track
wolf track

Making copies of (animal) tracks

These are the main steps:
1. collect the track in the field (a negative)
2. make a rubber mold of it (a positive)
3. make a plaster copy using your rubber mold (a negative)
4. preserve the original plaster cast
5. make a negative rubber mold and a positive cast
6. an alternative to ALL THIS



1. IN THE FIELD: MAKING A PLASTER CASTING OF THE ACTUAL TRACK YOU FIND:

BTW, while you are "out there" it would be a good plan to watch for some SAND and take that home; you'll see why further down this page. At home, dry the sand and screen out impurities.


WARNING:

Good tracks, more than likely, will be found in mud. Mud can trap you. You can get so stuck that you can not get out. If you are, for example, a leader of a youth group, and the young people are going out to look for tracks, be SURE to explain to them the dangers; dangers not only of the mud but also of wild animals in the area.


For convenience, I keep handy, two ice-cream pails (4-litre pails). Pail 1 sits in Pail 2.

picnictable


In pail 1, I have plaster-of Paris ($13. for 10Kg at Home Depot), some thin aluminum bands, which measure about 3 inches wide and 24 inches long, a small plastic (pill) bottle of salt which has a couple of feet of (hockey) tape around it, and a small scoop.

These "thin aluminum bands" are strips I cut from a sheet of very thin aluminum used by a (newspaper) printing company; they are very greasy and covered with dirty ink but they sell them very cheap.


When I find a good track in mud: I take one of the aluminum bands and push it into the mud around the track, leaving about an inch between the edge of the track. Then I tape the end of the band so it does not stick out at all.

(PICTURE COMING)

If there is a bit of water in the track, you can soak it up with some paper towel or similar.

Then, in Pail 2, I put some water, which, hopefully, will be conveniently available, and mix some Plaster, adding some salt to make it harden faster. Apparently you should avoid stirring this mix until it quits dissolving the plaster as you pour it into the water. Try to make the top as smooth and flat as possible.

(PICTURE COMING)

I like to pour on enough so that there is at least an inch of plaster over the highest part of the track.

I leave this as long as possible and then pull up the whole casting, bands and all and take it home.

(PICTURE COMING)

NOTE: you now have a NEGATIVE copy of the actual track; if the muddy track is still "in good condition" you might want to save it as well; see part 5 below.

animal tracks

At home I remove the band and let the casting dry for at least a week; much longer if possible. I like to set it on a little wire rack so air can circulate under it as well. When it is 100% dry, I like to use a hand-held belt sander to smooth the underside so it will lay flat. After it has completely dried, I paint 4 or more coats of varnish or similar on it. Here I have two bear tracks.


This plaster cast, made from the original print in the mud, is the "Negative Print."

Some websites will tell you that to make a "Positive Print" copy, simply put a (cardboard) edge around this negative, spray the whole thing with Vegetable Oil Cooking Spray (or Vaseline) and then pour on more Plaster of Paris. Yes, this will no doubt work, but on a track which has claws showing, you would more than likely destroy the original Negative when you try to remove the new Positive Print.

animal tracks

2. MAKING RUBBER MOLDS OF YOUR PLASTER CASTING:

NOTE: In the following pictures you see me using a track which already has on it the cloth underside, the duct tape edge and varnished top. It would be MUCH BETTER to use a track which has ONLY been varnished.

What NOT to do:

animal tracks


In my ignorance, I thought it would be easy. I put one of the aluminum bands around my finished casting and put a layer of "cling-wrap" (that super thin, "clingy" food wrap) and then poured in a layer of Plaster-of-Paris. After it dried, I removed it but found that the cling-wrap left creases, folds etc etc all over my new copy and it was complete garbage.




Before you start, make sure the plaster casting lays flat on your work-surface, so that with the track on top, the underside is flush all around; no gaps between the casting and the work-surface.

animal tracks

I got some Liquid Latex Rubber. Varnish is a "must" and some Talcum Powder is also a useful tool. Also, a paintbrush and some gauze or similar will come in handy.

I found a supplier of liquid rubber at http://www.amesresearch.com/.


The Liquid Latex Rubber has a very strong ammonia smell; some may have a problem with that. Quite likely it will be destroyed if frozen. NOTE that you should paint VERY THIN layers of this on your cast. Thick = Bad. To extend the life of your rubber mold, apparently, Mann Formula 71-150 can be applied to it; I'm not sure; check it out. Note also that you should not paint a layer of rubber on your cast and then leave it for a long time (e.g. days) because once it loses its "tackiness" the next layer may not stick to it very well; in other words, make sure you have enough liquid on hand to do all the layers you want to paint on. The people who sold it, tell me "Mold Builder once opened should be used within a month or two. Otherwise the natural latex rubber may go moldy and or become semisolid. Molds made from Mold Builder should be placed back on their original piece if possible for storage. If this is not possible, stuff the mold with tissue paper to keep its form. Then store the mold in a plastic bag."

As for the paintbrush I used, it was a disposable 50-cent brush.

animal tracks

Next step is to paint a layer of this rubber onto the track, the sides and even on the wax paper on which it sits (instead of wax paper I used the inner bag from a box of breakfast cereal).

