Sign cutting is what lots of people think of when they hear the word "tracking." Sign cutting involves looking for signs of human passage, such as footprints, broken limbs and branches, and cast-off items such as candy bar wrappers, cigarettes and scraps of clothing. You are looking for physical signs of the person's passage in the form of the trail he left behind, and conjecturing about where that trail might lead.
Tracking people is a necessity of modern law enforcement; whether someone's lost in the wilderness or someone has escaped custody and fled, he needs to be found. There are a variety of different strategies and tactics that can be used to track people, and these techniques are often combined with technology to make them more effective. For instance, sign-cutting techniques can be used with helicopter support to make the tracking more effective.
From the Air
Sign cutting from the ground puts you very close to the trail, but it also limits your vision. You can see the trail as you walk along it, but there will be trees and hills in the way that will stop you from seeing the bigger picture. If you are in a helicopter though, and the sign is clear enough to see the pattern from the air, then you can follow it much more easily. You can make it easier on yourself by using binoculars to see the sign, as well as coordinating with teams still on the ground.
Helicopters, while useful, do present several problems in any search. The air drafts they cause will destroy sign if the helicopter touches down near a trail or flies too low. A helicopter will not be able to see subtle signs from the air, so trails on which there isn't much to see will still need to be followed on foot by trackers. Helicopters will also not be useful in a variety of weather types in which flying becomes dangerous.
Helicopters have the ability to move trackers very quickly from point to point, which can be a very good thing for following a trail before it goes cold. For finding lost people, helicopters are easy to see and hear, so if you need rescuing you can try and signal the copter yourself, which is a strategy called attraction. And of course a helicopter offers you a bird’s-eye view of what is happening and it makes coordinating efforts easier on the searchers.
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