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Posted on Aug 26, 2005 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Tracking – Signs of Man, Signs of Hope – Book Review

By Richard N Story

Tracking – Signs of Man, Signs of Hope : A Systematic Approach to the Art and Science of Tracking Humans
David Diaz, V.L. McCann
The Lyons Press, 2005

It is said that trackers are born not made; but David Diaz, a twenty year veteran of the Special Forces in the United States military, would disagree. As long as the person was in good shape for the hunt and was observant than he or she could be trained as a tracker. Tracking – Signs of Man, Signs of Hope by David Diaz with V.L. McCann takes us deep behind the curtain of professional trackers in the military, law enforcement and professional rescue communities. His book is designed to help the novice tracker pick up the skills needed to become proficient in tracking across all the various terrain types he or she might find himself in.

It should be noted that this book is intended for military, law enforcement or rescue personnel, but can be used by anybody interested in tracking. Also the book freely admits that just by reading it you will not become an expert tracker as only experience and field work can do that, but it is a good head start for the novice tracker. So who makes a good tracker? The first requirement is that the tracker be in good shape as the chase might take days and cover a lot of ground and different terrain types. David Diaz’s minimum requirements are: be able to cover 100 miles over steep and varied terrain carrying anywhere from 40 to 90 pounds of equipment with no other means of transportation than your own two feet. Next you must be able to find or carry your own food and water and be able to protect yourself from all possible dangers during the chase. Next is the tracker must have, as David Diaz puts it, “an excessive amount of attention to detail” as the tracker will need to be able to spot details an average person will miss. Finally the tracker will need the tools of the trade.


Gone are the days when the tracker could track without worrying about collecting evidence for post-mission debriefs. Among the gear that David Diaz recommends are: compass, maps, clothes and shelter material appropriate for the environment, writing tools, tablet, digital camera or video camera, tape recorder, batteries, plastic or zip-lock bags, tweezers, digging tool, gloves and optionally a magnifying glass. Now that you’re in shape and have the tools of the trade, what next?

The single most important step before beginning the chase is to learn all about the subject that you can. Learning the history and trends of the chase will be invaluable when trying to determine which sign is the chase and which sign is from somebody else. One area that I had never considered before reading the book is how the diet of the chase can impact the track. Body waste products in the urine and feces not only reveal the current diet of the chase, but general state of health as well. Naturally as the chase moves into the wilderness the choices of food will change, but knowing the diet of the chase can prevent you from following the wrong track. Okay; you’re in shape and you got your tools and intelligence, now what? Now you track. And this is where the book comes into its own as both as field guide for the experienced tracker and a field manual for the novice.

David Diaz spent twenty years in the armed forces of the United States serving as a tracker in the Special Forces. From the testimonials in the front of the book, his bona fides as an instructor in tracking is well established. After the preparatory work has been accomplished, David Diaz and V.L. McCann take the novice tracker through each art in tracking. The first major chapter deals with the art of using one’s senses in tracking. Besides the obvious sight and hearing senses, the author also emphasizes the use of scent tracking and tactile tracking. All the senses must be used or a small sign could be missed and a day or more wasted or worse yet a needless loss of life can occur. What I found particularly helpful was that at the end of each chapter was a story of a hypothetical chase that took place in South Korea which recaps all the major elements in the chapter and places them in context of the chase.

The next chapter deals with signs. Sign is the word assigned to the clues left by the chase. Obviously the most important signs are the ground signs, but David Diaz stresses the importance of not only looking up every once in awhile, but breaks down the areas to be scanned into three zones. The ground signs are the tracks left on the ground. The middle signs are from, roughly, the ankle to the head and include any vegetation or animal habitat, such as spider webs, that might be disturbed. Finally there are the top signs which are above head level. The author stresses that the top area must be scanned for not only might the chase go vertical, but many dangers come from that direction. Now would be a good time to stress another feature the author wants and that is it should be a tracking team. At the very minimum there should be at least one more person skilled in the art of tracking with the tracker. There are two very pragmatic reasons for this. The first is that the assistant or co-tracker can help spots signs the lead tracker might miss. Secondly, the other tracker can provide over-watch security for the tracker. This is very important for the military tracker or the law enforcement tracker. Now that you have discovered the signs in a general area the next step is to interpret the signs.

Interpreting signs is more science than art. The book gives you details on how to determine speed, direction, a solid guestimate on the number of people in the party, and how to determine generalized health of and equipment in the chase. This chapter was full of surprisingly helpful hints and tips to tracking. How to measure a footprint and stride without a measuring tape. How to tell if the chase is walking backwards or forwards. If the chase is bleeding, what type of wound he or she has by the blood left. How imprints on the ground from sitting gear down might help explore what the chase has, or bits of refuse from equipment preparation would also help explain what equipment the chase has. This is extremely important if you think the chase is armed. Knowing the type of weapons the chase has can save your life. For example you know the chase has access to a range of weapons from your intelligence gathering, but you come across a rifle butt stock imprint of the ground. Now you can narrow the range of weapons down and importantly, you’ll know the limitations the weapon places on the chase in regards to taking hostile action against you. Also the author reemphasizes the importance of documenting your evidence. Each bit of evidence gathered is intelligence that can be used in the feature, but it also can help in learning the mistakes made in the current chase and how to avoid them in the feature.

Lastly the author talks about building a team for tracking. As previously mentioned the author feels that a team should have no less than two members, but as the book is geared for the military and law enforcement communities a larger team is usually created. The author talks about the size of teams and formations of march in the chase and the need for security of the party in the chase. Finally the book closes with sample forms, examples of evidence collected from the hypothetical chase, glossary and a recommended reading list.

Technically the book is flawless and free of grammatical and typographical errors. The illustrations add to the text and also serve as a teaching aid. As the book serves as an introduction to tracking; the writing is generalized. However the book would gain the most potency as a training manual for novice trackers in a class setting. If used with hands on experience, the book can improve the novice or experienced tracker alike. If you are interested in military style tracking or are a tracker and want to learn from an expert than this book is highly recommended. With a list price of $22.95 (US) for a hard cover book, Tracking – Signs of Man, Signs of Hope is well within the budget of most people and represents a top dollar investment for every tracker.