Methods of Evading Trackers

In many Hollywood films you see the hero evade hordes of pursuers and packs of bloodhounds with ease, in reality it is much harder to evade a well trained and determined pursuit.

Evading pursuit is always a balance between speed and misdirection; the general aim is to put as much distance as possible between you and any pursuit while using misdirection to obscure the tracks you leave. The first point to make is that tracking a human over rough ground is not easy (tracking techniques will be dealt with elsewhere) but in most cases the pursuers will have a massive advantage in man power and resources, they are likely to have trained dogs, vehicles and even airborne assets to aid in the capture of any fugitive. Secondly don't even think about hiding and waiting until your pursuers give up, they won't and successfully hiding if they have dogs is nearly impossible. All of the following techniques take time , the idea is that if they are successful you will gain time to make good your escape, if they fail then you will have wasted time.

Brushing out tracks

One of the oldest tricks in the book, here you simply brush away your tracks from an area using a branch from a tree or other improvised tool. The idea is that your tracks will just stop at a certain point and it will take time for pursuers to regain your trail. This is a waste of time, the tell tale marks left by brushing will inform your pursuers that you are on to them, use up time and energy and take very little time for a good tracker to re discover your direction of travel. If the tracker has dogs it may not even slow them at all.

Stream Running

Another favourite of the movies, here you enter a stream to throw dogs off your scent. This has several problems, firstly it slows you down considerably and running through even shallow water can quickly sap reserves of strength. In winter icy water can very quickly tire you and could even lead to hypothermia and increased chance of frostbite. With muddy banks it becomes clear where you entered and left the stream and the stream may not be heading in exactly the right direction again wasting time. In upland areas streams can rapidly head downwards and suddenly lead to waterfalls or plunge pools, which can be very dangerous at the best of times, more so to a tired person evading pursuit.

In dryer, warmer areas you will leave a dripping trail as you leave the stream and in tropical areas breaking vegetation becomes unavoidable as you leave the stream, let alone the risk from water borne parasites (see article on parasites). Even shallow streams can leave a trail in the streambed and stony ones often have a thin film of algae on the stones, which can be disturbed by your passing allowing a tracker to follow. Dogs will quickly pick up your scent once where you left the stream has been determined. If a stream can be found that is going in the direction you want, is deep enough for you to float in, is flowing faster than walking pace and has no rapids or waterfalls then it could be used to your advantage but this is highly unlikely.

Rock to Rock

In this technique you avoid leaving tracks by hopping from rock to rock. This requires hard stony ground with plenty of large rocks that wont shift dangerously when you tread on them. This is normally along side a stream or river. This is slow work, which drains strength and stamina and risks a twisted ankle or a fall. Clean the soles of your shoes first to avoid smudges on the rocks as you travel. It will slow a tracker down, as it will take time to follow such a trail.

Jump off/ Backtracking

Used by military units where a few members of the group jump clear of a trail to circle round and ambush a pursuer. Less useful alone as a tracker will quickly pick up your new trail once your own trail ends suddenly. Also jumping clear can risk injury to ankles etc. Backtracking is literally walking backwards in your own footprints and can be useful when combined with other techniques. The problem is when you walk backwards your stride is shorter and your feet further apart which can alert a good tracker. Your prints will also become more well defined and deeper as they will have been trod in twice with earth displaced towards the heal rather than towards the toe as is normal. It is best to do this near a stream or rocks where tracks are becoming harder to follow that way a tracker might not immediately notice when your trail stops, buying you further time to get away, then once back 10 or 15 paces jump off or enter the stream possibly crossing it far back from where your trails stops.

Corner Cutting

This technique is used as you approach a road or a stream, as you get within 100meters alter your course 45 degrees to the right (or left) continue until you reach the stream or road then turn right again making sure that it is obvious your trail is heading on the road or has entered the stream. Then you back track to where you met the road or stream and continue along it making sure you leave very little trail then leave the road or stream and continue up country. This will hopefully make your pursuers think you saw the road or stream and decided to cut the corner to avoid it as you intended to head right.

Avoiding Dogs

If the trackers have dogs then few techniques will be effective. The human handler can be fooled by visual deceptions such as backtracking and jumping off but the dog’s sense of smell won't. Remember the dog is fast but the handler will slow it down, so climbing tall fences, rocky outcrops etc will slow dog and handler down. Your scent sticks to vegetation so try to find hard stony ground near running water this will make it harder for the dog to track you. A decomposing animal such as a dead sheep or road kill can also help mask your scent, drag it behind you on a length of rope but don't let it touch you or you will carry its scent. In urban areas seek out large groups of people, strong smells, butchers shops with meat hanging up outside, perfume counters, anything which could overload the dog's senses. One trick in an urban area is to get some pepper from a café table and pour it liberally behind your scent, or even cover some leftover hamburger or food item, as the dog investigates the food it will get a nose full of pepper, which can be very effective. In rural and woodland areas patches of ransoms or wild garlic can also upset the dog, as can mint, and covering a small item of your clothing with stinging nettles can also put the dog out of action long enough for you to make good your escape. Moving through livestock such as cows or sheep can slow the handler and distract the dog. Heavy rain will also help disperse your scent quickly and remember your scent can also be carried on the wind so try to keep down wind of pursuers.