Dont despair if you lose the spoor, return to the last definite sign, and from there look ahead for the obvious flight path. There may be two or three options - go ahead and check them out. If this fails, you start a 360-degree circle, methodically checking as you go. Widen the circle if necessary, the animal has left sign somewhere - levitation does not occur naturally in the wild. Patience and persistence will win in the end. I have a picture of my father following a wounded impala on hands and knees, glasses balanced on his nose peering at minute blood spots that had dried to almost black. For nearly two hundred metres, he crawled along and found the animal dead under a thick bush.
One of the hardest things to do is to age spoor, as there are a myriad of factors that can influence the state of the tracks. A few obvious clues are - tracks over tracks, where an animal has passed during the night, there may be an overlay of rodent footprints. Also doves can walk about feeding in the early morning and superimpose their tracks on your quarrys. Heat and wind can blur the clear cut definition of tracks made in the sand or loose soil.
The aging factor can be enhanced if you can find droppings on the spoor you are following and the old trick of gauging the warmth of dung can be a great help. You dont have to stick your fingers in it! The back of your hand or fingers can register warmth just as easily. Very fresh dung has a shiny mucus coating which dries rapidly and the greenish dung turns brown within a short space of time. All the above is dependent on the time of day and weather conditions of course and also the state of your animal. Observe as you go.
I have followed elephant where the droppings are hot to the touch only to find that an hour later it has got cold and if you are lucky, a couple of hours is required to bring you up to the animal.
The state of the vegetation that the animal feeds on is important too. Once broken or bitten off, remnants of the meal start to wither, and taking into account the weather conditions these fragments can give a clue to the time the animal passed.
It will take a lot of practice to become a proficient tracker, but observation and method can make up for any lack of natural talent to a large degree.
That you may never get to the standard of a good African or Bushman tracker, need not deter you from getting to the stage where you can conduct your own hunt. Some of these trackers are phenomenal and often seem blessed with a sixth sense out in the bush. I have run for kilometres with some after buffalo and elephant with no pause to check and study spoor. Even with cats, which leave little trace on some types of ground, I have been conducted at a brisk long paced walk with the tracker never deviating from the line.
The sixth sense was working one day with Japan the wily old character I met at Hwange. I had wounded a buffalo bull and we set off in hot pursuit. After a few hundred metres, we were getting into long grass and the spoor seemed to head towards some thick green acacia scrub. As we neared the bush I tapped Japan on the shoulder and moved to go past him in order to go into the bush first. Grabbing me by the shoulder, he pulled me back and we silently retraced our steps and climbed onto a low bank. Moving forward towards the bush, I looked into it and saw the buffalo standing head down. If I had ducked under the bush with my rifle barrel foremost I would have stuck it into his rear-end. There had been no bird calls, sounds or movement that I had registered but Japan knew that the buffalo was there.
Sadly, the truly great trackers are a dying breed in this country, and we may never see their like again.
In writing about tracking, I have seemed to emphasise only one of the senses, and that is sight. Another sense which can be of immense benefit in the bush is hearing. Besieged as we are in our everyday life with traffic noises, aircraft overhead and the assault on our eardrums wherever we go by loud (overly loud mostly) music in restaurants and shops, it is little wonder that our hearing suffers. Once out in the bush, we need to retune our hearing to pick up the happenings of the bush. The sounds made in the bush can be of great help when tracking or stalking game. Ox peckers calling are the signature sound of buffalo and rhino especially, but also most large antelope. Alarm calls of baboons and monkeys or the excited chatter of a squirrel all signal that there is something happening ahead. Sitting quietly one day at a waterhole (observing and not hunting) I was fascinated by a vaguely metallic-clicking approaching through the bush. Being during the war, several options flitted through my mind to do with weapons before a large eland bull appeared. The sound is made by the bulls cloven hooves, as the two halves on each hoof knock against each other as he walks. It is not his knees clicking as some stories go but the hollow points of his cloven feet.