the foot and usually does not register). Claw marks will generally register in the track and will be rounded off more than a sharp-pointed domestic dog claw. The ridges between the toes and heel pad typically form a distinct “X” in the track. In general, the rear prints are narrower and more oval-shaped than the front prints.

Wolves typically travel in a trot, either side trot or direct registerWolves most often travel in a trot, either a side trot or a direct register trot but they may also walk, lope, and gallop (you can find general animal tracking details here). A direct register trot for a wolf is typically 22”-34” apart and 26”-39” for a side trot.

Cougar tracks are sometimes confused with wolf tracks. A cougar track will be rounder and because they have retractable claws, will typically not register claw marks in the track (unless they are travelling fast or climbing a slippery surface). If a cougar does register claw marks, they will be joined directly to the toe whereas a wolf track exhibits a ¼ inch separation between the claw and toe.

Scat

Wolf scat is typically large (6”-17” long by ½” to 1 7/8” wide), ropey, and tapered on one or both ends. Wolf scat is typically composed of fur, bones, and undigested meat. It is long and tubular (and often strong in smell) which differs from a coyote’s twisted and irregular-shaped scat.

Trails

Trail or no trail, wolves travel in very efficient, fairly straight paths through the landscape.

Beds and lays

Gray wolf typically prefer to rest under some sort of cover but wolves in dry areas will readily rest in the open. Dens for pups are usually constructed during the summer and will make use of natural shelters such as fissures in rocks, cliff overhangs, and ground holes covered with thick vegetation. Dens are usually built no more than a few hundred yards from water sources and typically face southward to allow sunlight in.

Misc Signs

Wolves will leave remains at kill sites. Their bite is so strong, they may bite through even large bones of elk and moose to get to the marrow. It is common to find bone fragments at a wolf kill site.

Groups and species

Wolf scat is typically large (6”-17” long by ½” to 1 7/8” wide), ropey, and tapered on one or both endsThe Gray Wolf (canis lupus)

Eurasian wolf (Canis lupus lupus)

Iberian wolf (Canis lupus signatus)

Italian wolf (Canis lupus italicus)

Tundra wolf (Canis lupus albus)

Hudson bay wolf (Canis lupus hundsonicus)

Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos)

Alaskan tundra wolf (Canis lupus tundrarum)

Alexander Archipelago wolf (Canis lupus ligoni)

Eastern wolf (Canis lupus lycaon) Note: Some scientists maintain this wolf is a separate species (Canis lycaon).

Northern Rocky mountain wolf (Canis lupus irremotus)

Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi)

Mackenzie river wolf (Canis lupus mackenzii)

Mackenzie valley wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis)

Baffin Island wolf (Canis lupus manningi)

Labrador wolf (Canis lupus labradorius)

Greenland wolf (Canis lupus orion)

Steppe wolf (Canis lupus campestris)

Caspian Sea wolf (Canis lupus cubanensis)

Tibetan wolf/Himalayan wolf (Canis lupus chanco) Note: some recognize the Himalayan wolf as it’s own species (canis himalayensis).

Buffalo wolf (Canis lupus nubilus)

African wolf (Canis lupus lupaster) Note: Earlier considered a subspecies of the Golden Jackal, but recent research proves it is a wolf.

Yukon wolf (Canis lupus pambasileus)

Vancouver Island wolf (Canis lupus crassodon)

Arabian wolf (Canis lupus arabs)

Indian wolf/Iranian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes) Note: Recent genetic research suggests that the Indian Wolf, originally considered only as a subpopulation of the Iranian Wolf (Canis lupus pallipes), may represent a distinct species Indian wolf (Canis indica).

