Man tracking, especially tactical man tracking, is a skill that goes hand and hand with sniping for several reasons. Not only is it a valuable tool for snipers to utilize for counter sniper operations and stalking, but it is also extremely helpful information to know in order to help us, as snipers, to avoid detection and being tracked ourselves. We had a unique opportunity to work with our friends at Nortrack to come down to Montana where we were able to host a Level 1 Tactical Tracking course. The course was open to Law Enforcement, Military and Civilians and I had the opportunity to attend the course as a student.
All of the instructors at Nortrack are highly experienced active, or former, military and law enforcement personnel and their professionalism showed throughout the 5-day Level 1 course. The faces of some of the individuals in the photos on this page are grayed out, this is because they are still currently active operators and we need to maintain operational security. The classroom work for the course was conducted at a classroom at a local shooting range here in Missoula Montana and all of the field work was performed in the surrounding hills and forests around the area.
Day one of any class always seems to be the roughest and that held true here as well. It consisted of a lot of PowerPoint slides and classroom work mixed in with a few activities outside to break up the classroom slog and to see how what was being taught applied in a practical manner. It was long and tiring, but it was also necessary to get the fundamentals taught and out of the way. To help reinforce what was taught in the classroom, we were informed that there would also be a written exam on day three.
Day two consisted of some more classroom work going over additional fundamentals and especially how tracking is performed in a dangerous and hostile environment. Remember, this was a TACTICAL tracking class and not just search and rescue tracking. Formations, contact drills, and other essential topics were further taught and discussed, but in addition to that, there was more work in the field as we were coached through some of the basics of applying what we learned in class. These initial drills were conducted with a partner and the instructors spent considerable time going over the finer points of picking up spore (trace) and then applying a procedure of deducing logical movements of our quarry in order to find the next spore. At this point things started to become very fascinating and engaging as the skills were learned from the instructors.
With the individual skills of tracking starting to develop in each student, the discussions turned more toward operating as a team and what some of the Standard Operating Procedures are when tracking. Essentially this covered how to stay alive when tracking a dangerous quarry. Day three introduced additional topics and started off with a very enlightening demonstration of a tracking dog and how they operate. There was also a detailed lesson from a master K-9 trainer on the capabilities and limitations of dogs and dog tracking teams. As well as ways to limit the effectiveness of those dogs which was a topic that was very appealing to sniping and sniper survival. The demonstration was impressive, and many lessons were learned. A big thank you goes out to SHARP K-9 for their expertise and willingness to help.
Then it was back to our test and training and our first team tracking exercise. This exercise was coached by the instructors to help show us the ropes when we were actually out in the field doing it. As is the case with any new skill, the learning curve is steep and this first coached track was a great eye opener and a lot was learned. It was a fairly short track, but it was a slow go and turned into a long day, but it didn’t compare to our first solo track as a team on day four!
Day four and day five of the class are devoted solely to field work. Each day we did a team track, without any instructors with us. Each track took a full day and involved the team working through the entire track, switching roles along the way. We had radio communication with the instructors, whom also were the individuals we were tracking, and they acted as our operations command for our simulated tracking mission. The first track on Day 4 was a tactical scenario and was detailed enough that there was even some blood being left behind as spore. We were being distantly watched by the instructors as we went and while we had some success, it was frustrating at times and a hard learning experience. We eventually, with some help getting back on sign, found our quarry after a long long day.
Day five, the last day of the class, was a simulated Search And Rescue (SAR) track and this one went much better, though that does not mean we didn’t have our struggles. But it went quicker and it was amazing to see how much progress we made with our abilities and skills. This was a testament to the quality of instruction and the quality of the drills and teaching methods. We actually found our lost hikers much quicker than anticipated which lead to an early dinner with our instructors and happy smiles all the way around.
The class was a nice mix of classroom work followed by extensive outside training. We did not train with weapons as the course was conducted in areas where civilians travel, though we still trained as if it were tactical. The subject matter is something that has been lost in the US and other militaries, but is now starting to make a comeback as the necessity has arisen. Whether it is border patrol tracking illegal immigrants, Law Enforcement tracking escaped convicts or suspects, or even military units tracking insurgents or terrorist operators, there has been a huge increase in the demand for combat and tactical trackers. For snipers, the skill is essential for many of these same reasons as well as counter-sniper operations. The skills learned in tacking goes both ways as well and I learned many skills, tricks, and techniques on how to help avoid being tracked. Stealth is a sniper’s number one concern, and this class was great for helping there.
The Nortrack team is top notch and most of them are not only trained trackers, but also trained snipers from around the world. They are headquartered in Canada and we were grateful they were able to come down and conduct a course here in Montana and it is something we plan on doing on a regular basis. Our students consisted of current LEO, former military, current military and civilians. It was a great mix and everyone learned a lot and came away with valuable knowledge that can be applied as tactical trackers or as snipers.