After painting the layer, I cleaned the brush in COLD water with liquid (dish) detergent (don't use warm).

I let this first coat dry for about 4 hours until the white was gone and the rubber was transparent; then I added a second thin layer. You do NOT NEED to paint the latex onto the (wax) paper as I did but it does add a bit of rigidity to the rubber so I suggest doing it. Once my rubber mold was finished, I marked the date made on the edge.


This was a large item so I decided arbitrarily to put 15 coats of Mold Builder on it. After I had added a few, it was clear that each coat took longer to dry so I added only two coats per day. You can use a hair dryer or similar to speed up the drying if you like.

animal tracks



After the 7th coat, I added a layer of gauze strips by laying it snugly into the still-wet 7th coat.


animal tracks


After 15 coats, I let it dry well, then trimmed the edge and peeled off the (wax) paper. NOTE that on this one, I had used one with the cloth underside and duct-tape edge. It would be much better NOT to have those added yet.


animal tracks

At this point, since the rubber tends to "stick to itself" it might help if you sprinkle the whole thing with a very light sprinkling of talcum powder; the stuff we put on our feet in hot weather. If you don't have any, maybe a light dusting of flour would do the trick.

Then start peeling.


animal tracks

Then, finally, carefully peel the entire rubber copy off the cast and view the results of the past week's efforts.


NOW........ to USE this rubber ("positive") copy for making as many plaster duplicates as you like.

animal tracks

3. MAKING COPIES WITH YOUR RUBBER MOLD:

For smaller items, it is common practice to turn a small cardboard box upside down, cut a hole to fit the rubber mold and hang the rubber mold by the edges we deliberately left, in that hole. For this large item, though, the rubber would sag far too much. We have to "invent" a better method. Here's what I did:

animal tracks


I got a small cardboard box; slightly larger than my rubber mold and cut it so that it was about 2 inches high. Then I used tape to seal it well so that it would hold sand without the sand leaking out. Next, I put sand into that box and then "wiggled" the rubber mold down into the sand, trying to keep it's shape.

I keep a small piece of window-screen with the sand to help remove junk.


animal tracks


TIP: Take one of your metal bands and wrap it snugly around the rubber mold to help it keep its shape when you pour in the plaster.


animal tracks

Then I poured in plaster to fill the rubber mold, adding a bit of salt to speed up the setting process.

Next time, I'll sprinkle a bit of sand into the rubber mold before I pour in the plaster. That will make it look better.


animal tracks

This should be left to dry for at least a couple of days. Then, lift the rubber mold with its precious cargo out of the sand, turn it over and carefully peel the rubber back, revealing the final copy.

Let it dry several more days, at least, until you clean it up to suit yourself.

You could make the edges nicer (more "vertical") put cloth on the underside, put (duct?) tape around the edge and even paint the top. This is, of course, a "negative" copy of the track.


animal tracks

4. PRESERVING THE ORIGINAL PLASTER CAST:

Now that you have your rubber mold, you can preserve the original plaster copy.

animal tracks

This is how it looks when you are done.

This is the track of a very large, black Timber Wolf, out in the wild near my cabin. I know that because I saw him/her several times and once got a picture of him carrying off a dead buffalo calf; you can see that picture on my website too.


animal tracks

First, I put a piece of some kind of cloth on the bottom and (duct) tape around the outside.

Lay the casting on the cloth and trim around the casting, leaving about a half inch sticking out.

Put glue (I used something like "shoe-goo") on the underside and glue it down.


animal tracks


Then cut that excess part in half-inch 'tabs' like this.

This one has not been varnished; it should have been.


animal tracks





With a fingertip, put glue on each tab and stick it to the side of the casting.


animal tracks



Here it is with the little tabs glued down.


animal tracks



Put duct tape all around it.


animal tracks


Trim the tape along the edge of the plaster.




animal tracks

5. MAKING THE ORIGINAL PLASTER CAST A POSITIVE INSTEAD OF A NEGATIVE:

Idea to test in the field, for when you *really* need POSITIVE PRINT copies rather than negative.

- in the field, upon finding a good track in mud, press your metal band into the mud around the track, leaving some space between the track and the band; maybe 2 inches.

- dig away mud around the outside of the band and then scoop up the whole of the band with all the mud/track in it.

- set this on a solid flat surface and take it home and let it dry thoroughly

- to scoop it up and place it on a solid surface, I use a piece of 1/4 inch plywood, about 12 inches square but with a point on one side, this point is the "leading edge" and I sand that leading edge so it is knife-sharp. Then I painted the whole thing, both sides so it is as smooth as possible. Then I push this under the metal band with contents.

- when 100% dry, spray (from a can) varnish or paint onto it; let that dry and repeat 30(?) times

- When you have a good solid varnish surface on the dry mud track, paint your Mold Builder onto that and use the procedures as above for making the mold and making copies from the mold

- This should provide you with POSITIVE Prints

(IF THIS WORKS; I have not yet tried this) Pictures coming when I try this out.

animal tracks




Tips for recovering tracks in SNOW:
animal tracks This was the track of a 498-pound male grizzly which invaded our area. See his pictures on my website.


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