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TheIT
02-10-2009, 05:44 AM
When tracking an animal through forest, etc, what sort of signs does a hunter look for?

I've been making an assumption in my story that I want to verify. Would a huge spider-like creature, say the size and weight of a large dog, make tracks which a hunter could follow? Given the construction of the legs, I'm assuming that the creature will leave puncture marks in dirt rather than footprints so its tracks would be almost impossible to see. Sound feasible?

Thanks in advance!

Puma
02-10-2009, 05:59 AM
Hi TheIt - You didn't mention season of the year and that makes a difference - snow versus rock hard ground in August.

A dog will leave prints and claw marks in snow or soft ground, a cat will leave only prints (no claw marks), a skunk or raccoon will leave sort of a combination, deer, of course, leave hoof prints but you can tell by the way the print is made how large the deer is.

In addition to prints, trackers look for droppings and can tell pretty much what kind of animal it is by the type of droppings. In grass you can see traces of where a larger animal (dog/deer) ran through by the way the grass is ruffled/bent down. Some animals also leave tell tale signs of meals they've eaten - empty crawdad shells, feathers or fur, snipped off branches, etc.

So, a lot is going to depend on how the feet of your animal are constructed and whether the weight makes more of the foot come down on the ground (a large deer will leave an impression of the upper part of the hoof in addition to the cloven points).

Hope that gets you going. What else can you tell us about your animal and situation? Puma

theengel
02-10-2009, 06:14 AM
And of course, the animal might be following a path that it uses a lot. If it's wounded, it would probably break from its normal trail, which would mean you have a nice blood trail to follow (very easy to track compared to prints). But if the animal isn't wounded, it might have formed a nice little trail through that part of the forrest, so you could follow them easier and faster, only stopping occasionally to make sure the tracks are still fresh and the trail is still hot.

TheIT
02-10-2009, 06:14 AM
Thanks, Puma! Think autumn in a mountain forest. Places where they're going to look for tracks of this creature include a grassy field, a rocky plateau, and forest undergrowth.

It's a fantasy story, so I'm envisioning that this creature has feet like a spider, in other words, points. I want it to be pretty much untrackable by ordinary means. It's been driving the village hunters nuts because they can't figure out where it comes from and where it goes.

Izunya
02-10-2009, 06:31 AM
I want it to be pretty much untrackable by ordinary means. It's been driving the village hunters nuts because they can't figure out where it comes from and where it goes.

Maybe it doesn't stick to the ground. Most spiders are climbers, and although it might have trouble on the smaller branches due to its size, some spiders are also jumpers. Even the best hunter will have trouble with something that jumps from tree to tree.

Of course, in real life, jumping spiders aren't into complicated web-weaving; why build traps when you can pounce? So if you chose spiders as a model because of the creepy Mirkwood-draped-in-webs thing, you might want to think through the critter's habits pretty carefully and figure out why it uses both strategies.

Izunya

TheIT
02-10-2009, 06:56 AM
Maybe it doesn't stick to the ground. Most spiders are climbers, and although it might have trouble on the smaller branches due to its size, some spiders are also jumpers. Even the best hunter will have trouble with something that jumps from tree to tree.

Of course, in real life, jumping spiders aren't into complicated web-weaving; why build traps when you can pounce? So if you chose spiders as a model because of the creepy Mirkwood-draped-in-webs thing, you might want to think through the critter's habits pretty carefully and figure out why it uses both strategies.

Izunya

Good point. I'm envisioning this creature as something which can also climb and jump, so its mode of travel will use any available surface where it can cling. There are some places where the hunters know it came to ground, though, and I want to make sure that the hunters cannot identify what this creature is by any tracks it might leave behind. It doesn't spin webs at all. It also doesn't leave behind any droppings.

Question: how far could dogs track a blood trail? A broken blood trail?

Komnena
02-10-2009, 07:17 AM
If I wanted to know about dog tracking abilities I'd google scent hounds like bloodhounds or raccoon hunting dogs.

Fenika
02-10-2009, 07:33 AM
You don't even need blood to track with when you're a dog. And since a dog's worst enemy is pavement or similar and you're in a forest...

As for spider legs, in soft ground they would leave a very distinct print. Slightly rounded, and maybe with razor thin claw marks. I say soft, b/c even a monster-spider doesn't have a lot of weight. The largest spider currently known (unless my knowledge is outdated) weighs a quarter of a pound but is quite large.

