How to track animal paw prints

Written by dawn sutton
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How to track animal paw prints
Tracking animal paw prints (paw print image by Kevin McGrath from

Animals in the wild naturally avoid human contact, however, you can identify their tracks in sand, snow, or in soft dirt. Native Americans and pioneers were able to track animal paw prints to help hunt for food.Tracking animal prints also enables wildlife biologists to determine animal habitats and to complete population surveys. Look for paw print tracks along creek or marsh bottoms, on desert sand dunes, on game trails, or in pastures. The best place to track prints is in areas where two different habitat animals meet.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Illustrations of paw prints
  • Bear spray
  • Knife

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  1. 1

    Study which areas are known to have sightings of the animals you wish to track. If you are looking specifically for black bear paw prints, for example, find out what locations are known to have black bear in the area. If you are not interested in specific animal tracks, go to a natural wildlife area where animals are known to travel, such as on a trail or close to a den tree.

  2. 2

    Gather illustrations of what different paw prints look like when drawn to scale. You may be interested in deer, elk, mountain lions, coyotes, black bears, raccoons or rabbit paw prints. You will be able to compare the tracks you come across with the illustrations to accurately identify the animal.

  3. 3

    Smooth out the ground where you expect animals to pass, using a tree branch to sweep over the dirt. You will be getting rid of any old tracks in the process. Leave the area for several hours or even a day or two, and then go back to the swept area to see if there are any fresh tracks.

  4. 4

    Examine any paw prints you find carefully. You are looking for print size and shape and claw marks. Keep in mind that print size can vary for the same species according to gender and age. Compare prints in the dirt or sand to your guideline illustrations to determine which animal left the tracks.

  5. 5

    Follow the tracks you find to see where they lead. If you are following bear tracks or mountain lion tracks, be careful. Carry a can of bear spray with you and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Travel in a group.

Tips and warnings

  • If you wish to take a paw print home as a souvenir, use plaster of Paris to make track casts of paw prints you find. Should you be following tracks within a dried lake bottom, you might be able to cut around the track and lift it up intact to carry home.
  • Some animals can be dangerous. If you are tracking paw prints to take wildlife photographs, use your zoom camera feature to take a great shot without going unnecessarily close to animals that might be threatened or startled by your presence.

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