Tracking and Counter Tracking

This article comes to us from milsim player Scorpion1. Many thanks for his insight and time in writing this article. As always, all acronyms are defined on the Milsim Dictionary page under the Resources tab. This article was written to help teach players prepare for Operation East Wind which is set during the Cold War. For this reason you will find some references to nations and entities that existed during that time as if they are current events. Tracking is not applicable in many milsim events but is invaluable for a unit operating in a large area.

I understand that some did not completely understand the importance of Tracking in a military situation. […] Tracking will allow you to give an educated guess at the type, number, and and possible activity of the enemy forces you may be facing. For example, by understanding the tracks that you may find you can tell if it is a simple probing unit, small in size and traveling fast and light or if it is a strike team looking to 86 your resupply.

As well you may find yourself in the need to loose a tail if you find yourself behind the new front line and have need to extract. Sight and smell have the same importance. 50% of the failed night missions are the result of poor adaptability to the darkness. When your eyes don’t work fully you have to fall back on your hearing and smell. Humans will always smell different than the forest around them. Sound travels very far at night but because of the echo bounce you may become confused as to which direction the noise is coming from. With practice you can be able to understand the way sound travels, how to tell the distance, and the direction.

To revisit these post of instruction:

Tracking and Counter Tracking:

Operating deep behind enemy lines requires proficiency in tracking and countertracking skills. Tracking ability allows an LRS team to immediately identify the presence of the enemy and collect intelligence. Tracking is also useful when an LRS team conducts a combat search and rescue mission to retrieve a downed pilot. Additionally, knowing how to track greatly enhances the team’s ability to countertrack.

a. Concepts of Tracking. To become a tracker, certain qualities must be developed and refined such as patience, persistence, acute observation, good memory, and intuition. These traits help when the tracking signs become weak or if the tracker has a certain feeling about the situation. As the tracker moves, he forms an opinion about the enemy such as how many, degree of training, the equipment they have, and state of morale. The following six indicators help form the tracker’s picture of the enemy.

(1) Displacement. Displacement means that something is moved from its original position. The tracker looks for signs of displacement for 10 to 15 meters in a 180-degree arc to his front from the ground to the average height of a man. (See Figure F-1, page F-2.) By comparing indicators, the tracker can gain information. For example, if a footprint is found and a scuff mark on a tree is about waist high, it may indicate that an armed soldier passed this spot. (See Figure F-2, page F-2). A footprint can tell the tracker what footgear the enemy is wearing, if any. It can also show the lack of proper equipment, the direction of movement, number of persons, whether they are carrying heavy loads, the sex, rate of movement, and whether or not they know they are being followed. (See Figure F-3, page F-3; see Figure F-4, page F-4.) Other forms of displacement are bits of clothing or thread left on the ground or vegetation. Movement of vegetation on a still day (such as broken limbs and bent grass, animals flushed from their homes or cries of excitement; trails cut through foliage, disturbed insect life, or turned over rocks) indicates a presence.


(2) Staining. A good example of staining is blood on the ground of foliage. Other examples of staining are mud dragged by footgear and crushed vegetation on a hard object. Crushed berries also stain. The movement of water causes it to become cloudy.

(3) Weathering. The weather may help or hinder the tracker to determing the age of signs. Wind, snow, rain, and sunlight are factors affecting tracking signs.

(4) Littering. A poorly disciplined unit will pass through an area leaving a path of litter. A tracker can use the last rain or strong wind as a measure to show the amount of time it has been there.

(5) Camouflaging techniques. Camouflage applies to tracking when the followed party tries to slowdown the tracker; for example, leaving footprints walking backward, brushing out trails, and walking over rocky ground or through streams are ways of camouflaging the trail.

(6) Interpreting combat information. The tracker makes a mental image of who he is tracking by using his learned concepts. When reporting to the commander, he indicates what he believes, but should not state it as fact. Commanders take this information under consideration. If they choose, immediate planning is done to take action against the enemy.

b. Tracking Team Organization. Tracking units can be any size as long as they have these three elements: a leader, a tracker, and security. Often, tracking teams consist of two types:

(1) Tracker and cover man. Each team member is equally skilled. They can move fast, know each other’s abilities and weaknesses, and can compensate for each other.

(2) Tracking team leader tracker RATELO [radio man], and two security men. The advantages of a tracking team with this many members are increased observation and security. The disadvantage is the size of the team.

c. Tracker and Dog Teams. Tracker and dog teams are more effective than a tracker alone.