Also, spiders have book lungs (heh) which means they can sprint (a very short distance compared to other animals), but then they must pause to rest (breathe). They can walk quickly for a good while though.

http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&q=spider%20feet&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wi

Looks like some spiders even have split 'toes'

And- http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/articles/20061011/a1257_1357.JPG

Fenika
02-10-2009, 07:38 AM
I should add that even mice can leave significant tracks in sand and soft ground, and they certainly aren't a quarter pound or more...

TheIT
02-10-2009, 08:02 AM
But I doubt a dog would be able to scent track a creature up in the crowns of trees even if the creature did smell like blood.

OK, I agree about the slit marks on the ground. The hunters might notice the marks but not understand them since those marks don't match any of the known forest animals. Also, once the creature really hits its stride, the marks will be at long intervals. The creature doesn't need to pause for breath.

burgy61
02-10-2009, 08:03 AM
Thanks, Puma! Think autumn in a mountain forest. Places where they're going to look for tracks of this creature include a grassy field, a rocky plateau, and forest undergrowth.

Tracking across a grassy field will depend on how tall the grass is. If the grass is tall the legs would have to go straight up and down so as not to bend the grass. Tracking in grass is usually done by following how the grass is bent and knowing what type of animal you're tracking. Some animals bend the grass in the direction they are going and some bend it in the direction they came from. Also the time off day would make a difference, if there is dew on the grass you might find particles of dirt clinging to the grass, or where the animal disturbed the dew as it walked through the grass. This would also give the trackers a clue as to the time of day the animal crossed.

A rocky plateau is a little more difficult, if the hoof is hard enough it might leave scratches or possibly chip the stone in places. Things to look for would be white slashes in the stone, small impressions where stones have been disturbed, flipped over, the underside would appear darker then surrounding area.

Tracking through a forest you would look for several signs. If the hoof is pointed you might see holes or a pattern of holes in the leaves on the forest floor. Small underbrush or low hanging branches might have broken branches or bent which a good tracker would find. Places where the floor has been disturbed as the animal walked, scrapings in the dirt, small piles of leaves pushed up by the animals feet, things like that. If the animal eats vegetation you might see where it stopped to eat a particular vegetation.
Hope this helps you TheIt.

TheIT
02-10-2009, 08:09 AM
Thanks, burgy61, that helps. The hunters don't know what they're looking for, so I imagine that they can follow the trail for a short distance but lose it easily. Once they actually see the creature, they can then figure out what clues to look for and they'll have better luck.

How long does the trail of an animal's passage last? Hours? Days? I'm assuming weather and other traffic has a lot to do with duration.

burgy61
02-10-2009, 08:21 AM
How long does the trail of an animal's passage last? Hours? Days? I'm assuming weather and other traffic has a lot to do with duration.

In some places the tracks might remain for days, things like following bent grass or disturbed dew would only last a few hours. In the forest they possibly would be covered by falling leaves or wiped out by other animals at anytime so it would depend on how long you want them to last. Rain and wind also play a part in how long tracks last, a hard rain will wipe out almost all tracks.

Horseshoes
02-10-2009, 06:17 PM
Does your spider hop? Some do, I understand, but if your guy is only crawling along, then one lucky thing for the trackers here (I've done a huge amount of tracking) is there is no suspension phase to the gait. Suspension phase is what slows us down, because it's when there are no feet on the ground. Some trackers (people, not dogs) use a tracking stick, which is marked to find the avg stride length of the quarry, makes it a tad faster when casting for the next print--remember we're assuming the quarry could have turned w/ each step, not just mving in a straight line.

If tracking w/ dogs, your spider is toast if I get to start my dog near a reasonably fresh point-last-known and that point is not too old. The avg urban/rural tracker here can comfortably track a 4-5 hr old track. Your terms 'blood trail' and 'broken blood trail' mean nothing to me though... meaning the quarry is injured? Meaning the quarry is dragging prey? Either will make things easier for my tracker. Bad Spider goes in the tree canopy for long and my dog will lose him (most avg trackers will), but my buddy's bloodhounds will not.

But you can easily go w/ the hard to track thing in that the avg villager doesn't have a handy tracking dog, eh? And some spiders are incredibly fast in travel. One the size of my tracker-yewch, quite a villain your story has. I think your spidey can evade your villagers pretty well when he uses speed, stealth and the tree canopy. And I'm glad it's morning because I do not need to go to bed with your spidey in my head.

Leva
02-10-2009, 09:57 PM
Tracking isn't just about tracks on the ground, FYI. It's also about knowing the behavior of the animal in question.

Kinda hard to describe -- but if you know how an animal acts, it's easier to track it. What does it eat and how does it hunt it? What KINDs of trees does it like to climb in? How big? Does it jump from the lower limbs or the top? Does it need to go to water every day, or does it avoid water? Will it trot right across a clearing, or skirt the edge? Will it stop at the edge of a clearing or a good distance from water for a long time and have a look-see before leaving cover?

