Winter is a great time to practice your tracking skills. How well do you know your Montana wildlife? Brush up on your knowledge here, and then take an amble in the snow for a real-life test!

clip art of a coyote trackCoyote
Canis latrans
Tracks have four toes, with inside toes a little larger. Claw marks usually show. Bottom pad is roughly triangular. You can draw a rough “X” through the center of canid tracks, between the two outer toes on each side to between the pad and outer toe on the opposite side.
~2.5-3” long by ~2-2.5” wide.
(Wolf tracks are larger – 5” by 4”, and fox tracks smaller – 2” by 1.8”.)

clip art of a mountain lion trackMountain lion
Puma concolor
Four toes, usually no claws showing. Bottom pad is wide and trapezoidal, with three lobes on bottom and two on top, and makes up nearly half the print.
Tracks are as wide or wider as they are long, about the diameter of a baseball (3.5” by 3.6”).

clip art of a mule deer or white-tailed deer trackWhite-tailed or mule deer
Odocoileus spp.
Tracks are heart-shaped, and look a little like an open mussel shell, with their curved edges and slender, pointed tips. Dewclaws may show (about an inch behind the main print) in deep snow.
~3” long by ~2” wide.

clip art of a moose trackMoose
Alces alces
Tracks similar to deer, but much larger, ~6” long by ~3.5” wide. Stride (distance between prints of the same hoof) is much longer than that of deer—70” to a deer’s 30-36”. Moose may drag their feet in deep snow, leaving long, parallel troughs.

drawing of a snowshoe hare trackSnowshoe hare
Lepus americanus
Hind feet are long and wide to help hares “float” on the snow. Front prints are small and circular, about half the size of hind prints. Hind prints are parallel, and land ahead of the diagonal front prints.
~2” long by 1.5” wide (front);
4-5” long by 3.5-4.5” wide (hind).

sketch of a red squirrel track, all four feetRed squirrel
Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
Front prints are the size of a quarter, with four toes; hind prints are longer and five-toed. Short claws. The hind feet land ahead of the front feet in a squarish shape, with front feet a little closer together.
1” by 1” (front), ~2” long by ~1” wide (hind).

drawing of otter tracks, front and back feetRiver otter
Lutra canadensis
Each foot has five clawed toes; hind prints are wide and about twice the size of front prints. All feet have webbed toes, and hind prints look a little like our hands might look if they were webbed. Look for tail drag tracks as well—and, even more fun, the 9”-wide troughs otters make when sliding down a snowy hill into the water!
~3.5” long by ~2.5” wide (front),
4-5” long by 3.5” wide (hind).

drawing of shrew tracks, all four feetShrew
Soricidae family
Tiny! Five little clawed toes on each foot, with a grouping of small pads below. Track pattern is similar to squirrel, with the larger hind feet landing ahead of front feet; can look U-shaped in deep snow. Hind prints are parallel, front prints often slightly diagonal.
.25” x .2” (front), .4” x .4” (hind).

clip art of grouse tracksGrouse
Dendragapus spp.
Four toes, three pointing forward and one pointing back. Back toe is shorter and may not show, making the track look a little like an anchor or an arrow. Toes are fairly wide, and feet may point slightly inward.
~2.5” long by ~2” wide.

(all available at the Montana Natural History Center library):
Scat and Tracks of the Rocky Mountains by James C. Halfpenny
Field Guide to Tracking Animals in Snow by Louise R. Forrest
Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign by Paul Rezendes
Mammals of Montana by Kerry Foresman

tracks from an otter sliding down a snowy bank

Tracks from an otter sliding downhill (photo courtesy USFWS).


This article was originally published in the Winter 2016-2017 issue of Montana Naturalist magazine, and may not be reproduced in part or in whole without the written consent of the Montana Natural History Center. ©2016 The Montana Natural History Center.

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