Tracking is a developed skill acquired over many hours on the ground looking at sign.  Sign is any disturbance left by an animal, human, or objects.  The detection of this sign is called sign cutting.  A person or animal cannot traverse ground without leaving some sort of telltale sign.  This sign is what we’re trying to find and track.  Sign cutting can lead trackers to a track which in turn leads them to our lost person.  There are many books written and schools on tracking.  The tracking tactics vary depending on who you are looking for.  Such as law enforcement or military tracking are looking for someone that does not want to be found so there is an element of security risk to the trackers.  When looking for a lost person generally they want to be found thus the tracking team can move much faster to reduce the real estate between the trackers and the lost person.   Working as tracking teams can sign cut an area where a lost person was last seen to reduce the time it would take to locate the lost person.  Many times Search and Rescue is dispatched out several hours and in some cases days after someone is reported missing.  In this case time and weather play a big factor in the success of locating the lost person.

Lighting angle is an important part of tracking as is the light source such as natural (the sun) or artificial (flashlight) or lantern etc.  Depending on who you talk to as far as which artificial light source you use varies on the ground surface and the individual. 

Contamination is another big factor in locating a lost person.   It is at nearly every scene and trackers must learn to work through this.  Contamination is the action or state of making or being made impure by polluting or poisoning.  Contamination of an area is not intentional in most cases but it happens by well intentioned family and friends and by the first responding agency. 

In Mohave County we take our tracking seriously.  Mohave County has developed tracking programs to teach new search and rescue volunteers the fundamentals of tracking for lost persons.  The tracking programs are geared strictly for search and rescue.  There are three levels in which to advance your tracking skills.  Beginning with tracker lll, then tracker ll, and tracker l for the more seasoned trackers.  Each level offers another element such as vehicle tracking in tracker ll and then to sign cutting which takes a little more skill.  The tracker must be detailed in observing sign to determine whether by age (indexing) this is or lost person or not.  Once it is determined the track found while sign cutting is in fact our lost person we can leap frog teams of trackers ahead of each other to quickly reach our lost person.

There is a period of time during the initial response that we call a hasty search.  This hasty search is within the first hours of a search.  Our Command goal is within this hasty search time period to locate our lost persons.  This is accomplished by using sign cutting trackers to locate the track leap frog tracking teams to the lost person location.


Sgt. Bill Weaver #53

Mohave County Sheriff Search and Rescue