From Hansel and Gretel to Index Tracker: 3 Days with Freddy Osuna at Greenside Training
As children, many of us read the classic Grimm Brothers story of Hansel and Gretel. In the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel lay a trail of breadcrumbs to find their way back out of the forest. However, when the birds eat the crumbs the siblings find themselves lost and randomly wandering through the forest.
In many ways, this simple story is highly representative of real world environmental factors and default search methodologies used by many untrained individuals to follow a trail. In the absence of a clear path of breadcrumbs, many of us are be left randomly wandering around with no clear plan or tools at our disposal.
However, in just a few short days Freddy Osuna and Greenside Training can make an individual with zero tracking experience into highly capable tracker able to follow complex trails through not only uninhabited natural wilderness but also through a complex first world urban metropolis at both day and night.
Freddy begins by giving students the core fundamental concepts necessary to read, understand and extract the maximum amount of information from any given track or set of tracks. Students are taught to identify common animal tracks such as elk, deer, bear, bobcat, coyote, javalena and others.
Before jumping too deeply into following tracks, it is highly useful to understand vision and perspective. Freddy also explains many principles relating to the biology and anatomy of the human eye. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the human visual system allows trackers to employ techniques to improve visual acuity. For example, the sharpest and most detailed part of our vision is our central vision. Unfortunately, our central vision only encompasses about 3 degrees of our entire field of view.
Similarly, understanding how one’s orientation with respect to a track and primary light source can make the difference between seeing and missing a track. A simple exercise to illustrate this is to walk outside one morning or afternoon and make a few noticeable footprints in the dirt. Now walk in a circle around the track noting how clear the track is. One will notice the track is substantially clearer when the track is positioned between the observer and the primary light source (the sun) and begins to fade or degrade in detail as the observer moves between the track and light source (even when the track is not covered by a shadow).
Knowing this simple detail and planning one’s orientation towards the sun can vastly improve track detection and ability to see detail. Furthermore, Freddy shows how a tracker can use a signal mirror to illuminate a track; especially when covering a track in a shadow. The use of a strong signaling mirror acts as an amplified light source improving contrast and track clarity through not only shadowing but also because the small area of bright light from the mirror helps to focus our brain more closely on our sharp detailed central vision.
From there, the course quickly jumps into dissecting tracks. Students learn how to identify critical features of tracks, direction of travel and some general characteristics about what or who left the track and what the individual(s) did there. Perhaps most importantly, students learn criteria for definitively determining if two tracks are related and to effectively age tracks.
Being able to age tracks is one of the most important skills a tracker can learn. Simply finding a deer print or a very common Merrell boot print is only useful and of interest to a tracker if the track can be determined to have originated during the timeframe in which the animal or individual was believed to have passed through the area. Hansel and Gretel may stumble upon a bread crumb but if it is not sitting ontop of vegetation but rather starting to nestle deeper down or there is visual evidence of dirt/debris blown and built up against one side, while it may be a bread crumb it is probably not their bread crumb that they left a few hours earlier.
Micro-Tracking to Index Tracking
The default methodology most people want to use when tracking is to follow every single breadcrumb one after another in a sequential fashion. This method is often referred to as ‘micro-tracking” or in a more novice term ’Hansel and Gretelling”. Although micro-tracking can be useful at times, there are a few problems with this approach. First, micro-tracking is very slow and inefficient. Secondly, micro-tracking is not always a viable option. This is because most surfaces are not like wet cement or a wet sandy beach with the tide going out that leave a perfect trail for one to follow every few feet. Some surfaces such as hard compact clay with little dust and debris can leave next to no track.
When Hansel and Gretel lose a set of breadcrumbs with no directional information, they are left randomly wandering around in all directions of the forest looking for a track and it is purely by chance alone that they reacquire the trail.
Conversely, Index Tracking teaches students to synthesize information from a known trail and last confirmed track with knowledge of the environment and common patterns of travel and locomotion. With this information, Index Tracking provides a simple methodology for inferring probable gates of travel and how to systematically eliminate potential gates thus allowing a tracker to continue to follow a complex trail at a high rate of speed. As a result, the Index Tracking methodology allows trackers to jump many tens, hundreds or more yards ahead on the trail at a time.
The Index Tracking method is significantly faster than micro-tracking and is not neutralized by sparse or vague tracks. In the case of search and rescue, reaching an injured person quicker can have a significant influence on medical outcomes.
Tracking as a Science
Whether correct or incorrect, tracking has earned a bit of a reputation as a pseudoscience that is filled with mythology and superstition. For example, the common pop-cultural Hollywood conception of a tracker is a spiritual person who looks at one track and says, “a 42 year old white male wearing red Puma’s with a Ferrari logo and an Armani sports jacket was here 26 minutes ago traveling 4mph at bearing 274 with twelve dollars and sixty seven cents in his pocket while thinking about where to take his girlfriend for dinner”. Index Tracking is not as Freddy would say, “mythical voodoo”. Rather it is a systematic method for following a track.
In mathematics there are entire fields of study related to search algorithms and optimization. A core premise underlying these fields is that within a given state space there are n-number (often a very large number) of theoretically possible solutions to an equation or system of equations and constraints. In tracking the state space is ostensibly the maximum distance a target could have traveled from the last known point of contact in a given time t.
The most basic search algorithms, similar to Hansel and Gretel randomly meandering around the forest blindly, are commonly referred to as ‘naïve’ or ‘uninformed’ and brute force algorithms. However, over the years mathematicians have developed better algorithms that make use of known information and have clearly defined criterion for more systematically navigating through a state space to a solution. More modern and advanced algorithms limit the state space down to a more manageable set of considerably more probable options and give clear guidelines for how to pick an optimal or iterate through the space to an exact or optimal solution.
