By J. Greco, MyNature Inc.
For most of the year, wild animals remain a mystery but once the snow starts to pile up the clues to unraveling that mystery are everywhere. Tracks, trails, bedding areas, preferred foods sites, scat and other animal signs are there for the discovery.
There is nothing to me more rewarding than picking up the trail of an animal in fresh snow and following it to it's maker. Following one set of tracks can teach you much more than you would think if you just take the time to pay attention to detail.
One of the easiest tracks to find and follow are those of a deer and at this time of year there is a wealth of information in every deer trail. Tracking a deer on level terrain you will find that when they are ready to bed down they will circle back toward their trail to watch for danger that may be following them, hilly terrain they will bed down of a ridge to be able to look down at anything approaching their trail and have ample time to escape. You may also be able to tell the sex of a deer just by the sign that's left.
You may follow deer tracks in the snow that lead to tree that the bark has been rubbed off, the track that leads to this sign is of a male deer. If you find one set of deer tracks that lead to a scraped over spot on the ground that is oval in shape or "V" shaped that is another indication of a male deer. If you find scattered drops of urine in the snow along a deers tracks that's another sign that you are following a buck deer. A buck deer will urinate on it lower leg and the surrounding snow will show the drips and splatters, a female or doe deer will semi squat or hunch their hind end and urinate directly on the snow in one consolidated spot.
The gait pattern of each animal is also evident in the snow. Fishers and otters both share the same gait pattern, bounding at most times through the woods. If you can't distinguish the individual toes to identify which animals tracks you are looking at just keep following them, an otter will eventually make a slide on his belly in the snow which will immediately give his identity away. Snow also makes finding den sites much easier.
Animals like the porcupine den in one spot coming out frequently to eat tree bark or buds and to defecate. The outside of their den will be littered with feces. Following porcupine tracks in the snow you will notice that they never venture far from their den in the winter.
Remember that when the temperature drops and the snow starts to pile up it's the best time to start some tracking. Every animal that is out and about is leaving their life story there for you, you just need to learn to read the book.
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