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Though there are those among us who aren’t keen on the frostier elements of winter, perhaps a new hobby could change our minds. Snow is an easy medium for spotting tracks, as they are typically quite obvious indentations in the stark white powder. Fresh snow offers a perfect opportunity to “play detective” and follow the footprints left behind by wildlife as they navigate the snowy outdoors. Paths, trails, and all sorts of meanderings are plainly visible for the observer to decipher. These trails reveal all sorts of fascinating behaviors and movements.

Coyote and turkey tracks. Image: Wolf Conservation Center

Tracks and trails enable one to follow the patterns of animal movement, however it is important to note that if the tracks are fresh, following them could impact an animals’ behavior as they might sense you approaching. It is often considered more ethical to “backtrack” on fresh tracks, in other words to follow the path in the opposite direction that the animal traveled in order to give them ample space and not impact their natural movements should they be nearby.

Identifying the species that left the tracks can be somewhat challenging depending on the conditions. Melting snow can cause tracks to distort and often makes them appear much larger than the original imprint. Similarly, if more snow has accumulated or strong winds have blown since the imprint was left, definition may be lost. Depth of snow could also make it challenging to see the details of each track if the leg of the animal has left a deep hole.

And remember – if you aren’t sure, snap a photo with something of a universally understood size for scale (ex. a dollar bill, a lighter, a pencil) or if those aren’t available, use your hand or shoe that might be easily measured later.