Similar to mathematical algorithms, Freddy Osuna’s Index Tracking provides clear, detailed, systematic and reproducible methods for limiting the state space or search area to only the most likely regions. From there Index Tracking we learn that although a 360 degree area is theoretically possible, the most probable search space is usually limited to about only 30 degrees. Within that 30 degrees there are typically 2 or 3 likely gates of travel which can be quickly and systematically confirmed or eliminated thus allowing the tracker to proceed along the trail at a relatively high rate of speed while exhausting fewer resources.
The amount of time and resources at hand are two factors highly relevant to many tracking applications. For example, in a search and rescue scenario, there is not an unlimited number of people to fan out in all directions and time is likely of the essence. Being able to most effectively deploy limited resources and manpower in an optimal direction is imperative. If an individual is out hiking and loses the trail and is forced to ‘backtrack’ he or she may be low on water or other supplies, not prepared for cold weather at night and finding their way back quickly could be of equal importance.
Throughout the course of my three days at Greenside Training, we as students inevitably did lose a track. However, 1) Index Tracking provides methods for recovering lost tracks and 2) in hindsight we ended up losing the trail because we neglected the methodology.
It feels a bit odd at first taking large bold leaps well ahead of a last known track but when followed properly, Index Tracking is stunningly accurate and fast.
One of the most significant things students learn at Fredy’s course is situational awareness. This is learned partly as a byproduct of Index Tracking and partly by the structure of the course. Micro-tracking has a tracker lways looking down to follow one track after another. Index Tracking also allows individuals to be more aware of their environment looking up as they move forward in large strides. In retrospect, it is hard to count the number of IED trip wires clearly out in the open that we as students set off, out of place items we walked over, times we were looking right at a person and did not see them or times other teams were pointing a flashlight right at us but did not even notice we were there because they were too focused on individual tracks.
Freddy teaches students to look for clues far beyond footprints from dropped or out of place objects to scents. One striking example was garlic. Many foods in the Western world are filled with garlic and when paying attention to wind directions, one can in many cases smell a person or target before they are able to see them. In addition, there is a discussion of environmental disturbances of other animals or people that can occur depending on how a target moved through an environment.
Learning to keep your head up and look for different elements in an environment instills an exceptional sense of situational awareness in the individual. In combination with having to thinking about how to synthesize the wealth of information in the environment , Index Tracking builds and enhanced attention to detail applicable far beyond tracking.
Despite the vast number of items beyond a physical footprint or breadcrumb which can have relevance, because Index Tracking is based on clearly defined rules and criteria for conclusively identifying a track and conclusively linking a new piece of information to the specific track of interest, Index Tracking remains a clearly defined scientific methodology that avoids mystical voodoo and blind unreproducible guessing.
Real World Training
Greenside Training courses take place in real world settings; not the classroom, a sandbox or some well staged environment. Although some early exercises the first day were choreographed, they were done so on natural terrain to illustrate given scenarios such as speed of travel, a person changing their direction of travel on a pivot foot, walking backwards, animal tracks (especially as there are few bears in the desert) etc.
Later in the course the students were split into teams and Freddy would say to one team, “we are going over here. Take a 20-30 minute head start and we will come find you”. Similarly, for a night tracking portion of the course, since a group of students drove down in an RV and were staying at a KOA campground, Freddy decided to do the night tracking in the desert behind the KOA. The hard compact clay with almost no dust layer to hold a print proved to be some of the most difficult terrain; much less at night!
When taking a Greenside Training course, train in environments they will actually use the skills. Although learning outside of a pristinely controlled environment a much steeper learning curve, students gain applicable experience and progress much faster in a shorter period of time.
Furthermore, real world training illustrates how well the Index Tracking method really works. Students see and experience first hand that when followed properly, Index Tracking allows them to follow complex unscripted tracks through complex environments.
Who Should Take The Course
Greenside Training offers courses that are well suited for a broad range of audiences. Hunters looking to prepare for the upcoming hunting season, military personnel as well as search and rescue teams are all prime candidates for learning tracking. Recreational hikers can also benefit from the course. Additionally, skills such as attention to detail and problem solving also make the course an ideal youth program. Since tracking often requires teamwork between individuals to hold a last known point of contact while finding new tracks, Greenside Training courses are also excellent team building exercises.
Freddy will claim that a few short days at Greenside Training will give you the fundamental building blocks to continue learning how to track. While students certainly do gain fundamentals and quantifiable, defined methodologies for tracking, at the end of the course students also become highly competent trackers. In just a few short days any student with the willingness to learn can go from Hansel and Gretel completely lost without a pristine trail to a highly competent Index Tracker.
During the course we learned how to follow tracks through the wilderness, a modern urban metropolitan city and even how to use lasers to identify IED trip wires in hostile war zones. However, students leave with knowledge that transcends far beyond tracking and is readily applicable to countless other aspect of daily life.
The Index Tracking method works and students discover this first hand. Freedy has brought a legitimate scientific approach to tracking with his method. As a result, individuals reading this article many years after the original publication will likely be able to Google Index Tracking and find countless individuals and schools teaching the method.
Freddy has an extensive resume as a tracker and Marine Scout Sniper. He is almost universally respected as a subject matter expert in the tracking community. His expertise is highly sought after by military and civilian groups alike. However, unlike many world renown experts, Freddy also has an innate ability to teach and convey information in an understandable way to a wide variety of students. For anyone considering a course in tracking, Freddy Osuna and Greenside Training should be atop the list. The courses are excellent and any graduate will attest to the fact that it is a privilege to attend and train with Freddy Osuna.
Learn more about Freddy Osuna and Greenside Training courses at www.GreensideTraining.com