Studying the mistakes and misfortunes of hikers' survival stories can...
In This Article
This article originally appeared in Issue 6 of our magazine.
Photos by Luis Chacon Photography
While the exact cause of the crisis is not certain — an unpopular trial verdict, the loss of the power grid? — the aftermath is quite clear: complete infrastructure collapse, mass rioting and looting, and violence on a most epic scale. And it’s heading your way. Waiting out the impending doom at home just isn’t a safe option anymore. Let’s face it… your primary residence is compromised.
“Time to boogie, Joe,” says the familiar voice in your head. Immediately, you communicate with your loved ones not at home via text message and leave a secret visual marker at the front of your residence — this lets your clan know to begin the primary bug-out timeline you’ve all memorized and practiced. And you’ve taught them to acknowledge these messages with a pre-designated response.
As planned, the timeline begins upon acknowledgment of the signal. You figured it would take one hour to get your supplies and leave the house. You planned for three alternate modes of travel: 2WD vehicle on roads, ATV by backcountry trails, and on foot through sole-busting brush. Due to the nature of the disaster at hand (near complete lawlessness), you determine that the path of least human interaction is best and decide to go off-road immediately. Your house backs up to state land, which is a vast desert terrain with minimal 2WD access.
So, at hour one, you have your ATV loaded up and out of the garage in a hurry. As you ride away, you hear distant gunfire from multiple large-caliber, fully automatic rifles, which you estimate is down the street from your home. “They’re too late,” you remark as you open up the throttle.
But then you slow down, remembering the tracks you are leaving behind. “Complacency kills,” the voice says. You heed the collective wisdom of all the teachers and mentors you’ve had in the life and know that you must begin anti-tracking immediately. If those gun-toting opportunists come across your tracks a day or even a week from now and are able to follow them, you might compromise your camp’s position and the safety of all who are sheltered there.
Anti-tracking methods are used to confuse, delay, and dissuade a threat who’s pursuing you. These are passive measures that are to be employed constantly wherever our trail might be discovered or easily followed. It would be disastrous if all the money, time, and sweat equity you put into preparing for a successful bug out were wasted because you were too easily tracked.
In this story’s opening scenario, our hero, Joe, has a total weight (ATV included) of about 900 pounds, translating to a lot of destruction on the ground and deep definable tread patterns. His boots are a non-typical high-quality hiking boot with an uncommon tread pattern supporting his 180-pound frame, which shoulders 100 pounds of kit. From his method of transport to his footwear selection, he has clear target indicators (i.e. anything a man does or fails to do which reveals his presence to the enemy) that are unique to him and easily identifiable to even the most novice trackers. So what does one do when faced with the situation of needing to be somewhere in a specified time, while trying not to be followed?
Above: Bugging out in the backcountry? Veg will be your edge. There’s more to disappearing into your surroundings than just wearing camouflage patterns. Break up your outline by wearing local vegetation.
I’ll share some considerations that will always apply to any situation in which your trail could lead to your undoing, and how our hero, Joe, has been trained to deal with them. There are three factors of priority in relation to minimizing your signature on the ground upon bug out:
Hopefully your long-term survival plan afforded you the ability to travel fast and light upon emergency evacuation. If you have a tracker on your trail who knows what he’s doing, then fast and light is what you are going to need to be. A good tracker can deduce how fast you’re moving and estimate how far you can move within a given timeframe to determine where you may be. (Think Tommy Lee Jones hunting for fugitives.)
Traveling light affords you agility. And having agility affords you the ability to take the route of most resistance, which is counterintuitive to what most people want to do during a bug-out situation. By doing this, you will severely hamper a tracker’s ability to anticipate where you’re going. You will also force him to go through the same terrain, which he may not be prepared for, or to go around and attempt to pick up your trail further ahead — which can be a tall task at times.
Above: As you bug out, be aware of the environment you disturb. You’ll leave a clear trail behind you if you don’t prop up trees you’ve knocked over.
