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Training on Tuesday: the Tracker's OODA Loop

Courtesy of Freddy Osuna of Greenside Training LLC; author of Tracking With Optics and the book Index Tracking: the Essential Guide to Trailing Man and Beast

The 3rd Pillar of Index Tracking: The Trackers OODA LOOP

By Freddy Osuna

Index Tracking is a system of visual tracking that has been developed through rigorous field tests and thousands of hours of dirt time. Index Tracking was created to fill the void between a slow and deliberate investigative tracking style (micro tracking) and a hasty, bounding sign cutting style (macro tracking) in order to create a fluid efficient process of acquiring, evaluating, and following a trail.

The process of Index Tracking is based on a foundation of 3 pillars:

The first pillar of Index Tracking is establishing a person’s criteria for definitive spoor / sign. In order to accomplish this first pillar the apprentice must seek a frame of reference which is established by his mentor during the first phase of learning to track.

The second pillar of Index Tracking is determining precise direction of travel and search corridor’s. This is accomplished by the tracker having a very strict criteria for evaluating that information in a track which indicates direction. Finally the 3rd pillar of Index Tracking and subject of our conversation is Individual Tactical Movement, and awareness, or the Trackers OODA loop. There are many Combat Tracking Schools in the United States and in the UK (and in other countries for that matter), but one resounding debate that has echoed amongst the Combat / Tactical Tracking community for decades is;

How do you effectively train a professional soldier to best anticipate contact with the person he is trailing and avoid stumbling upon that same perso?. I would like to first offer the usual, unfortunately unrealistic answer – as a tracker if I could age the tracks I was following so precisely that I could determine up to the very minute how old those tracks were, than that would provide me with the necessary insight to avoid chance contact. Unfortunately we cannot read the age of tracks to that precision. At best in most conditions we can teach a Tracker to age tracks by months, weeks, and hours. The ability varies by tracker and tracking conditions.

With this in mind I teach the third pillar of Index Tracking: the Tracker's OODA Loop. I have developed and tested the following system on  U.S. military personnel, federal LE agents and Arizona Elk, Mule, and White Tail Deer. The testing of these techniques on hyper sensitive creatures like Elk and Deer, along with attempting to defeat the intelligence and intuition of trained men has lead to very successful results when attempting to Track humans or animal in a clandestine manner and subsequently detect environmental anomalies or threats along a route of travel.

Obviously portions of it will be familiar to you, but probably not in a specifically Tracker-oriented context.


SLLS stop, look, listen, smell,

Visually clear every covered and concealed position, near and far. (5s & 25s)

Listen for unnatural noises, absence of natural noises, or animal / insect alarms.

Smell for foreign or displaced scents.


METTTC ( mission, enemy, terrain, troops, time / space)

Mission- Passive track interpretation for intelligence purposes. Pursuit operations. Reconnaissance.

Enemy- Most probable course of action (EMPCOA)

Terrain- Key terrain, Observation & fields of fire, cover & concealment, obstacles, avenues of approach / escape. (KOCOA)

Troops- In direct or in general support. Proximity. Adjacent units.

Time / Space- Age of the tracks. Estimated time and distance gap. Theoretical location of suspects. Theoretical search area.

Civilians- Local activity, track density, routes moving in & out of key terrain, human terrain analysis.



Size in dimensions

Type of footwear

Pattern of tread

Age of track (Can you place your suspect there within time and space according to what you see in the track?)



Exploit foot orientation (left or right), straddle line, pitch angle, and toe dig pointers in order to reduce the search area.

Properly reading the mechanical components will produce a visualized containment area.

Locate Index Point

Identify Alternative Index Points



Interpret mechanical components

Patterns of movement

Target indicators ( Anything that reveals the presence of your enemy to include spoor)



The interpretation of the observed information as it pertains to the task at hand. A hypothesis of how this information can be exploited in the trackers favor.



Terrain – How can you exploit the terrain to your advantage?

What would be the best Patrol route / angle / formation to approach the next Index Point?

Will you move slow or fast as indicated by track ageing. (Are you getting so close as to anticipate likely contact? Or does the track tell you that he is likely 1 hour, or more ahead of you.)

EMPCOA in relation to the terrain, weather, fatigue.

Does it appear that the suspect is aware of the fact that he is being followed? (Alert / awareness indicators)


Make a decision:

Is it tactically feasible to continue following?

Do you have tactical advantage?

Ground and environment lend to efficient tracking conditions.

Trail yields high intelligence value

Hot Trail

Stop & exploit. Are there behavioral indicators within the mechanical components that could be exploited for actionable intelligence?

Should you return to base? ( Go no Go)

Ground and environment present unfavorable tracking conditions.

Ground and environment present a tactical advantage in the enemies favor.

Trail yields low intelligence value.

Suspect has successfully reached extraction out of the area. ( Cold Trail )




By tactically patrolling to your next Index point. You are clearing every covered and concealed position to your direct front en route. Move – Stop – Look – Listen – Smell. Your focus is to see, hear, or smell the enemy, before he sees, hears, or smells you!

Only by systematically exploiting each track for information that applies to the tactical situation, can you patrol from Index Point to Index Point.

When you have arrived at the next Index Point the process starts over again. SLLS / visually clear near and far sectors for danger (5’s & 25’s) etc….



Establish 360 degree security.

Establish a perimeter around the area to be investigated.

Identify tracks going in and out. Number / Type / Direction

Record all mechanical components and compare to a known or baseline set.

Age the tracks and impressions using layering.

Determine the actions.



Continue tracking.



A patrol is most vulnerable during the beginning (infiltration) and ending (exfiltration) of any tactical operation. Maintain security.

Consolidate information regarding the tracking operation to this point.

Who – Height, weight, Footwear (size/ type / pattern), Profile

What – Action, activity

When – Date, time, estimated age

Where – Location, estimated destination, direction of travel

Why – Intent, most probable course of action

How – Method of movement / travel


Utilizing a Tracker-specific interpretation of the OODA loop you will be that much more prepared the next time your quarry is sighted. Please feel free to contact us on line or talk tracking and tactics on our Facebook page.


Note: Freddy, a former Marine Scout Sniper and accomplished training NCO, will be running a tracking course with Greenside Training instructors at Camp Pendleton sometime towards the end of September. He teaches a different style that what I learned, used and taught over the years so I'm hoping to attend. If I am able to, I will deliver an AAR. If you are able to attend, or want to attend one of his other courses, contact Greenside. (DR)


Excerpted from Index Tracking – Essential guide to trailing man and beast, by Freddy Osuna 2012. Available at Amethyst Moon Publishing, Itunes, and Amazon Kindle

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