The Greenside tracking school, if you’ll forgive us calling it that, isn’t specifically for the military “combat tracker”, nor for what first responders have taken to calling the “tactical tracker.” Greenside teaches tracking skills, make no mistake, but more so they teach any individual to (as they put it), “weaponize the senses.” Today our Syballine Warrior Princess is going to do more than talk about the visual track class she recently attended: she’s gonna articulate how she uses tracking skills in her everyday life, even when she’s not actively hunting spoor. Read on.
Combat Tracker? No, everyday life Tracker
Tracking skills can be used by everyone, every day
Years ago I was captivated by a passage from RD Lawrence’s book The Ghost Walker which described the author’s experience of observing a cougar in its natural habitat while learning to think and live like one. The author honed his senses so sharp that he eventually was able to track a cougar miles away based on scent. And I desired to cultivate my senses the same way. I began to seek out instruction in tracking and although it took me a few years to finally be able to do this type of training, I was recently able to participate in a class offered by Freddy Osuna of Greenside Tracking school in Arizona. Greenside Training is home of Index Tracking, Battlefield Tactical Acuity, and GLINT (Greenside Laser Index Night Tracking) courses; they teach techniques in combat tracking and human interdiction security solutions. The bulk of this class covered an introduction to basic tracking skills including, and not limited to, learning how to develop a standard for evaluating spoor, interpreting ground sign and ageing, how to visually dissect a track in order to figure out precise directions of travel or ‘index’ points, and tactical considerations for tracking in varying light conditions (including night time).
What I appreciate about Freddy Osuma as an instructor is the way he leads me to learning, especially after I make a mistake or become stumped on a trail. He doesn’t just give me the information, he helps me find new ways to work for it so that I succeed on my own every time. And because of that, every mistake I made was transformed into major learning moments for me.
I learned a ton of technical information about tracking in this class but I’ll leave that for you to check out in David Reeder and Iain Harrison’s upcoming RECOIL article. What I will offer is how I was immediately able to relate what I was learning about tracking to all areas of living. “It’s all tracking,” explained Freddy. “It’s the way I live my life, how I make decisions every day”. And I too began to make the connection from tracking class to other activities. Here’s 7 things I learned from tracking that also apply to everything else I do:
1. Cultivating the ability to look at micro detail while keeping the bigger picture in sight.
This was most illustrated for me during one of first learning drills where the class was evaluated individually on his/her ability to locate and identify tracks using the criteria we had learned so far. We needed to identify a set of footprints and each track we needed to identify had a nail marking the outside edge of the heel of each footprint. Sounds easy, right? For most students in the class it was, but I ended up becoming stuck after about the 15th track. Using the tracking indicators we learned so far, I KNEW where the track should have been, but I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t even find the nail that was obviously marking the trail. I stood there intently staring at the area where I thought the track should be. I scrutinized the area while all the other students had finished the drill and left. I finally had to relent by asking Freddy for help and he immediately had me question how I was looking at the scene. I stepped back from the area I was scrutinizing to view the area in a way where I visually took in the entire scene. And that was all it took, it was that simple. There was the nail and the footprint I was seeking; it had literally been right in front of my face the entire time. I had been looking too hard at one print and failed to keep the overall pattern in mind.
This ability to push in towards smaller details and then know when to pull back out to survey the entire scene later led to me being able to identify and utilize “index” tracking indicators to move at a faster and more efficient pace in later exercises in class. It was also a powerful reminder not to get too caught up in the small details of life at the expense of the bigger picture.
Even the smallest perspective shift has the potential to result in huge differences in the way I see and understand life events.
2. Change perspective often.
In addition to alternating my focus between micro detail and the bigger picture, in this class I was reminded of the need to frequently change my perspective by tweaking the way I looked at something. Outside of tracking, changing my perspective allows me to see things in new light. Even the smallest perspective shift has the potential to result in huge differences in the way I see and understand life events. As applied to tracking, Freddy talked about ‘brain block’ when he saw us become stuck on a trail. We were encouraged to move around, get down low, manipulate our light source, and many other techniques to alter our view. We were consistently reminded to change perspective and find a solid frame of reference to remedy those times when we became stuck.