(1) Dog characteristics. The dog(s) follows a trail faster and can continue to track at night. Despite years of domestication, dogs retain most of the traits of their wild ancestors. If put to controlled use, these traits are effective when tracking.

(a) Endurance. A dog can hold a steady pace and effectively track for up to eight hours. The speed can be up to 10 miles per hour, only limited by the speed of the handler. The speed and endurance can be further increased by the use of vehicles and extra teams.

(b) Mental characteristics. Dogs are curious by nature. Dogs can be aggressive or lazy, cowardly or brave. A dog’s sensory traits are what make him seem intelligent [and are a] threat to the evader. Dogs can detect minute substances of disturbance on the ground or even in the air. Using distracting or irritating odors (for example, CS powder or pepper) only bothers the dog for a short time (3 to 5 minutes). After the odor is discharged by the dog, he can pickup a cold trail even quicker. The dog smells odors from the ground and air and forms scent pictures. The scent pictures are put together through several sources of smell.

— Individual scent. This is the most important scent when it comes to tracking. Vapors horn body secretions work their way through the evader’s shoes onto the ground. Sweat from other parts of the body rubs off onto vegetation and other objects. Scent is even left in the air.

— Reinforcing scent. Objects are introduced to the dog that reinforce the scent as it relates to the evader. Some reinforcing scents could be on the evader’s clothing or boots, or the same material as is used in his clothing. Even boot polish can help the dog.

— Ecological scent. For the dog, the most important scent comes from the earth itself. By far, the strongest smells come from disturbances in ecology such as crushed insects, bruised vegetation, and broken ground. Over varied terrain, dogs can smell particles and vapors that are constantly carried by the evader wherever he walks.

(c) Aggressiveness. Tracking dogs are screened and trained. They are aggressive trackers and eager to please their handler.

(d) Sensory characteristics. Knowledge of the following sensory traits and how the dog uses them helps the evader to think ahead of the dog

.• Sight. A dog’s vision is the lesser of the sensing abilities. They see in black and white and have difficulty spotting static objects at more than 50 yards. Dogs can spot moving objects at considerable distances, however, they do not look up unless they are training up a tree. A dog’s night vision is no better than man’s.

• Hearing. A dangerous problem for the evader is the dog’s ability to hear. Dogs can hear quieter and higher frequencies than humans. Even more dangerous is their ability to locate the source of the sound. Dogs can hear 40 times better than men.

• Smell. The dog’s sense of smell is about 900 times better than a human. It is by far the greatest asset.

(2) Favorable tracking conditions. Seldom will the conditions be ideal for the tracker and dog teams. During training, they become familiar with the difficulties they will face and learn to deal with them. The following conditions are favorable for tracker and dog teams.

(a) Fresh scent. This is probably the most important factor for tracker teams. The fresher the scent, the greater chances of success.

(b) Verified starting point. If trackers have a definite scent to introduce to the dogs, it helps the dogs to follow the correct trail.

(c) Unclean evader. An unclean evader leaves a more distinctive scent.

(d) Fast-moving evader. A fast-moving evader causes more ground disturbances and individual scent from sweat.

(e) Night and early morning. The air is thicker and the scent lasts longer.

(f) Cool, cloudy weather. This limits evaporation of scent.

(g) No wind. This keeps the scent close to the ground. It also keeps it from spreading around, allowing the dog to follow the correct route.

(h) Thick vegetation. This restricts the dissemination of scent and holds the smell.

(3) Unfavorable tracking conditions. Marked loss in technique proficiency can be expected when the following conditions occur.

(a) Heat. This causes rapid evaporation of scent.

(b) Unverified start point. The dogs may follow the wrong route or scent.

(c) Low humidity. Scent does not last as long.

(d) Dry ground. Dry ground does not retain scent.

(e) Wind. Wind disperses scent and causes the dog to track downwind.

(f) Heavy rain. This washes the scent away.

(g) Distractive scents. These take the dog’s attention away from the trail. Some of these scents are blood, meat, manure, farmland, and populated areas.

(h) Covered scent. Some elements in nature cause the scent picture to be partially or completely covered. Examples are sand that can blow over the tracks and help to disguise the track; snow and ice that can form over the track and make it nearly impossible to follow; and water. Water is one of the most difficult conditions for a tracker dog team. Water that is shallow, especially if rocks or vegetation protrude, can produce a trail that a dog can follow with varied degrees of success.

c. Countertracking. Countertracking techniques are constantly used by LRS teams to avoid alerting the enemy to their presence. To be effective at evading trackers, countertracking techniques must be known. Knowledge of tracking is probably the best way to successfully evade trackers. Knowledge of tracker and dog teams greatly assists the survivor when evading the enemy. Some of the following techniques may throw off trackers:

•Double back (especially when moving into open areas).

