Search and Rescue teams brush up on tracking skills

FLATHEAD COUNTY

rebecca vogt By Rebecca Vogt, KCFW Reporter, rvogt@kcfw.com
POSTED: 8:53 PM Sep 20 2013
Search and Rescue teams brush up on tracking skills
NORTH FORK, Mont. -

Cell phone and internet service is sometimes non existent in Montana. In an emergency, that means modern tracking methods won't work so search and rescue crews must rely solely on their eyes while on a mission.

"Tracking truly is a matter of learning to see that which other people look at and don't recognize or have understanding of," said Joel Hardin.

Tracking is more than just looking down at footprints and following a trail. These crews are looking at certain characteristics and coloration of the grass to help them find a subject. Professional tracker Joel Hardin showed teams like Julie Balch, Bruce McMillan, and Stacy Violett how to think quickly and follow what's known as "sign"- things the person they're searching for left behind.

"His job is to stay on the prime sign area," Violett explained about McMillan's tracking position. "Julie and I are flankers. We watch for sign coming in from either side that might confuse the trail."

The trio continued the path, each step showed them more about the missing female.

"Every foot fall has been placed to avoid objects. So what that does is meander to some degree and it does not follow such a straight line," continued Violett.

Hardin said tracking takes patience and constant practice. But tracking is a tool, much like a compass or a flashlight, that can make all the difference.

"We can go into areas where otherwise you'd have a real difficult time grid searching it. Gives us a place to start and a place to go," said McMillan.