Applying Basic Tracking For The Sniper

By Jeff Waters

    Since the Army FM on Sniping covers tracking skills pretty well, I will simply discuss integrating those skills into a mission.  I am not a master tracker, but have found that using what little bit I know about it can help the unit a lot in terms of intelligence and help out my fellow Snipers by helping us hunt down our targets.

    First, start by getting an S-2 update on known/suspected enemy activity in your Area of Operations (AO).  This will help you analyze tracks you find although it shouldn't dominate your thinking.

    When you find a set of tracks, establish a SLLS halt.  (that's stop, look, listen, smell and watch your perimeter!).  After being satisfied that the track makers are not in the immediate area carefully move forward for a look.  Make sure you have someone covering you and don't step out in the open.

    Again, I won't cover the stuff already written in the FM's that you can get online, but gather the following information;

Track Report:

  • Type of prints  :   Boots? Tread pattern, depth, toes in/out etc.

  • Direction of travel  :   Magnetic azimuth.

  • Number of persons  :   Box method; count the number of prints in a meter long box and divide by 2 for a reasonable estimate.

  • Speed  :   Guestimate, are their strides long or close together, are the heels dug in deeper than the toes etc. 

  • Load  :   How deep are the tracks etc, are there marks high up indicating crew-served weapons being carried and so on.

  • Age  :   How fresh are the tracks.

Note:    there is probably a better format out there in the FM or elsewhere.

    Call in the report then move away a safe distance from the site and after setting up security, pull out your map.  Plot the location and direction of the tracks, to include their back azimuth.  Think about the intelligence you have and the situation and see if you can make a reasonable guess about where they are coming from and where they are going.  Are they headed towards a danger area where you can be waiting for them?

    Even if you don't pursue them, you have gathered/reported a valuable piece of information which can be fitted into the bigger picture by the S-2.  You have learned something useful yourself.

    When Scouting an area for the enemy, you can identify terrain in which someone is going to leave tracks in because the ground is soft.  Some people call these traps.  The enemy has to have water, just like you do and they have to cross rivers/streams somewhere.  Where would you do it if you were leading an Infantry Patrol?  Does the S-2 have any info on enemy routes or tactics that can help you?

    If you decide to follow the tracks, be careful!  We are not the only people in the world who set up rear security or double back on their trails.  Use your knowledge of the enemy's direction of travel, situation, tactics and terrain to try and help you estimate where they are headed.

    More useful information can be gathered even if significantly behind the enemy patrol by studying the sites in which they halt, set up patrol bases etc.  Each should be thoroughly and carefully studied and reported when discovered.

    Also, if at all possible, don't attempt to track them down and hit them.  I say this because I know that I am an amateur tracker and understand the risks involved.  Better, get another element to get in front of them and others to their flanks to set up ambushes in favorable terrain.   Who knows, they may come running back past you breaking contact en route to a rally point.  Good opportunity to maximize confusion and break a unit's moral.  Hitting a leader who is trying to reorganize and consolidate a unit that has already fallen back can deal a strong psychological blow to the entire unit.  Especially from an unseen foe (you) who seemed to operate with impunity.  On the other hand, it could really piss them off, so don't stick around very long.

    Be patient, snipers don't rush in, track someone down and engage from 100 meters out.  Wait for the best opportunity and feel good that if they don't know you are behind them, you have a tremendous advantage.

    A tracking stick can be useful to stay with an enemy element which, due to its small size, or the terrain is not leaving a clearly seen set of tracks.

    Cut a stick at least the length of a stride.  Put the end of the stick at the base of the heel on a print and slide a rubber band up the stick where the print's toe is.  This should allow you to put the bottom of the stick over the end of a print and have the rubber band end at the toe, showing the exact size of the print.

    Now point the stick towards the next set of prints and slide a rubber band over the base of the heel of next print.  In this manner when you put your stick over a base print, the rubber band on the front of the stick should be located over where the next set of prints will be.

It should look something like this:


| PRINT#1 |          (length of stride)                 | PRINT#2 |


H         R                                             R         T

E         B                                             B         O

E         A                                             A         E

L         N                                             N

          D                                             D


    Before moving up from the base print to examine the subsequent set of tracks, look for the print, displaced vegetation or soil, scrapes or marks on trees higher up and so on.  There is plenty of sign to look for rather than just the prints, and the prints point you in the direction of travel.

    You can tell a lot about the enemy from his sign.  When he halts does the sign indicate that they establish security behind good cover and concealment?  Do they leave trash?  (a good item for intelligence).  Do they dogleg their route?  Do they cross or skirt danger areas?  All this is great intelligence even if you do nothing more than pass it on.

    Again, I am far from a master tracker, but just this little bit of knowledge and making the teams practice it and report it on the radio and debriefs will develop them into much better snipers and provide a real benefit to the unit.

    Teams should always be debriefed on a terrain analysis of the AO and any signs of enemy activity.  By always tasking this info as a Priority or Other Information Requirement and asking them during debrief about it, it becomes an integral part of their mindset and even the most novice sniper will learn from his experience one mission at a time.


***NOTE*** This article was originally posted in SNIPER COUNTRY. This article can be viewed their, as well as other extensive articles about sniper craft.