Exstinct subspecies:

Kenai peninsula wolf (Canis lupus alces)

Newfoundland wolf (Canis lupus beothucus)

Bernard’s wolf (Canis lupus bernardi)

British Columbia wolf (Canis lupus comlumbianus)

Florida black wolf (Canis lupus floridanus)

Southern Rocky Mountains wolf (Canis lupus youngi)

Cascade mountain wolf (Canis lupus fuscus)

Manitoba wolf (Canis lupus griseoalbus)

Hokkaidō wolf (Canis lupus hattai)

Honshū wolf (Canis lupus hodophilax)

Mogollon Mountain wolf (Canis lupus mogollensis)

Texas wolf (Canis lupus monstrabilis)

How to tell a gray wolf from a coyote

Sources: David Moskowitz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wikipedia, Wilderness College

How to track a person in the wilderness – and avoid being tracked by a human being yourself

How to track a person in the wilderness - and avoid being tracked by a human being yourself

To track a human being, make sure you first understand how to track an animal. The concepts involved are similar except of course, you are dealing with a person which is a much smarter target and thus, will attempt to use deception to throw you off the trail.

Preparing to track

Human footprints in dirtBefore you begin tracking a human, make sure you have essential gear and supplies ready, including water and food. Tracking can be time intensive and you do not want to be caught in the bush, tracking a dangerous human, without the proper supplies in hand. Since you will naturally aim to track silently and undetected, pay special attention to camouflage appropriate for the environment you will be tracking in. And because tracking requires intense concentration and stamina, before you begin to track a person, make sure you are alert and well fed.

Carry a paper table and pen to record notes and observations you make. If a map of the area is available, take it with you (preferably one you can write on to record tracking details).  Bring a cellphone with a good camera for pictures of spoor.

Before leaving, check weather conditions, weather history, and weather forecasts. Incoming bad weather may force you to accelerate your search. A record of prior weather history will help you understand the conditions of tracks and signs that you find (how they were made and how old they are).

If you are in an unfamiliar area, if possible, take a local with you. Even expert trackers experience problems tracking in foreign areas. Locals will be more familiar with the local vegetation, weather conditions, and overall environment you are moving through.

Finally, when tracking a human, remain silent. This not only protects you from an ambush, but allows you to hear any noises your target may make while fleeing. If working in a group, hand signals should be used so discuss and agree on signals before you begin.

Understand your target and the environment

Try to learn about the potential tracks and signs your target may leave behind. Shoe size and type of shoe plus any other information about the individual (e.g. height, weight, what they eat, what they are carrying with them) that may assist you when spoor (any sign of activity, track or otherwise, that your target leaves behind) is found. If possible, determine the capabilities of your target – their motives, skillset, traits, habits, tactics, and attitude. Having this information in hand will give you a tactical edge.

Next, study the environment you will be tracking in. In particular, know about the wildlife in the area as they may provide additional clues to your target’s location. Pay attention to any environmental dangers, sources of food and water, and potential ambush areas.

Finding human tracks and signs

If possible, carry a notebook with you to record observations. In addition to a record of spoor that is found, keep notes on tactics the target may have employed and their patterns of behavior. When recording your observations, remember to record everything you find including the date/time, weather conditions, and condition of the spoor (which may hint at its age).

Where to begin

If possible, begin by spooring in easy terrain such as soft ground and muddy areas – locations where spoor will be easiest to find. If no spoor is found in these “easy” areas, progressively move to more difficult terrain. Once spoor is found, move from sign to sign, recording each sign that you find in your notebook along with a picture of the spoor.

Human tracks and signs

Illustration showing the phases in a human's gait

Much of tracking a human means noticing what is out of context with the natural environment. Look first for the obvious signs such as footprints and leaves on plants that have been broken, bent, or turned so the light underside contrasts with the surroundings. If a shoeprint is found, draw it in your tablet taking note of any irregularities or other notable signs that may help distinguish the target from other human beings (unless the print is extremely clear, a drawing is typically better than a photograph).

All of the grass stands straight up exxcept for this sectioni where the grass has been compressed by a human footprint.  The direction the grass is bent shows the direction the human was walking.Note the target’s walking pattern. Remember, women take smaller steps as do men carrying a heavy load. Running will leave more space between tracks and will distort the true track. In most cases, the toe will appear deeper, with little or no heel imprint. If a target is sprinting, the force of their steps may destroy the track entirely. In these cases, look at the “lines of force” to determine the direction the target is moving.

Especially with targets that are being hotly pursued, look for soil scatter. Soil and other debris can be thrown out of tracks by the target either kicking the ground or soil stuck to the sole of the target’s foot. Soil scatter is usually seen in front of the track (in line with the direction of travel) and is especially pronounced in loose ground cover such as snow.

