Survival Wisdom & Know How

Everything You Need to Know to Thrive in the Wilderness


By The Editors of Stackpole Books

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Survival Wisdom & Know-How is the ultimate all-in-one survival guide; filled to the brim with information on every aspect of outdoor life and adventure, from orienteering to campfire cooking to ice climbing and more.

Culled from dozens of respected books from Stackpole — the industry’s leader in outdoor adventure — this massive collection of wilderness know-how leaves absolutely nothing to chance when it comes to surviving and thriving outdoors. Topics include:
  • Orienteering
  • Building an Outdoor Shelter
  • Hunting and Tracking Animals
  • Tying Knots
  • Identifying Edible Plants and Berries
  • Surviving in the Desert
  • Fishing and Ice Fishing
  • Canoeing, Kayaking, and White Water Rafting
  • And so much more!

Useful illustrations and photos throughout make it easy to browse and use. With contributions by the experts at the National Outdoor Leadership School as well as the editors of Stackpole’s Discover Nature series, this book is the definitive, must-have reference for the great outdoors.


Copyright © 2007 Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book, either text or illustration, may be used or reproduced in any form without the prior written permission from the publisher.

Portions of the material contained in this work are originally published and copyrighted by
Stackpole Books and used by permission of the publisher.

Published by
Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.
151 West 19th Street
New York, NY 10011

Distributed by
Workman Publishing Company
225 Varick Street
New York, NY 10014

Manufactured in the U.S.A.
Cover and interior design by Ohioboy Design

Cover illustration:
ISBN-13: 978-1-57912-753-4
EISBN: 978-1-60376-273-1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data available on file

The publisher disclaims any responsibility for any loss, injury or damages caused as a result of any of the activities or the use of the survival techniques described in this book. Readers are advised to read and follow usage instructions included with camping and survival products that they buy. A First Aid course is essential for a well-rounded knowledge and safe use of the outdoors and this book is not intended as a substitute for techniques taught in a First Aid course. Many of the activities discuss in this book are dangerous or even life-threatening

Chapter 1 Animals and Insects

The Basics of Tracking Animals 007

About Snow

Steps to Track Identification

Direction of Travel

Preserving Tracks

Common North American Mammals: Tracks, Behavior, and Ranges 011

Small Rodents

Large Tree Dwellers

Rabbits and Hares

Weasel Family

Aquatic Mammals




Elk, Moose, and Caribou

Other Hooved Animals



Calls of the Wild: Sounds of Common Mammals 041

Mammals to Avoid 041



Gray wolves



Bats 044

Birds 047

Birding: An Introduction

Basic Bird Identification

Bird Nests

Birds and Winter

Bird Tracks

Various Bird Tracks

Frogs 057

Turtles 061

Poisonous Snakes 065

Snake-Free Areas

Ways to Avoid a Snakebite

Snake Groups

Descriptions of Poisonous Snakes

Dangerous Lizards 069

Dangerous Fish and Mollsks 070

Fish That Attack Man

Dangerous Insects and Arachnids 073

Sounds of Common Night Insects 074

The Basics of Tracking Animals

Louise R. Forrest
Illustrations by Denise Casey

Many people assume that in winter wild animals, like so many of us, escape the difficulties of traveling, feeding, and keeping warm by migrating or hibernating. This is true of cold-blooded animals and of many warm-blooded birds and mammals. However, a surprising number of birds and mammals conduct business as usual, and whenever they move, rest, feed, hunt, or behave in other ways on the ground, a record is impressed in the snow. Indeed, without the use of sophisticated equipment, snow offers one of the best opportunities to learn about the lives of animals in winter.

But why, you may ask, would anyone want to follow an animal around in the winter? Imagine a bright, sunny morning after a snow storm—air crisp, snow sparkling—a perfect day for a ski, a walk, or a snowmobile ride. Traveling into the woods or across the fields, you suddenly intersect a winding trail interrupting the snow’s smooth surface. With a little imagination, you envision the trail-maker walking, waddling, or trotting along. You follow the trail and find numerous clues that reveal this animal’s daily activities.