3. Assumptions can lead you astray.
Freddy frequently warned us of the dangers of making assumptions when tracking, “Never make an assumption because everything you see afterwards supports that assumption, you need to question everything.” One of my tools I use in everyday life to keep myself from making too many assumptions is to always remain curious, especially about people. I found this ability for staying curious applied well when tracking; I noticed that when I did not stay curious and question things, it ultimately led to making assumptions that were not based on actual phenomenon and often led me astray.
4. Things change.
How I deal with change is, well, how I deal with everything. Most of us have heard that old saying “the only constant is change”. And so it is with tracking. Tracks age. The weather changes. Natural light is always in a state of change. Other human and/or animal tracks may contaminate the scene. Your subject may suddenly change direction. The possibilities are almost endless for how the many variables of tracking may change at any given time. I noticed one of the biggest challenges for myself and my classmates occurred when we encountered terrain changes. Numerous times my partner and I would be moving fast on a set of tracks and then wham – the ground would shift from an easily read soft dirt trail to difficult rocky terrain and the tracks would seemingly disappear. The key for me is not to get stumped by and/or fear change and remind myself to go back to the basics to continue on the path.
At times it is necessary to get into the head of the person (or the animal) that you’re tracking.
5. Embody what you seek.
In everyday life I’ve learned the best way to reach my goals is to embody what it is I’m seeking. And that carries over to tracking – during this class I learned at times it is necessary to get into the head of the person (or the animal) that you’re tracking. For example, figure out where the person is looking to give you an idea of the direction of travel, whether they’re tired (in addition to indicators that lead you to that conclusion), do they have food and water, the state of their health, how heavy of a load they are carrying, and the list goes on.
6. Perception dictates your reality.
“Perception is reality”. For me, therein lies one of the most sought after mysteries of my life. But Freddy broke it down in a technical way for me in class and for a moment I was able to leave my esoteric wanderings at the door. “The more you know about visual acuity, the better tracker you will be, and the better shooter you will be” explained Freddy. As I was tracking, Freddy explained to me how I form foveal snap shots at different points and my brain stitches all of these snapshots together to form an image. By being in the moment, and aligning my central vision, I can then more accurately view the environment. My learning of this is still rudimentary and I’m taking Freddy’s advice and learning more about visual acuity on my own to become a better tracker and shooter.
7. What happens inside the spoor pit, happens outside the spoor pit.
And this brings me back to “It’s all tracking”. On our final drill in class, the class was given a scenario where we needed to track a suspect a few miles into the Sonoran desert. We found the suspect’s car and followed the trail from there. This is where everything came into play for me; all of the things I’ve discussed in #1-6 became paramount in order to pull my weight as part of the team. There was no wasted learning from the classroom spoor pit. On that last drill, I utilized every single learned concept from earlier in the week.
It all offers opportunities to observe and catalog information. It really is all tracking.
Overall, there was not one mistake or correction from the classroom spoor pit where I was not able to immediately recognize that I perform the same way in other areas of my life. When Freddy would point out a way I could better approach a spoor, I found myself thinking “Wow, I also do this the same way at work and encounter the same difficulty!” I realized it’s a choice to be “tracking” all the time. I can either live through my days unaware and oblivious to what’s around me or I can wake up and pay attention. Whether I am developing my situational awareness, finding ways to be more present in the moment (you can’t have situational awareness without being present!), spending time with my family, shopping, in the garden, or wherever and whatever I may be doing, it all offers opportunities to observe and catalog information. It really is all tracking.
Afterword: Ellen was one of three Mad Duo minions involved in a recent Greenside Training course called GLINT/Index Tracking (GLINT is Greenside Laser Index Tracking) down in Phoenix, AZ. It was actually a by-invitation only course sponsored by RECOIL Magazine so they could write about Freddy Osuna and his techniques (you’ve read Freddy’s work on here before – he’s the author of Index Tracking: Essential Guide to Trailing Man and Beast).