•Use trails (follow or pretend to follow, then double back)

•Walk backward (this makes the tracker believe the evader is moving in the opposite direction).

•Change directions before entering streams.

•Walk in water.

•Cover the trail.

•Outdistance trackers.

•Take advantage of terrain and weather conditions; for example, use streams and sparsely vegetated areas to move through, and move during heavy rains.

Below are the most commonly issued combat boots to the Soviet and East German Armies.undefined

Notice the tread on each. Notice the hard sole on the Soviet and the DDR early issue Jack Boot and the soft sole on the Soviet lace-up and late DDR boot. Once you learn the enemies foot print you can find it when needed and improve you’r chances of survival.

Sight, sound smell

Off-Center Vision. Viewing an object using central vision during daylight poses no limitations, but central visionis ineffective at night. This is due to the night blind spot that exists during low light. To make up for this limitation, soldiers use off-center vision. This technique requires looking 10 degrees above, below, or to either side of an object rather than directly at it. This allows the peripheral vision to remain in contact with an object.

Dark Adaptation. Dark adaptation is the processby which the eyes increase their sensitivity to low levels of light. Soldiers adapt to the darkness at varying degrees and rates. During the first 30 minutes in a dark environment, the eye sensitivity increases roughly 10,000 times, but not much further after that time.

(1) Dark adaptation is affected by exposure to bright lights such as matches, flashlights, flares, and vehicle headlights. Full recovery from this exposure may take up to 45 minutes.

(2) Night vision goggles impede dark adaptation. However, if a soldier adapts to the dark before donning the goggles, he gains full dark adaptation in about two minutes after removing them.

(3) Color perception decreases during night operations. Light and dark colors may be distinguished depending on the intensity of the reflected light.

(4) Visual activity is also reduced. Since visual sharpness during night operations is one-seventh of what it is during the day, soldiers can only see large, bulky objects.

Bleach-Out Effect. Even when off-center viewing is practiced, the image of an object viewed longer than two to three seconds tends to bleach out and become one solid tone. As a result, the object is no longer visible and can produce a potentially unsafe operating condition. To overcome this condition, the soldier must be aware of this phenomenon and avoid looking at an object longer than two to three seconds. By shifting his eyes from one off-center point to another, he can continue to pick up the object in his peripheral field of vision.

Shape or Silhouette. Objects must be identified by their shape or silhouette. Familiarity with the architectural design of structures common to the area of operations determines one’s success using this technique. For example, the silhouette of a building with a high roof and a steeple can be recognized in the United States as a church, while churches in other parts of the world may have entirely different architecture.

Light Sources and Distances. Below are the estimated distances that light sources can be seen at night with the naked eye.

Vehicle headlights-4 to 8 kilometers
Bonefire-4 to 5 kilometers
Flashlight-Up to 2 kilometers
Lighted match-Up to 1.5 kilometers
Cigarette cherry-0.5 to 0.8 kilometers


A soldier’s hearing becomes more acute at night. Several factors contribute to this: increased concentration; sound travels farther in colder, moister air; and less background noise. Practice and training help overcome a soldier’s fear in what he hears at night. Training enables him to discriminate multiple sounds, faint sounds, and sound source directions. Below are the estimated distances that sounds can be heard at night.

Motor Vehicle-Up to 500 Kilometers away
Troop movement on foot-Up to 300 meters
Metal on metal-Up to 300 meters
Conversation-Up to 300 meters
Steps of a single man-Up to 40 meters
Screams-Up to 1,500 meters


Smell is the soldier’s most unused sense. Only about two percent of its potential is used. The enemy’s diet usually varies from that of US soldiers. Different diets produce different characteristic human odors. People who eat a meat diet have a different body odor than people who eat a vegetarian diet. Once a soldier is accustomed to the enemy’s characteristic odor, the odor is easy to detect and differentiate at night. Practice improves skill and confidence. Sensing odors at night can be improved by facing into the wind at a 45-degree angle. The soldier should relax, breathe normally, take sharp sniffs, think about specific odors, and concentrate.

Below are the estimated distance at which odors can be sensed.
Deisel Fuel-Up to 500 meters
Cigarette smoke-Up to 150 meters
Heat Tab-Up to 300 Meters
After shave/Deoderants-Up to 100 meters

Odors float downhill on cool, night air and rise on warm, morning air.