Perhaps the trail leads to the scene of a successful hunt where the two-print trail of a weasel slowed, disappeared under the snow, and then reappeared, accompanied by tiny drag marks of a hapless vole. It may lead to a spot marking the swoop of an unlucky hawk and the scurry of a luckier mouse; to a place where two coyotes met and continued on together; to a mysterious dead-end where a grouse took off in flight; to a small depression where a moose gently touched its nose to the snow to sniff for food; or to a hill that proved irresistible to sliding otters or mink. The trail itself, whether it meanders or strikes out straight ahead, reflects the behavior of the animal in motion and provides substantial amounts of biological data. More important, following it is fun! But please be aware that in winter animals are generally operating on very strict energy budgets. If you frighten them excessively or harass them, either by pursuing too closely on foot or following on a snowmobile, you may tip the scale between survival and death.

Why a book on snow-tracking when so many fine tracking books exist? During my first winter tracking efforts, I often found it difficult to match the tracks I saw in the snow with the detailed shape and toe counts of my track book illustrations. So often, snow obscured these foot details that are useful when identifying tracks in mud, sand, and sometimes in shallow snow. After several winters studying animals in the field, I decided to compile that information, gathered from my own experiences and from other track books, which proved most helpful for identifying tracks in snow.

I learned that the first rule of snow-tracking is to identify the animal’s track pattern, the trail left in the snow, which is often identifiable even when the tracks are windblown and obscured. Consequently, this book emphasizes track patterns, although print details are always important tracking clues whenever visible.

Mammals are the prime focus of this book because their tracks are the ones most likely to be found in winter. Tracks of birds and domestic mammals are also discussed. The North American animals included in this book are primarily those that are active in winter in areas that commonly receive snow.

About Snow

How animals have adapted to life in snow country is fascinating. Let’s take a closer look at that snow environment. Snow is not just snow. Arctic natives have a surprisingly large vocabulary to describe the various forms of snow and its structure within the snowpack. While some of these variations are caused above the snow by environmental conditions like wind and cold; others, more important to many animals, are caused from below.

In areas where a persistent snow cover occurs, the temperature of the ground surface closely parallels the outside air temperature until snow cover is deeper than 6 inches. With snow cover comes an insulating blanket that retards the natural loss of the earth’s heat. As a result, the bottom of the snowpack becomes warmer than the top (which is exposed to cold air), and a thermal gradient is created in which heat and moisture flow upward. Snow crystals near the soil break down, and their water molecules migrate either to larger crystals or to those above.

Eventually, the bottom snow structure becomes a fragile latticework of large, coarse, granular crystals called depth hoar. This weak layer, often an underlying cause of avalanches, also provides many small animals a relatively warm, stable environment where they can easily burrow, travel, and nest while protected from the cold temperatures above. A dark, silent “undersnow” world is created with intricate systems of runways, tunnels, and burrows. Above, you trod along unaware of the world of activity below you! But if you are observant, you can find holes by trees or shrubs or openings near downed logs, brush piles, or rocks that are entryways to this subnivean (undersnow) world.

Of the animals that do not migrate or hibernate, only the larger ones are able to withstand extreme cold. The smaller mammals, such as shrews, voles, and mice, have such small body masses relative to their body surface area that their metabolism cannot maintain body warmth in freezing temperatures. They go below the snow where it rarely drops below 15°F. Even some spiders can remain active in this environment.

The subnivean air is saturated with moisture—a boon to shrews, which have poor mechanisms to control their body moisture. It is also ideal for scent communication in the hunting efforts of small predators. The difficult times for these small animals are spring and fall when temperatures are cold and the snowpack is beginning or ending.

Small weasels spend much of their time under the snow hunting rodents and using rodent runways and nests for their own. Besides the fact that most of their prey live under the snow, these weasels must also seek shelter here because they have high rates of metabolism, small bodies, little fat, and fur of only moderate insulating value.

Red squirrels are also confined to the subnivean world at times. They make tunnels and runways to reach their cone caches near the soil, and nest under the snow when temperatures reach below about –25°F.

Large mammals have adapted to snow travel through modifications of the feet or legs. For example, the feet of the snowshoe hare and the lynx are large relative to body size. Other examples are the rounded, splayed hoofs of the caribou and the long, stiltlike legs of the moose. The moose’s rear legs articulate so they can be inserted in snow and retracted at nearly the same angle.

When you travel on snow, it’s fascinating to speculate on the ways animals manage to stay active in the winter and to look for clues to where and how they do it.

Steps to Track Identification
Step One: Identify the animal’s track pattern

Taking a walk in the snow, you come upon a series of foot prints or tracks ahead of you. This series of tracks is the animal’s trail. Looking more carefully, you notice that the trail has a track pattern, a distinctive arrangement of the tracks.

