Doug Goodman

Texas Horror Writer. Cadaver Dog Handler.

Doug's Blog

SAR Tracking Seminar

Posted by douggoodman on May 14, 2012 at 2:30 PM

Is there anything as fun as crawling through the mud on your hands and knees while searching for footprints?  (Of course not!)  I got to spend most of this past weekend (thanks to my wonderful and accepting wife, Mrs. Bad Ass) at a man-tracking seminar in Alvin, Texas.  The weather was accommodating and the instructor was the vivacious Mr. Fernando Moreira.  Fernando has been man-tracking bad guys and lost people since before I was born, so he had a lot of great instruction to bring our SAR team. 


Fernando Moreira squatting next to the
curb while he describes
how to collect information from a print


How wonderful was my weekend?  Look at this picture of my boots and knee pads.  Can't see the knee pads?  I can't see how.  I already had knocked some of the mud off them...



One of the biggest things that I took from this seminar was the similarities in tactics between man-tracking and human remains work.  Obviously, you are looking for something that is not there.  (As my son would say, Duh, Dad!)  But in both disciplines, the key is observation.  I like to tell people that SAR work for me is staring at a dog's butt all day.  The handler has to be able to read his dog, so he is looking for the subtle and not-so-subtle signs that the dog is on trail, off trail, or doing something else.  With man-tracking, the tracker is again looking for subtle and not-so subtle signs laid on the ground, in the bushes, or sometimes even higher.  The key difference is that a handler acts as an interpreter, whereas the tracker is directly examining the evidence. 


Directly Examining Evidence (I should note that we did
not "lift" the footprint - this is an example of what Houston
clay can do after a night of rain and a day of heat -
and it was not the footprint we were tracking)

Another similarity between disciplines was the solution to lost tracks/scent.  For a tracker, you go back to the last good clue.  Several times this past weekend, we would find one print, then lose the next one, so we would have to go back to that last print and check the measurements to see where the next one should be.  I say should be because strides can change depending on terrain, weather, etc.  For the dog handler, the same technique is used if a dog seems off scent.  The handler guides the dog back to the last place it had scent and commands the dog to search again from there.


So did we learn all the cool stuff that you see in movies like the ability to tell if somebody is sick, tall, short, carrying something, etc.  Even in a basic course, we learned how to do some of it.  I impressed myself after following some of his tracks I asked Fernando if he favored one leg over the other, and he said yes.  He had been shot during the Portuguese War back in the seventies.  (Told you he had been tracking for a long time.) 


Fernando said several times that everything can be read from a person's tracks.  "It's all there right on the ground."  After a weekend of training with him, I can say that I learned more about tracking than I thought was possible, and I feel like a whole new world has been opened up to the SAR team.  And you know what?  Yeah.  It was all there right on the ground.  I just had to stop and look at it.


Before these footprints were painted,
I couldn't see them

Categories: SAR - People Training, Search and Rescue

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