Joe will move quickly by ATV, but leave an obvious trail. Because of this fact, he will gain distance away from his starting point as swiftly as possible. Once at a safe distance, he will button hook (moving into a position from a 90-degree angle and then back out from the direction he came) and cache the ATV in the thickest, nastiest terrain he can find. Then, he will brush out the vehicle tracks for a considerable amount of distance. While he’s brushing out tracks he will wear foot coverings that hide his tread pattern and give the illusion of aged tracks, if anything at all. Now he’s on foot and has significantly reduced his signature and gained vital agility.
During preparation, you must thoroughly analyze the terrain along your bug-out route. The best way to do this is by going there in advance, before disaster strikes, to hike your chosen route by foot, taking thorough notes along the way of key terrain features that you may be able to use for rest, observation, ambush, communication, or to cache supplies.
How might a hostile tracker use these key terrain features against you? How much concealment does this route provide while moving during the day? Are there significant obstacles on your route that work for or against you?
Above: A good tracker can not only identify you by the treads of your Nikes, but will also decipher which way you’re heading, how fast you’re traveling, and whether you’re carrying anything. Naturally, if you’re trying not to be followed, you don’t want to leave footprints. But short of having a helicopter or hover-board, you’ll inevitably leave a trail of Nike Swoosh marks — unless you have foot coverings.
Joe has learned the habits of nocturnal and diurnal creatures along this route because these creatures will display behavior that a tracker reads to anticipate danger. He will also use the ground type to his advantage. When feasible, he will walk to the sides of trails instead of on them, and he will walk on rocky ground instead of on soft soil. He will walk in water along streams when available. He will be attentive to every step he takes, because he knows it only takes one footprint for a good tracker to determine if you’re his prey.
Joe’s movement is determined by two main considerations: speed and security. He moves only as fast as he can clear every covered and concealed position in front of him. Without the assurance that his next step is safe, he cannot proceed any further.
He has certain benchmarks to reach within his bug-out timeline, so efficiency and safety is key here. A trained tracker is sensitive to his environment. Joe’s senses of vision, scent, sound, touch, and taste are aligned with his intuition, meaning that he senses more than most people because he has been trained to.
Joe will ultimately survive the initial fallout of this disaster and will do so without compromising his long-term survival location. He will thrive as a good student of his teachers. He will monitor every piece of dirt that yields a footprint in the immediate vicinity of the basecamp, giving early warning of possible threats. If needed, he will also track high-protein meat and provide for his people.
Above: Whether fleeing on wheels or feet, you’ll need to mask your tracks or make them disappear altogether. Grab a tree branch with a lot of leaves and brush out your tracks to confuse, delay, or deter any bad guys following you.
As a teacher of this craft, I am often requested to provide a class specific to anti/counter tracking. My first response is this: If you wanted to defeat a sniper, what would you do? You would hire another sniper.
If you want to learn how to defeat a tracking threat, I suggest you learn how to track first. There are many schools across the United States that can teach you how to track both man and beast. Once you learn how to track, the anti-tracking techniques you come up with will be limited only by your own imagination.
Freddy Osuna is the owner and primary teacher at Greenside Training LLC of Benson, Arizona. As a former USMC infantry squad leader and scout sniper/chief scout, Osuna is now providing some of the most innovative tracking training in the United States. His resume includes being lead instructor for the U.S. Army Combat Trackers Course at Fort Huachuc and serving as combat tracking subject matter expert for the USMC’s 2nd Marine Division.
Greenside Training provides training to military and law enforcement agencies worldwide and courses open to all in Southern Arizona. Osuna and Jon Boyd are the authors of Index Tracking: Essential Guide to Trailing Man and Beast. Greenside’s goal to lead you to discover an awareness of your world you never thought possible, then weaponize it on the battlefield, the streets, a hunt, or in the boardroom. Go to www.greensidetraining.com for more info.