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by Kit Arthur
Owner and Founder of Tackleberry Solutions: Teaching Wartime Tactics for Civil and Home Defense
Through years of working with other military professional recon soldiers, special forces, police, and counter-drug agents, I’ve found that every single one of them has the same concern no matter their skill level or area of expertise. And that concern is SERE (Survive. Escape. Resist. Evade.) As a result, I wanted to share with you a few tips on evasion and how to avoid enemy capture when you are being searched for by canines and professional trackers.
As a kid, I used to track deer through the swamp. Little did I know that what I was doing was preparing myself to be a human tracker as an adult. It wasn’t until I found myself being trained by the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) that I understood my full potential resulting from my years of practice tracking deer as a child. This led me to realize that if I could track a human… I could evade one too.
What I’m about to share with you are solid, no kidding, real tactics to evade dogs and human trackers. Almost all of these, I have used in real life. Being able to evade capture has saved my butt a few times now, but evading detection has enabled me to have a successful 13-year career as a Recon soldier.
How to Evade a Tracking Dog
Imagine that a dog sees the scent like a red fog that hovers over the ground where you just traveled. This will assist you in understanding how to evade one.
If the wind moves at 3-5 MPH (a gentle breeze) the scent will travel with the wind about 5-15 yards. A stiff wind at 20-30 MPH the scent will travel 100-200 yards off the route traveled. Anything above 30 MPH, the handler ain’t even going to try because your scent has been totally dispersed everywhere and is just plain gone.
#1 Scent Massing
Yes, you read that right. Run hard to open the gap between your pursuer and yourself. Then stop and start running in a circle. Slowly run in a spiral until the circle is approximately 50 yards in diameter. This is called scent massing. What you just did placed your scent everywhere. As the dog approaches, they just smell you in every direction. With no clear trail, the dog will simply give up. I actually did this during a training mission with a local sheriff’s department.
Thirty minutes prior to the track, the handler had been bragging about how he and his bloodhound had just completed a week-old 26-mile track. (That’s NC state requirement to be certified as a bloodhound tracking handler/dog). Not even 15 mins into the track they hit my scent mass and both just gave up. They had no clue what to do or what had happened. Needless to say, the handler was super pissed at me.
Side Note: Your scent flows off of you the hotter your body gets. That means that your head, sweat, clothing, detergent, etc. are all the scents that make up you as the target. So as soon as you can slow down, do it. Try not to sweat any more than you have to.
#2 Scent Masking
I was running rabbit – in this case, I was giving the dog and his handler something to chase/track for training purposes – for a buddy of mine who was a bloodhound handler for a neighboring county sheriff’s department (it was a different agency from the last one.) I had just finished running about a mile when it started to rain. Not thinking anything of it, I threw on my poncho, walked 25 yards in the woods, and sat down.
I watched for a hot minute while my friend and his dog walked by me about 3 or 4 times. Finally, he called me on the phone and asked where I was. I stood up and scared the crap out of him. When I told him what I had done, he explained to me that I had just taken my scent and put it into a ziplock bag. I totally just scent-masked myself.
Side note: If you can smell someone without the aid of a dog, then you’re within 25 yards of them. (I figured this out also while stalking deer in the swamps of NC.)
Whenever you find yourself evading a dog, be sure to use 2 or more tactics to throw the dog off your trail. Unfortunately, what works for a dog, will not work for a human tracker.
How to Evade a Human Tracker
#1 Sweeping Dirt
We were on the run. My less experienced team member had gotten too close to the target that we were tasked with observing. Their boxer indicated on us – he noticed something or someone (us) was in the bushes and alerted his owner that something was up. Now they were in pursuit. They had deployed about 10 guys on four-wheelers and dirt bikes (I don’t know the actual number – I’m guessing based on the sounds that I heard.) Either way, men armed with AK-47s and God knows what else were looking for us.
We had to cross a path to get to the woods which was our only way out. The problem was that the path was all sand. Which made it perfect for leaving “sign” (sign is anything that proves a human was there. This could be anything from a thread of clothing, a broken branch at shoulder height, a boot print in the dirt, etc.)
Just as the last of the ATVs passed us, we sprinted across the path. I turned and looked back and realized that one of us left a beautiful boot print right on the path! I quickly grabbed a small branch that had fallen off of a pine tree. It still had some of the needles attached. I swept it back and forth on the ground until you couldn’t see the print any longer. Turning, I ran into the woods just before another ATV crept past us. The driver was intently looking at the path for sign, but was moving too fast and drove right over where I had just swept the dirt. As a result, he covered the mark up nicely with a tire track.
