November 8, 2008

Man Tracking Class with Coby Leighton 11-8-08

KINGFIELD--How do you find and follow the trail of a missing person in the woods? Thirteen people, from all walks of life, volunteered part of their weekend to learn the basics of ‘man tracking’ at the Kingfield Fire Department this past Saturday. “Everyone leaves a trail,” said instructor Coby Leighton. “Your job as a tracker is to look for things that are out of place.”

In the classroom, students learned about the 12 major ‘pressure releases’ that indicate speed, direction and even the behavior of the missing person. After an hour of ‘theory’ indoors, participants hit the dirt to ‘learn-by-doing’ how to identify, read, and follow a track. Working in teams of 4 in a light drizzle, participants got a taste of real tracking by trying to follow a trail that Leighton had made 2 hours earlier. Teams made slow progress at first, taking 45 minutes to cover about 50 feet. The wet conditions in the woods caused the ground to spring back, leaving a very faint trail for all but the most observant tracker.

Steve Yates, president of Franklin Search & Rescue, who hosted the event commented, “You need to be extremely observant to pick up the subtleties left in a track; some of these people clearly have an aptitude for this stuff.” Indeed, some students thought nothing of getting down on all fours and crawling along the ground to better see the impressions. Participant Ana Rothschild of New Portland said, “I can see tracking requires a different level of focus and awareness, to become good at this would require a lot of time.”

Reflecting on the training, Jim Logan of Freeman said, “We learned how easy it is to miss the correct clues and follow false ones, and also how very easy it is to damage the evidence in an area. Still, we did a good job of overcoming mistakes and bringing the mission to a successful conclusion.” In the end, teams followed the track for about 100 yards where they found the apple marking the end of Leighton' trail. In response to the challenging activity, FSAR member James Katchem said, “If anyone gets lost on the beach…call me!”