Look for rocks that have been overturned. The exposed side of an overturned rock will be darker and you will see an impression in the ground where it once rested. Take into consideration the time of day, humidity, and temperature to determine how long the rock has been overturned.

Look for disturbed grass and bent blades (which will indicate the direction of travel). Watch for broken spider webs and look for shine on objects, especially hard surfaces, which may indicate a track. Don’t forget to look for any spoor unique to your situation. For instance, if the target is injured, look for blood.

Using animal signs to track a human

While tracking a human, pay attention to animals and animal spoor as you go. Many animals (including insects) will avoid humans and scurry to shelter when a human approaches. Pay attention to any absence of animal life in the area and remember, they will flee *away* from a human, typically downwind if possible. Listen for animals huffing, snorting, or running and note their direction of travel – something in that direction may have alarmed them.

General tracking method

While tracking, stay alert and focused. Remember to keep your head up slightly and look 15-20 yards in front of you. This will enable you to find spoor while remaining alert for any potential ambush (often times, a person being tracked may set a trap to stop of slow down his trackers). If you are tracking into the sun, look back every few yards to confirm your spoor (and to check that you are not walking over it).

When a track is found, use sideheading to view track details.  Sideheading involves turning your head sideways and low to the ground to provide a better view of the track. With your head in this position, your bottom eye scans the ground (to about one foot away) while the top eye reads up to three feet away.  Ridges and shadows in the tracks are much more visible using sideheading.

For example, in the picture below, the footprint is barely (hardly) visible when viewed from directly above (arrow indicates footprint).

Human track when viewed from above

 

But in this picture, the camera was held low, providing a line of sight similar to the line seen when sideheading is used.  As you can see, when viewed from this angle, the ridges and shadows in the print are much clearer and easier to discern.

Same human track when viewed using sideheading

Instances where people track differently than animals

Lighter area is where something has lain and been removed leaving dead, compressed grassRemember, people differ from animals and may prop feet up on things when they sit. People must eat so look for signs not only of discarded food, but signs that food has been taken. For instance, look for missing fruit on trees or edible plants that have been raided.

People also climb over things. Look for evidence where shoes have rubbed over things when crossed. Watch for rubs where the target may have scuffed tree bark or scraped mud (intentionally or not) off of their shoes. Since shoes pick up material from the ground (this sign is called a “transfer”), look for trace soil on other objects such as rocks and tree stumps. Shining a light at a low angle may help transfer signs become more visible.

People also leave trash. Look for discarded ration packages, food tins, possibly even dropped documents or supplies. People also carry things that animals do not. Look for compression signs from objects laid down by the target such as the impression of tools like rifle butts, clubs, crutches, etc.

When your target attempts to throw you off the track

Human footprints in dirtBe aware that a target may attempt to trick the tracker. For instance, they may walk in reverse or tie their shoes on backward. Do not look at which direction the tracks are pointing but rather, read the sign within the track to determine the target’s direction of travel. You can also check which part of the track is deepest to determine direction of travel and since walking backward is not natural, be alert for soil scatter that the target may drag out of the track when stepping.

Targets may change their shoes or purposely alter their gait. These tricks do indeed make tracking more difficult (see How to Avoid Being Tracked section below). If they’ve changed their shoes, refer to your measurements of the target’s stride and track them by pattern. With regards to an altered gait, look for signs that the gait is unnatural. For instance, unusually deep heel marks may indicate the target is taking unnaturally long strides.  Note that in all cases, if the target is aware they are being tracked, they may attempt an ambush. A target will often begin disguising their tracks right before an ambush or when they are about to bed down to rest.

Resuming the track if trail has been lost

If you lose the spoor, go back to the last positive sign. Confirm the last positive sign and mark it. Look 25-30 yards ahead and sweep your eyes from the center to the left and then sweep back to center. Do the same for the right side. Each time you sweep, pause during the sweep to bring your eye back toward your feet in an attempt to relocate the spoor.

If the spoor still cannot be found, begin a search pattern to relocate the tracks. The most common search patterns are the cross-grain method and the 360-degree sweep.