• First, you need to identify which of the three main track patterns the trail resembles. To do this, follow the trail for at least several yards in one or both directions to get a feel for the animal’s most typical track pattern and to find additional clues to the animal’s identity, such as scats (or pellets or droppings) or distinctive behaviors (does it climb, fly, or swim?). Perhaps what you first saw was a place where a rabbit slowed from its normal hopping gait to walk and explore a shrub. When in doubt, follow the trail! Here are the main track patterns.


The first type of track pattern animals make looks more or less like yours. Look behind you. As you walk, one track is made on the right, then another on the left, right, left, and so on. What you see are two parallel rows of tracks with the prints alternately spaced—an alternating track pattern (a, b). Although we produce this pattern by walking with two feet, when four-footed animals walk or trot slowly they produce the same pattern by placing their hind feet neatly in the tracks made by their front feet. Sometimes in shallow snow, an animal’s hind feet fall slightly ahead, behind, or to the side of its front-foot prints, making an offset alternating track pattern (b). However, in deep snow, the animal saves energy by placing its hind feet in its front-foot tracks. Think about following a friend’s tracks in deep snow. It’s much easier to step in those tracks than to make your own.

All mammals and most birds walk, but more often mammals travel in other movement patterns or gaits. Other gaits include, in general order of increasing speed, trotting, loping (a slow gallop), jumping (a bounding or hopping gait), and galloping. Jumping is different from loping or galloping because movement off the feet occurs simultaneously and with equal force.

Some animals that commonly walk in snow, making an alternating track pattern, are the members of the bear, dog, and cat families, and the ungulates (hoofed mammals)—all of which are long-bodied and thus take long steps. Those walkers that are short-bodied (and take short steps) include opossums, beavers, muskrats, porcupines, badgers, skunks, lemmings, and ground-dwelling birds. Marmots, prairie dogs, and voles also fall in this group; however, they often move in a jumping gait. (Group members drag their bodies in soft, relatively shallow snow.) Members of the dog family and the ungulates sometimes trot when snow is shallow, maintaining the alternating track pattern but with longer steps. All these mammals occasionally gallop, but only for short stretches in snow.


The second major track pattern is the two-print track pattern, in which two tracks appear close together followed by a distinct space, then two more tracks (c, d, e). One type of two-print track pattern is made by members of the weasel or mustelid family (except badgers and skunks) when they lope (c). They move by leaping forward off their hind feet and landing with their front feet. Then the front feet leave the ground again before the hind feet finally land—on or near the front-foot prints (see illustration on next page). Usually, but not always, one of the two prints falls slightly behind the other. The prints are usually spaced close together, sometimes making a single two-lobed impression in the snow. Occasionally two pairs of tracks are connected by a trough made by the animal’s body.

In soft snow, mice, voles (d), chipmunks, tree squirrels, and tree-dwelling birds (e) make a two-print pattern in which the tracks are typically paired side by side. Except for birds, these short-bodied animals actually jump as they would to make a four-print pattern (described below) in shallow snow; however, the tracks merge to form a two-print pattern. Their bodies may also make troughs linking two sets of tracks. In the case of voles, this is a particularly common pattern. Tree-dwelling birds usually hop on the ground with their feet together.

Key to identifying front and hind feet in track patterns described below.

An elk walking. Note how the hind foot lands where the opposing front foot previously stepped (drawn from Muybridge, 1979).

Left: Alternating track pattern. a. Alternating track pattern with hind-foot prints neatly registering on front-foot prints. b. Offset alternating track pattern with hind feet landing close to front-foot prints.

Short-tailed weasel loping. Its hind feet land together in the location previously occupied by the front feet (drawn from Gambaryan, 1974).

Some two-print track patterns. c. Two-print loping track pattern made by most members of the weasel or mustelid family. d. and e. Paired two-print track patterns made by voles and mice (d) and chipmunks and tree squirrels (e). This occurs when their four-print group merges in soft snow.

Raccoons and opossums, short-legged and wide-bodied, make a two-print walking pattern in which the hind feet are placed next to the tracks of the opposing front feet (f). Thus, each two-print group contains prints of two sizes—one the print of the larger hind foot. The opossum’s hind-foot track is particularly distinctive because it shows a backward-pointing “thumb.”

