Track Identification Guide

The purpose of this guide is to provide a tool for backcountry users to identify and report observations of rare carnivores (wolverines, fishers, and lynx) or their tracks, and thereby contribute to research efforts designed to learn more about the distributions and abundance of these unique animals. The guide is not intended to be a complete manual for tracking, and assumes that the user already has a basic understanding of the terms and methods associated with tracking.

This guide was produced by Wild Things Unlimited, a Bozeman-based non-profit organization founded in 1997 for the purposes of conducting wildlife research and public education programs. For more information contact Wild Things Unlimited at P.O. Box 1522, Bozeman, MT 59771 (406-522-9825). Illustrations, track measurements, and much of the descriptive information included in this guide was reprinted from “Field Guide to Tracking Animals in Snow,” with permission from author Louise Forrest, illustrator Denise Casey, and publisher Stackpole Books.

Caution: There is potential for the tracks of each species of rare carnivore described in this guide (wolverine, fisher, lynx) to be confused with tracks of one or more similar species. The most challenging differentiations are: wolverine-wolf, fisher-marten, and lynx-mountain lion; when examining tracks from these animals, you will need to use all available clues and make careful measurements in order to make positive identifications.

Wolverine

Description: Largest member of the weasel family; dark brown with broad , light stripes along its sides, from head to tail. Stocky, bearlike body with relatively large feet, short legs, and bushy tail. Total length 32 to 45 inches, tail length 7 to 10 inches, weight 18 to 45 pounds.

Wolverine track

Track Description: Prints are nearly wolf-size (greater than 4″ long), and usually show claw marks and foot drag marks. Wolverines have five toes, but sometimes only four toes can be seen in the print; foot pad is chevron-shaped. Gait is commonly erratic: three- or four-print lope pattern (See Track Patterns) is commonly used in light or firm snow; a two-print lope may be used in soft, deep snow; and an alternating walk pattern may also be used — follow the trail for 100-200 yards to look for variations among these g_it patterns.

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Fisher

Description: This member of the weasel family is the size of a large house cat, with a long body, a long bushy tail, and short legs. Color is dark brown to black, with possible gray on the face and chest. Total length 33 to 41 inches, tail length 13 to 17 inches, weight 3 to 12 pounds.

Fisher track

Track Description: Fishers lope in the angled two-print pattern characteristic of members of the weasel family (See Track Patterns), but may walk in an alternating pattern, or may use a three- or four-print gallop pattern. Prints are very similar to those of martens, but larger — two very specific measurements are essential to differentiating these two species — width of an individual print (greater than 2.5 ” for fisher) and straddle, or total width of two side by side prints (greater than 4.5″ for fisher).

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Lynx

Description: a medium-sized cat (15 to 30 pounds), with long legs and large feet. Color is mottled tawny, brown, black, and white. Ears have long black tufts of hair on their tips, and the lynx’s tail is short (4 to 5″) with a black tip. Ear tufts, long legs, and large feet are key to distinguishing lynx from bobcat.

Lynx track

Track Description: lynx usually walk in an alternating pattern (See Track Patterns), rarely dragging their feet or bodies. In deep snow the hind legs sink, making a “handle” on the print. The track pattern and print size (greater than 3.5″ long and wide) are similar to those of mountain lion; however, for lynx the straddle (measured between parallel lines along outside edges of two successive prints) is generally smaller (less than 9″), foot pads are usually obscured by dense hair, and tracks do not sink more than 8″ into snow. For both cats, the foot pad makes up nearly 1/2 of the entire print, and claw marks are almost always absent. Lynx trails tend to meander through the forest, unlike the straight line trails of coyotes and wolves.

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Wolf

Wolf track

Wolves usually walk or trot in an alternating pattern (See Track Patterns), but may trot in a two-print pattern or lope in a four-print gallop pattern. Individual print is greater than 4″ long and wide; claw marks are almost always present; foot pad makes up approximately 1/3 of the entire print. Trails are usually straight and direct rather than wandering.

Coyote

Coyote track

Coyotes typically walk or trot in an alternating pattern (See Track Patterns); less common gaits include the two-print trot and a lope or gallop in a four-print pattern. Oval tracks are 2.5 to 3.5″ long, and usually show foot pads (aproximately 1/3 of entire print) and claw marks for at least the front two toes. Trails may meander, but are often straight-line routes.

Red Fox

Fox track

Foxes walk or trot in an alternating pattern (See Track Patterns), with prints nearly in a line. In shallow snow, foxes may trot in a two-print pattern or gallop in a four-print pattern. Dainty, oval tracks (2.3 to 3.1″ long) usually show small triangular foot pads, claw marks, and foot drag marks.

Mountain Lion

Mountain lion

Lion tracks are very similar to those of lynx. Pattern is usually alternating (See Track Patterns); sometimes hind feet do not register directly on top of front -foot prints. Prints are as wide as or wider than long (greater than 3.3″). Toes and foot pads often register clearly in the snow (unlike lynx’s); and foot pads, which make up nearly 1/2 of the entire print, sometimes show lobes at front and rear of pads. Prints rarely show claws. Trails are mostly straight and direct, and may lead to trees, which lions climb.

Bobcat

Bobcat track

Bobcats walk in an alternating pattern (See Track Patterns), making prints about twice the size of a house cat’s (2 to 2.5″ long). Tracks could be confused with coyote or fox tracks — for bobcat, look for lack of claw marks, prints as wide as or wider than long, and lack of foot drag marks. As with lynx, hind legs sink in deep snow to make a “handle” at the back of the print. Bobcat trails meander rather than run directly. See tracking patterns below.

Marten

Marten track

Martens are similar in appearance to fishers, but have reddish brown fur with orange neck and chest patches, and have larger ears and shorter tails than fishers. Martens typically lope in an angled two-print pattern (See Track Patterns), but may slow to an alternating walk or speed to a four-print gallop. Prints are 3 to 4″ long, have five toes, and may show claw marks; foot pads are chevron-shaped. Trails run through forests, across clearings, down holes, or to trees (which they climb). Key track measurements are print width less than 2.5″ and straddle (total width of the two-print pattern) less than 4.5″.

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