Cross-grain search method (also called Sweep Pattern)

Cross-grain search method (also called Sweep Pattern)The cross-grain method uses a squared-off zig-zag sort of search pattern (see diagram on right). Stand at the point of the last spoor found and sight an object in front of you, about 100 yards away. Turn to your right (90 degrees perpendicular to the object you sighted in the distance) and walk about 50 yards searching for spoor. Then turn to your left 90 degrees (now facing the direction of the object you sighted) and walk about 25 yards. Turn left again, parallel to the first line walked (and perpendicular to the object you sighted in the distance) and walk about 100 yards (at the halfway point, you will pass your original spoor on the left). After 100 yards, turn right, walk 25 yards, turn right and walk 100 yards, and so on.

360-degree search method

The 360 degree sweep method is the most intensive search pattern requiring you make ever-increasing circles from the last spoor found, outward until the next spoor is found. This method can be intense sometimes requiring a circle of a mile or more before the track is picked up again.

Tracking multiple people

If you are tracking more than one person, it is important to understand how many people you are tracking. To determine this, step off one pace (about 36 inches) next to the set of tracks. Lay out a space about 18 inches wide across the tracks. Inside this 18×36 inch box, count the number of full and partial tracks and divide by 2 to determine the number of people being tracked.

Be aware that multiple people fleeing together will work together. They may split up or they may travel together in which case, they will double their efforts to throw you off the trail.

How to avoid being tracked by a human being

Illustration showing the phases in a human's gait

There are several actions you can take to avoid being tracked yourself. Most importantly, take into consideration what you know about tracking and use that knowledge to disguise or eliminate your own signs. As you are fleeing, imagine the tracker following your signs and adjust your actions accordingly. For instance, use the features of the environment (e.g. roads, railways) to cover your spoor. When crossing roads or streams, look for the option to use trees or rocks to cross without leaving spoor on the ground.

You may also purposely leave decoy spoor to confuse your trackers. Decoy tracks are especially effective around locations where your tracker may have difficulty maintaining the trail (e.g. near hard surfaces or roads). However, if the decoy tracks are too obvious, your tracker will recognize the deceit.

A good tracker will notice the broken plant that has been snapped and pushed forward by a human footWays to avoid being tracked include:

  1. Wear the same shoes as your tracker.
  2. Use animals (cattle are especially good) and wildlife to cover your tracks.
  3. Make all of your movements in the rain or before a snow.
  4. If travelling in a group, try to step inside each other’s tracks. It may also help to occasionally move in a formation rather than a straight line.
  5. Travel through populated areas to cover your tracks.
  6. Walk backward or tie your shoes on backward.
  7. Change your shoes periodically.
  8. Purposely alter your gait.
  9. Brush out your tracks. Alternatively (or occasionally) leave decoy tracks in a false direction.
  10. Carry a stick and purposely bend grass and branches back with it.
  11. Walk on the inside of the foot to avoid leaving a heel or toe mark.

Avoiding dogs and ambushing your tracker

If dogs are assisting the trackers, use pepper spray and/or ammonia on your tracks.

Lastly, if time and circumstances permit, booby trap or ambush your trackers. If dogs are involved, take out the dogs and dog handler first (others in the party will likely be unable to work with the dogs). The dog handler is also typically easier to take out because they almost always lead the search party.

Practice human tracking

Like anything else, you must practice tracking to become good at it. Places like parks and public trails offer excellent locations for tracking practice.

  1. Don’t move so quickly that you overlook telltale signs. Be patient.
  2. Learn to use your sense of smell as well as your sight and hearing.
  3. Don’t just observe the tracks: interpret what they mean.
  4. Get to know your enemy: study the terrorists’ operating procedures, habits and equipment.
  5. Be persistent: don’t lose the will to win when you lose the spoor/trail. Try to find it again.

Combat rules of tracking

  1. Tracker sets the pace.
  2. Record the start point.
  3. Always know your position.
  4. Confirm on aerial spoor.
  5. Keep in visual contact.
  6. Identify the correct tracks.
  7. Never walk on ground spoor.
  8. Get into the quarry’s mind.
  9. Never go beyond the last spoor

 

Sources: Wikipedia