One does not have to travel great distances to find traces of wildlife. They can be found in your own back yard! Once they’re found, that memory can be kept forever by casting it in Plaster of Paris for a few pennies using readily available tools.
A Family Activity
Tracking is a great family activity, which can be done in the city, forest or on the beach! With a little trial and error, casting with some common local tracks you can develop your skills for making good casts of wild animal tracks anywhere. Tracks in your neighborhood could include dog, cat, raccoon, opossum, coyote or more! Plaster can be found at any arts and crafts store and most home centers in your community and it is very inexpensive.
Plan ahead when you go hiking or camping. Measure out some plaster into a few plastic bags and find a suitable container for measuring water and mixing our plaster when needed. Use a container that you don’t plan to use for food storage or preparation. The sandwich or snack containers are ideal for this task. You can measure your water in a measuring cup, pour it into the container and then mark the container with a marker or tape to show the water level needed when you are ready to mix your plaster.
The other items to bring will help contain your plaster around the animal track. Cut up a cereal box into long strips about two inches wide. Find some large paper clips. You can then paper clip the cardboard strips together into ovals or circles depending on the size of the animal track(s) you want to cast. If the ground is soft, it is a good idea to push the cardboard circle into the ground. If you don’t have the materials for a frame, that’s okay too! Just pour the plaster into the track to get a similar result.
Materials to Bring
- Pre-measured bags of plaster. 1/2 cup of plaster is enough to cast a small mammal track.
- A Measuring and mixing container or zip top bag with pre-measured plaster
- Bottle of water
- Stir stick (ice cream stick, chop stick or stick on the ground)
Here’s How To Do It
- Locate a track that you want to cast.
- In your plastic bag or container, with 1/2 cup of plaster, pour in 1/4 cup of water – the mixing ratio is 2 to 1 – 2 parts plaster to 1 part water
- Add your water to the dry powder and mix thoroughly until it has a pancake batter consistency.
- Pour your plaster into the animal track.
- Wait at least 1 hour before revealing your track. If it is not quite set, wait another 30 to 60 minutes and check it again.
- When the cast is dry clean off any debris and use a dry paintbrush to clean off the dirt or sand.
- On the back of your cast, use a pencil to write the location where you found the track and identify the animal species. Include the date and your name for future reference. The cast may still be damp, so let it cure for a week until it is fully hard.
Practice Before You Go Out
You will probably have more success in the woods, if you practice this at home before you go. Look around your yard for tracks, or even make your own. Silicone tracks for casting are available from science stores online, and your local school or county extension office may have some you can check out.
- “Did I see a panther?”, UFL/IFAS EDIS Publication, Diane J. Episcopio, Elizabeth F. Pienaar, and Martin B. Main, 2008
- Michigan Division of Natural Resources, Plaster Track Casting Procedure, Kim A. Cabrera 2001-2007
- Nature-Watch Tracking Materials, 2020 Nature-Watch. 5312 Derry Ave., #R, Agoura Hills, CA 91301