Expert tracker Ian Maxwell helps you pick up the scent in the world's wildest places
Learn to feel the heartbeat of your environment. Find somewhere to sit (it can be anywhere; my favourite is at the bottom of a tree), then let your mind go blank.
Get good at feeling, seeing, listening, tasting and smelling. We think vision is our strongest sense, but smell is our most primeval – it can deliver more information than any other. When you’ve honed your senses, they will combine into one super-sense: intuition.
Getting to know where the food, water and barriers are will help you to find good tracks. Imagine flying above the landscape, gaining a bird’s eye view of the animal you’re tracking.
Think as the animal is thinking. If I’m in dangerous-animal country I try to think ‘smarter’ than the animal.
Find the shadows and you’ll find the leopard (they rely on them for camouflage). Find the prey and you’ll find the predator. Also, look for ‘track traps’ – soft or sandy patches, into which animals are funnelled; try trails – most animals opt for the path of least resistance.
Keep your eyes peeled for colour change and context. Your eye will be drawn to obvious tracks; once you’ve noted them, start looking for the less-obvious signs.
Birds carry silent messages of intent from a hunting predator. For example, in Africa, if the vultures are in the sky, be aware – the predators are still hunting; if the vultures are in the trees, be very careful, because predators may well still be feeding; if the birds are on the ground, it’s less dangerous.
Ian Maxwell is founder of Shadowhawk Tracker School, which runs a range of UK tracking courses