Does it mark territory? If so, how, and how often?

Where does it sleep? How? (I can see a spider spinning a sleeping web every night, or whenever it wants to rest.)

Does it travel on ridgelines or down in valleys? If I was tracking a mountain goat I'd expect it to cover very different ground from a deer.

If you can predict what it's going to do, where, and how, it makes tracking it a lot easier.

Snowstorm
02-10-2009, 11:28 PM
TheIT: I recommend you thumb through "Mammal Tracks & Sign, A Guide to North American Species," by Mark Elbroch, and published by Stackpole Books, copyright 2003 (or a similar book if you can't find this one). A wildlife biologist friend just lent me the book. It's fantastic and includes a lot of things you might not have thought of.

Besides tracking foot prints, there's scat (like others above mentioned), broken branches, scrape marks on trees/bushes, burrow holes, evidence of nibbling on vegetation or discarded antlers, or evidence of how the predator ate its prey such it only ate its brain or ate from the lower abdomen up through the rib cage.

You could have a field day (no pun intended) with the creature's habits. Good luck.

TheIT
02-10-2009, 11:58 PM
Thanks for the feedback and references, everyone! I'm beginning to think that what I came up with is feasible.

My story is set in a mountain village. Over the course of the summer the village hunters have discovered the remains in the forest of animals like deer and smaller game that have been killed by extreme violence. They've been assuming it's some magic touched wild animal doing the killing, but the clues doesn't make sense: it doesn't seem to eat what it killed, they can't find any prints or droppings, no scents other than the prey's blood, and the attacks seem to be completely random. They've tried to track it, but all they can find are the trails that the prey left. If they don't stop this thing, they're afraid it'll escalate to killing people. My story starts in autumn when new information comes to light.

Tsu Dho Nimh
02-11-2009, 01:19 AM
Tarantulas leave distinctive footprints in sand and dust - they scuff the ground if they are moving quickly. Here's some examples. it's clearly not a quadruped or biped.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/xtwizx/2502793249/ is foot of large spider

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tangerinepython/73190014/in/set-134740/ spider tracks in sand

http://pro.corbis.com/search/Enlargement.aspx?CID=isg&mediauid={0588CB6A-91CD-4942-AB1E-42C642CB198E} Spider rested in sand, or jumped to.from here

TheIT
03-21-2009, 05:43 AM
Thanks for the info, everyone!

I've got a related question, so let me bump this thread rather than create a new one. I'm working on a scene where the creature I asked about above is chasing a deer through the forest. The creature catches and kills the deer. My MC is nearby and will hear the sounds of the chase, but won't be able to see what's happening because it's night. Question: would the deer make any sounds? AFAIK, deer don't make sounds, but I'm not sure.

Leva
03-21-2009, 06:09 AM
Deer can and do make sounds. They sort've make whistling/bugling and snorting/barking noises.

I'm honestly not sure what sound an adult deer in a fight would make, however. Probably grunting, at a guess, though I've never honestly seen a deer in a fight with a predator. They grunt when they fight with each other.

If a deer sees a predator, they bark a warning, FYI -- sort've a huffing/coughing type of noise. And they may stamp a foot while staring at the threat. Then if the threat is real, and not just the wind or something harmless, they'll spin and bound off while displaying the white part of their tail (they curl it over their rump).

Deer will make bugling (whistling) calls during mating season, and does will make short, sharp whistles if they're calling their fawns.

Funny story: my father had a wooden elk call, and was trying to coax the resident bull elk into his yard by sounding like another bull elk. He kept hearing "the bull" call back from up the road. Turns out the neighbor had a similar device, and they were calling each other and there was no actual bull elk talking ... my dad and his neighbor were just bugling at each *other*.

TheIT
03-21-2009, 06:22 AM
Funny story: my father had a wooden elk call, and was trying to coax the resident bull elk into his yard by sounding like another bull elk. He kept hearing "the bull" call back from up the road. Turns out the neighbor had a similar device, and they were calling each other and there was no actual bull elk talking ... my dad and his neighbor were just bugling at each *other*.

Meanwhile, the real bull elk is off somewhere laughing... :D

Thanks, this helps. Would a deer scream if it's hurt?

rugcat
03-21-2009, 06:34 AM
You can probably find this book (http://www.amazon.com/Tracker-Jr-Tom-Brown/dp/0425053474/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1237602668&sr=1-1)in the library. It will tell you all you need to know about tracking, and if you have a scene set in the wilderness, it will give you much insight. Plus, it's a great read.