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Grayside Hunter: Urban Tracking within the Concrete Jungle

Tracking is a skill that is often applied to wilderness locations. Hunters use it to follow wild game, search and rescue personnel use it to search out lost hikers, and law enforcement personnel use it to trace fugitives or human traffickers in distant areas. In previous issues, we wrote about tracking and counter-tracking lessons learned from Greenside Training classes within the forests of northern Michigan and the Arizona desert. Although these wilderness-oriented skills are essential, we will not overlook the indisputable fact that greater than 85% of Americans live in urban or suburban areas. So how does tracking translate to the concrete jungle? This is the query that led Freddy Osuna, former USMC Scout Sniper and founding father of Greenside Training, to develop his Grayside Hunter course.

Greenside Training Grayside Hunter Course

Osuna recommends students take one in all his wilderness tracking courses before moving on to the Grayside Hunter Urban Tracking curriculum. Although it isn’t considered a “Level 2” class, it builds on many elements of wilderness tracking, and it’s undeniable that urban tracking is more difficult (as we’d soon learn). As Osuna puts it, “Highly evasive targets exist in highly evasive terrain.” An enormous 14-point buck within the forest and a hardened profession criminal in the town are each “the professors of their domain.” They’ve developed a heightened awareness of their surroundings, they usually won’t stick around for long if something feels misplaced. This is the challenge you are up against if you happen to’re attempting to trace either one without being noticed.

The course began with a refresher on tracking fundamentals in a rural setting, namely the Sonoran Desert outside Tucson, Arizona. In the wilderness, your goal may leave behind spoor (the Dutch word for tracks) in track traps equivalent to patches of mud and soft dirt on trails.

For urban areas stuffed with hard concrete and asphalt, these track traps are less common but more significant. For example, a goal might cut a corner and leave a footprint in grass near the sidewalk, cross a muddy median, or step into an oil patch left behind by a vehicle, indicating their direction of travel. Pay attention to other disturbances within the natural scenery — just as bird calls can alert us to a goal within the forest, dogs barking or nosy neighbors peering over their fences can alert us to targets in the town. Security camera footage can also be obtainable in case your social engineering skills are sufficient to persuade the camera owner to offer it up.

On day two of the Grayside Hunter class, we met in downtown Tucson for an urban tracking exercise. All of the scholars split up into small teams, since working together is particularly worthwhile within the chaotic and difficult urban environment. We used cell phones and radios to remain in contact, and subdivided our teams into A and B units to cover more ground. Our goal was to trace a fictitious criminal, alias Sevryn, who was affiliated with an area drug trafficking network. We knew this bearded mid-40s male can be meeting with contacts throughout the town, and we learned his first meeting was with a younger man in Nike combat boots. One team set off after Sevryn, and the opposite followed his contact, who we nicknamed Nike.

Although we were in a position to find a number of of the distinctive Nike boot prints on muddy sidewalks and medians, and a few transference of that mud onto a close-by lawn, drizzling rain and the nonstop activity of an urban environment soon caused us to lose the trail. We moved in a grid pattern, expanding out in every direction from last known boot print locations, but we couldn’t find anything. This is the truth of urban tracking — you will not all the time achieve success, especially when Mother Nature gets in the way in which.

Thankfully, a bit of intel got here in from the opposite team, directing us to a multi-story parking garage. After surveilling a close-by intersection, we spotted Sevryn entering a restaurant to fulfill with a blonde woman. Carefully observing the scene through our binoculars, we could see he slid her a cellular phone and paid for his drink with a bank card before leaving. The approach to payment is potentially traceable by law enforcement, and it indicates he wasn’t concerned enough about that fact to pay in money. We took notes on what we saw and cross-checked it with other observers.

Lessons Learned

Unless you are a law enforcement officer, you will likely never have to covertly follow a drug trafficker and his accomplices, but the attention and commentary skills derived from this Grayside Hunter tracking exercise are relevant to anyone who lives in a city. While looking for traces of our fictional bad guy, we noticed signs of real crime and drug activity in the world — broken glass on the bottom from automotive burglaries, gang tags on bus stops, and scraps of aluminum foil coated in black tar heroin residue. If you reside in or ceaselessly visit a city, you could never notice these small details, but being attentive to them can enable you to discern potential threats and danger areas.

Grayside Hunter was a fun experience, and it exposed us to the challenges of tracking someone through a city. Unlike rural environments, where footprints, matted foliage, and broken twigs are relatively common, urban environments may only offer a single piece of spoor every few blocks. This is why it is so essential to work as a team, because five sets of eyes are a lot better than one. If you are concerned with trying your hand at urban tracking, check GreensideTraining.com for upcoming class dates.

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