SAR Tracking

What is SAR Tracking?


The initials SAR stand for Search and Rescue. Tracking (also known as signcutting) is a very useful and effective search tool. In fact, it is the most effective tool there is. Why? Because every time you take a step you leave sign, or evidence, of your passage. Trackers are known as signcutters. They follow sign, which can include anything from tracks to more subtle clues such as rolled stones, broken twigs, bruised vegetation and many more. SAR trackers are usually volunteers who participate in searches for people who have gotten lost. Each track left by the lost subject is a clue, a piece of evidence that tells the searcher that the person being sought passed this way.

The idea in SAR tracking is to work in teams to quickly and accurately follow the sign and find the lost person. Teams are usually composed of three people who take the positions of point person and flankers. The point person is the lead person. The point person stays on the prime sign. The job of the flankers is to keep an eye out for a change in direction or for other tracks that may cross the trail the team is following. Positions are rotated often to prevent eye-strain and fatigue. Several teams work together in cooperation to follow the sign. While one team is on good sign (called prime sign), the next team will cut ahead at an angle and try to intersect the lost person’s trail along the assumed line of travel. This is called signcutting. Signcutting teams also walk along natural or man-made barriers and cut for sign (look for tracks and other signs). Communication between teams and between team members is vital to the success of the operation.

Tracking begins from the Place Last Seen or PLS. If the sign has not been trampled, it is easier for the trackers to begin. If the sign is trampled, which is the usual case, things get more difficult. The trackers have to identify the lost person’s tracks and be able to sort them out from all the other tracks. They must then be able to follow that trail to the person. It’s challenging and rewarding. Because the lost person's tracks can easily be trampled, it's good for all searchers to be aware that tracks are there and that they are the best clues you have to help you find someone who is lost. There are no clues out there more numerous than tracks.

SAR trackers use a tool called a Tracking Stick, which is easy to make and easy to use. It helps them find the next track in difficult terrain by focusing their eyes in a particular search area. Try it out.

Who or what leaves tracks?

Just about everything that moves leaves signs of its passage that can be followed by a tracker. Animals, people, mountain bikes, cars, motorcycles and horses all leave sign. If it moves over the ground, there will be some sign to be seen.


If you want to learn tracking, the best thing to do is practice. This is called dirt time and is the most valuable time you can spend. Try to take some classes in tracking or signcutting. Learning from experts is a great way to start. I wasted many years trying to teach myself before I finally signed up for my first class. I learned more in that weekend than I learned in all the years I’d tried to learn the hard way. I recommend the UTS classes. I’ve benefited enormously from their training and you can too.

Here is a true story about one of my tracking experiences. Tracking Criminals who burglarized me.




Find posters, greeting cards, t-shirts, hats, and more in my new store.

Visit Beartracker's Nature Store online store at:  Happy tracking!!

What else can you find in the nature store? Beartracker's T-shirts, sweatshirts, journals, book bags, toddler and infant apparel, mouse pads, posters, postcards, coffee mugs, travel mugs, clocks, Frisbees, bumper stickers, hats, stickers, and many more items. All with tracks or paw  prints, or nature scenes. Custom products are available. If you don't see the track you want on the product you want, email me and I can probably create it. Proceeds from all sales go to pay the monthly fees for this web site. You can help support this site as well as get great tracking products! Thank you!


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Also visit these fine stores for more products of interest:

NDN Pride shop - For Indian Pride items for all tribes. Custom items available on request.

ASL Signs of Love - For anyone who uses or is learning ASL, American Sign Language. Custom name items and more are available here.

Get Every Child Outdoors (Get E.C.O.) - My shop dedicated to nature and getting kids interested in nature and the outdoors.

Sales from all stores give commissions to Beartracker's Animal Tracks Den, which helps keep this site online as a free service. We are celebrating ten years online this year!



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Got a SAR tracking story? E-mail me and tell me about it.

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Copyright © 1997,  2008, 2018. Text and drawings by Kim A. Cabrera


Updated: Monday, March 26, 2018.