You can do this with any stick but one that has its leaves on it still will work even better. Just don’t break it off a tree (this will leave sign. Pick a stick from off the ground! – Also be sure to put it back right where you found it.)
You can also do this with your hands or a shirt if you need to. Unfortunately, it will not work on a trained human tracker. A professional and experienced human tracker is trained to pick up on tricks like that and will recognize that tactic. In my SERE course, I teach individuals counter-tracking tactics that you can use against a professional. However, it is very rare to have a human tracker and a trained track dog at the same time. There are only a select few in the world who are both a canine handler and a tracker. However, I will tell you that it has worked so many times for me that I literally cannot remember them all.
In all but 2 cases I used this very tactic to avoid detection. My targets never even knew I had ever been there. In the story above, covering our sign saved mine and two other guys’ lives.
#2 Crossing Water
If you come across moving water (think a creek or a small river) you can use this to throw off your tracker. It will not work for a tracking dog, but as you will see, I have a trick for that too. Remember that your footprint will leave a nice sign for a tracker to follow. Furthermore, it tells a dog handler that they are on the right track. You can use that to your advantage by leaving them one or two.
Don’t make it too obvious. Also if you’re able to make it to the far side of the waterway then that will work even better at convincing them that you did in fact cross.
Caution: don’t walk backwards in your own tracks! A tracker will see right through that and realize what you did. Instead, just cross the waterway. Run about 500 yards then scent mass the area. You want to be far enough to convince those tracking you that you’re not going to use the waterway. After scent massing the area, scent-mask your body with a poncho. Then walk at an angle back to the waterway. Be careful not to leave any sign!
When you reach the water, you want to be about 100 yards or more downstream from where you first crossed. Slowly take your time until you can find a spot to get into the water without leaving sign and walk downstream for about 1,000 yards. When you get out of the water, be sure to leave no sign and also conduct another scent massing. Then do a scent change. By changing scent you’ll have to roll in something else that smells different. Fecal matter is ideal but dirt will work if you’ve got nothing more pungent to work with. Or if happen to run across an extra set of clothing that doesn’t smell like you, but that is unlikely. (Be careful not to leave sign…Don’t disturb the nearby leaves or trees) and be on your way.
Side Note: When you’re walking in the water (again think of a creek), you’re disturbing the water bed. This causes debris to float in the water. Thus if you travel upstream, you’re sending debris downstream towards the people tracking you. But, by traveling downstream the water will carry the debris with you as you walk.
The moving water will quickly cover up your footprint and thus leave no sign for the tracker to follow. Basically, you just disappeared, and by the time the tracker figures it out…it’s too late. The scent massing and masking are just in case they are working with a tracking dog too. A real tracking team will do that, but it is very rare.
Side Note: If you do leave a track on the creek bed, just use the sweeping dirt method and then splash some water over it. That should dissolve the track efficiently enough.
In conclusion, I want to teach you two other things.
1: When evading be sure to use as many of these tactics as you can.
If you want to head north to your extraction point, then run south. Use whatever applicable tactic you can and then run east for 200-300 yards and deploy a different tactic. Then go south again for another 100-200 yards and deploy another. Head east again and deploy yet another anti-tracking tactic.
Only after you’re sure that you have thrown them off your trail can you start heading north to your extraction point. While the distances are really up to you, the idea is to take them in the opposite direction of where you’re really trying to go.
This leads me to point number 2: Have a plan for extraction! No matter whether you’re on a mission or just trying to live through SHFT in your own home, have a plan to get out fast. As we use to say in Recon, (Have one foot out the door and another on a banana peel).
When you get to your extraction point have a vehicle waiting for you. It doesn’t matter if you stage one prior or if you call in a buddy via radio to come and get you. You need a way to get out of the area fast. This totally removes you and any traceable sign out of the hands of the people tracking you.
I have personally seen a simple car pickup help the runner, both in cases where I was tracking a guy and where I was being tracked. In every one of these cases, the runner got away.
Would you like to learn more about Evasion, Survival, Resistance or Escape? Click here to pre-enroll in Tackleberry Solution’s upcoming SERE eCourse.
What would you do?
What would you do in such a situation? Do you have any thoughts to add? Do you have any experiences with tracking or evading tracking? Do you have questions? Let’s discuss it in the comments.
Kit Arthur is the CEO and primary instructor for Tackleberry Solutions. his goal is to keep you alive and FREE by teaching you how to protect yourself against tyranny. He served for 13 years as a recon soldier and worked for 3 years in law enforcement. He currently works as a wartime tactics instructor and offers multiple online and in-person courses.