Tracking in Snow

I’ve spent a lot of time tracking animals in snow, ranging from cougars that I want to catch to whitetails that I’m hoping to find piled up a hundred yards downhill. (Wounded deer always seem to run downhill just so you can enjoy packing them uphill once you’ve found them.) Under most conditions, a bad “blood” trail on snow will be easier to follow than a good one on bare ground. It’s not just that snow holds clear prints. The way disturbed snow behaves will help you “age” the track, which can make it easy to identify and quicker to follow.

The first thing I do when I set out to track a wounded deer in snow is to turn around and look at my own fresh tracks. (If I’m looking for lion tracks from a vehicle, I stop the truck as soon as I head up a canyon and kick up some snow in the road, so I know what a fresh track looks like in the headlights.) The specifics will vary depending on the condition of the snow (granular, powdery, frozen—there’s a reason why Native arctic languages contains so many different words for snow); but the granules kicked up alongside a fresh track will always look different from those beside older tracks.

The fresher the track and the closer the temperature is to freezing, the more obvious those differences will usually be. Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to stay on the track even when it’s crossing lots of older tracks and leaving little or no blood. Deer density is high in the areas I hunt, but if I’m setting out to recover a deer I shot an hour earlier I can usually keep up with its track faster than I can walk.

We all understand the importance of practicing with our bows, but too few of us practice tracking. Sometime this season, practice following a fresh deer track through the snow and see how easy it can be no matter how many other tracks it crosses.


About the Author:

Co-editor Don Thomas and his wife Lori divide their time between homes in rural Montana and Arizona. He has been writing for the magazine since 1990. His books can be found at


  1. Curt Redmon October 3, 2018 at 9:38 am - Reply

    I have been waiting on this one.
    “Tracking in the snow” Thanks Mr Thomas
    We also take pictures of our tracks going in and coming out.
    And log them in a file.

    Curt Redmon

  2. PAUL T SCHNELL October 3, 2018 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Don! You shared another fine short article on the value of practical woodsmanship and the sporting life in modern society. On the heels of another brutal winter with heavy snow, for some of us, your piece on game tracking in snow is timely and pertinent.

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