Some of the long-bodied walking mammals, particularly ungulates and dogs, make two-print track patterns when trotting in shallow snow. When the trot is fast, ungulates, especially, may completely overstep the front-foot prints with their hind feet, making a two-print track pattern (g), really a very offset alternating track pattern. Another trotting pattern typical of the dog family shows a two-print pattern with the front-foot prints on one side of the imaginary center-line and the hind foot prints on the other side, behind, next to, or ahead of the front print, depending on speed (h).

Other two-print track patterns. f. Walking two-print track pattern made by raccoons and opossums. g. and h. Two-print trotting track patterns typical of the ungulates (g) and the dog family (h).


The third major track pattern is the four-print track pattern, where four footprints are grouped together followed by a space and then four more prints (i and j). The most common type of four-print pattern is made by rodents and rabbits as they jump or hop. The animal jumps forward off its large muscular hind legs and lands on its front feet, placing them either side by side or slightly on a diagonal. Then it places its hind feet around the outside and ahead of its front-foot prints (see illustration). Tree dwellers place their front feet side by side most often (i, bottom), while ground dwellers usually place their front feet on a diagonal (i, top). This rule applies to mammals as well as to most birds.

During a four-print jump, the hind feet sometimes fall on top of one or both of the front-foot prints leaving only three or two prints showing (see two-print track patterns), or the two front feet land close together merging into one print (j). In the case of larger rodents and rabbits, both front prints rarely merge with the hind prints to form the two-print pattern made by small rodents in deep snow.

Common four-print track patterns. i. Four-print track patterns made by most rabbits and rodents when hopping; ground dwellers place their front feet on a diagonal (top), while tree dwellers place theirs side by side (bottom). j. Three-print variations of the four-print track pattern where a front-foot print merges with a hind-foot print or the front-foot prints merge together.

Four-print track patterns are also made when a mammal lopes or gallops, as shown; but, because of the energy it takes to move in snow, they are uncommon and typically seen only for short stretches. Those mammals that already jump in a four-print pattern merely extend their feet, maintaining the same pattern as speed increases. Basically, other mammals gallop by leaping off their hind feet, landing forward with their front feet, and then taking off from their front feet to create an airborne phase before the hind feet land again. A galloping track pattern is sometimes an indication that the animal was frightened—perhaps by you!

Less common four-print track patterns. k. Loping pattern typical of the dog family. l. Loping pattern typical of mustelids. m. “C-shaped” rotatory gallop common among dogs, deer, and antelope. n. Faster galloping pattern. o. Most common galloping track pattern made by all mammals (drawn from Halfpenny, 1986).

Loping and galloping four-print patterns vary, depending on the species of animal and its speed. The accompanying illustrations show slower lopes (k and l), and faster gallops (m, n, o). Lope k is typical of the dog family, while lope l is typical of mustelids. The C-shaped rotatory gallop (m) is common among the dog, deer, and antelope families. Dogs, mustelids, and ungulates commonly make gallop n. Gallop o is the most common galloping print made by almost all families of mammals. Mule deer exhibit their own variation of a jump called a “stot,” jumping off all four legs at once in pogo-stick-like movements and leaving a clustered four-print track group. (Much of this discussion on mammal gaits is taken from James Halfpenny’s excellent book, A Field Guide to Mammal Tracking in Western America.)

• A final note on track patterns: Consider the character of the animal’s movements. Does it travel erratically, moving in different directions (a weasel energetically investigating every spot)? Does it move purposefully forward, largely unconcerned with cover or habitat (a wolf or coyote on the move)? Do its movements lead from tree to tree (a tree squirrel, porcupine, or marten) or from burrow to burrow (a ground squirrel, prairie dog, or perhaps a black-footed ferret)? Or does it wander from shrub to shrub nibbling winter stems (a hare, elk, or moose)? An animal’s trail holds many different clues to the animal’s identity. These clues are described in the species accounts.

Tassle-eared squirrel hopping. Note how the hind feet are brought around and ahead of the front feet (drawn from Gambaryan, 1974).

Step Two: Decide in which type of habitat the animal lives

• While identifying the basic track pattern of your mystery animal, think about where you are. Are you deep in a New England forest? A Minnesota riparian area (near a lake, pond, or stream)? Or maybe an “edge” between different habitat types? Some animals, such as prairie dogs and ground squirrels, are lovers of open, western prairies, while others, such as tree squirrels, require forest habitats. Still others, like coyotes, travel long distances through all types of terrain. Are you in the suburbs or the wilderness? A wolverine rarely visits the suburbs. When you look at the species accounts, make sure you look at both the habitat information and the range map that tell you which part of the country is home to each animal.

