How to start

Tracking Wildlife

How can you tell if deer live in a nearby park or forest? Where do the foxes and squirrels go to eat or drink? Tracking wildlife can help you get to know the animals near you.

Step 1

Think about where animals might go for food, drink, or where they might make their homes.

Step 2

Muddy ground and the banks of streams and creeks are especially good for finding tracks, but be sure to wear boots and clothes that can get dirty.

Step 3

If you find tracks, take notes on what you see (or make a sketch). Is it a paw print, hoof print, or fork-like? How big is each track?

Step 4

Look closely at the trees and bushes around you. Sometimes you’ll be able to find pieces of fur or feathers caught on branches, or you can see bite marks on trees and bushes where animals feed.

Step 5

When you get home, try looking up an online animal tracking guide. See if you can identify the prints you saw. You can also try matching the tracks with our animal tracks resource.

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Exploration Ideas

  • Draw animal prints

    Next time you go out, try bringing along a notebook and a pencil and sketching the prints you find. Over time, your kids will be able to add to their collection!

  • Widen the search

    As you become more skilled, you can start looking for other signs of animals. Do you see leaves or bushes that have been trampled? Rabbits and deer often feed on the same plants. Twigs eaten by rabbits are often cut off at a 45 degree angle, while twigs eaten by deer are usually ripped off of bushes or trees and have rough, irregular edges.

What to Bring

  • Plenty of water, even for short hikes — a gallon per person per day is a good guide
  • Snacks such as fruit or trail mix and empty bags to collect any garbage
  • Sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Warm layers and a lightweight rain jacket
  • Travel size first aid kit
  • Map of the area you’ll be exploring and your emergency contact numbers
  • A small flashlight and batteries


Safety Tips

  • Before you get on the trail make sure you have the local Forest Service Ranger District’s or Supervisor’s Office phone number with you. If someone gets hurt this should be the first number you call.
  • Always let someone know where you're going and what time you expect to be back.
  • Avoid going if a thunderstorm is in the forecast. Seek shelter in a car or house if you’re caught in a thunderstorm. If you're caught outside, the safest place to be is crouching in a cluster of trees — not in a clearing, out on water, or next to a lone tree.
  • Be mindful of the sun. Use sunscreen, seek shade, and drink plenty of water — even in the winter.
  • Animals have their own natural food supply so please don’t feed them.
  • Fruits and mushrooms can look tasty, but some are poisonous. To be safe, do not eat anything you find growing in the forest.