Step Three: Identify the animal

• Now is the time to move in on the track (but don’t push snow over it!) and take a closer look. Look for additional clues (are there pads or claws?) and take a few measurements. When out in the woods or mountains in winter I often carry a small cloth tape measure, a notebook, and a camera for recording tracks. You may want to carry a ruler or use the one on the back cover of this guide, or you may prefer standby rulers—a hand or fingers. The stretch between my thumb and little finger across my palm measures about 8 inches. The tip joint of my index finger measures an inch. This often gives me the ballpark estimate I need to confirm a track or give me a general ideal about which one to look up in a track book later. More often than not, I recognize a certain track by its relative size compared to my hand or finger than by actual numbers I have memorized.


• Although an animal’s footprint is rarely perfectly detailed in snow, you often see the general foot shape, the overall track size and hints of toes, foot pads, or claws. It is important to remember that all the toes rarely register in a snow track, both because soft snow does not hold a print well and because the hind foot often falls where the front foot landed. Toe count is a major key to identifying tracks in many track books, and it can be useful in old or shallow snow as well as in dirt substrates, but don’t count on it. For example, among three groups that walk making similar track patterns—dogs, cats and ungulates—the dogs can be distinguished by their elliptically shaped feet and traces of pad prints and claws. Cats have round feet with retractile claws, and ungulates have hoofs. In particularly soft, deep snow, even these features may be obscured, in which case you must look for other tracking clues or follow the trail to an area of shallower snow, for example under a tree branch.


• Keep three things in mind before measuring tracks. First, tracks in snow are slightly larger than the actual foot size and sometimes larger than the actual foot size and sometimes larger than tracks of the same animal in mud or sand. Also, when the hind-foot print registers on the front-foot print, this track composite is slightly larger than you would expect a single foot-print to be. The range of track measurements given in this book for each species group reflects these facts.

• Second, prints in snow change size with age. A print exposed to warm sun may melt out to twice its original size after a couple of days. Gravity, freezing, and thawing break apart tracks; blowing snow or new snow fills in tracks. Use your own footprints to judge a track’s freshness. Follow the trail to find tracks made in the shelter of trees or rocks, or on a different snow surface, to get a better idea of the real track size. Keep in mind that track sizes can vary with age of the track as well as with age and sex of the animal, and use the other clues—habitat, range, and associated signs—to help identify the track.

• Finally, keep in mind that the depth of the print is a good indicator of an animal’s size and weight. For example, lynx and mountain lion tracks are similar in size, but the lynx, very light for its large feet, rarely sinks deeply into snow. Look around your neighborhood to see the depth and size of the prints made by a local cat, dog, or other resident animal for a frame of reference.

• Track measurements given in this book include: (1) length and width of single prints, a track made by one foot or, in the alternating or two-print track patterns, by two feet when the hind foot registers on the front foot; (2) the length and width of the print group, the tracks made when each foot has touched down once, generally applicable to the two- and four-print track patterns (the print group in the alternating pattern does not occur as a distinct cluster); (3) the distance between each single print or print group, called the intergroup distance or length; and (4) the straddle, the width between the outermost prints or the width of the trail (p and q). (The distance from the trailing end of one print group to the trailing end of the next group, one full step cycle, is commonly called a stride.)

When measuring single prints or print groups, measure between the widest or longest points and just where the animal’s foot stepped down (the flat part of the track), excluding the outer edges of the track or places where the foot slid through the snow before or after it stepped down. When claw marks are visible, include them in the print length measurement. To measure the intergroup distance, measure the distance between any two consecutive print groups. Note that in the alternating pattern, the print group can be a set of any two prints. In this case, consider the distance between any two prints as the intergroup distance.


On Sale
Sep 19, 2012
Page Count
488 pages

The Editors of Stackpole Books

About the Author

Puzzability, based in New York, includes Mike Shenk, who has written puzzles for Games magazine and its offshoots, and provided daily crosswords for a major newspaper syndicate. He is currently the crossword editor of the Wall Street Journal; Amy Goldstein, a trivia buff and wordsmith who has served as associate editor and managing editor for Games magazine and its sister publications; and Robert Leighton, an illustrator, writer, New Yorker cartoonist, and creator of unique visual puzzles.

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