Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker School

NOTE: This post has been sitting in draft for a long time, and I’m finally publishing it. I actually attended Tracker School in May 2010.

Teepee Fire

About 9 years ago, I picked up the movie The Hunted from an ex-rental discount bin. I hadn’t heard of it, and didn’t know what to expect, but it had Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio del Toro in it, so I figured it would be at least decent. Instead of being just decent, I loved it. Apart from becoming a favorite movie, it started me down the path of discovering Tom Brown (who was a technical consultant on the skills and knife used in the movie) and a field of interest that continues today.

Tom Brown is a man with a lot of history. I won’t bother reciting it all, but to summarize; he was effectively raised by arguably one of the last truly native-living native Americans, an Apache known to him as Grandfather. Grandfather had spent his life learning the skills of all the still-existing “primitive” peoples, and passed on a good deal of that information to Brown. Part of Brown’s upbringing was to learn Grandfather’s love of the Earth, and his fear that modern people are destroying it, and before too long there will be nothing left to destroy.

Since 1978 (when the school opened), Brown has been on a mission to educate as many people as possible about the Earth and the peril it faces through our hands. Through the lens of these primitive skills and ways of thinking, he aims to bring people closer in touch with the world around them, and at the same time to make them more self-sufficient in a survival situation, or to even be able to live fully from the land.

Debris Hut Ribbing

Fast forward to about a year and a half ago, when I picked up a copy of the book Emergency: This Book will Save Your Life after hearing Tim Ferris talking about it. Amongst many other awesome things (it’s a fantastically fun read!) the book mentions attending Tom Brown’s Tracker School and learning skills for surviving after “TEOTWAWKI” (The End Of The World As We Know It). I’ve long been at least a little bit interested in the Survivalist mentality and community, so this caught my attention.

I looked into tom Brown’s Tracker School and found out that the “Standard” class (the foundation for over 75 classes run by his school) was run periodically in California, as opposed to his normal offerings in New Jersey. Convenient. In a conversation with my boss, we talked about the book I said that I wanted to do this class. To my surprise, he was also interested and threw down the challenge of “if you do it, I’ll do it”.

Done deal.

Now jump forward another few months to a Sunday morning in May and we were driving together down to Bear Creek, California (near Santa Cruz) in hammering rain, wondering what the next week would hold for us. After hiking our gear in to the camp area and setting up our tents (still in the rain), we were ready to find out.


What followed were 6 days of the densest transfer of information I’ve ever been a part of. We were up and at it most days before 7am, and often didn’t crawl into our damp tents until 11pm or later. Most of the time we were in a classroom setting, where I filled two entire notebooks with notes and diagrams, quotes and questions. When we weren’t in the classroom, we were outside in the classroom of Nature.

Bow Drill Kit

Rather than trying to walk you through the entire week (this is already a long post), here’s a list of some of the things we covered (in rough order):

  • Knives: picking the right type for the job and how to sharpen a blade
  • Survival mentality
  • Fire: why it’s important, how to create it, where to position it
  • Cordage: how to create it, basic techniques and materials
  • Water: how it moves, where to find it, how to filter it
  • Traps: catching game for food
  • Tracking: gait, identification, standard vocab, pressure releases, movement, track aging, sign tracking
  • Brain tanning
  • Stone tools/flint knapping
  • Camouflage
  • Shelter (basic: debris hut through more permanent round-houses etc)
  • Cooking techniques and approaches
  • Throwing sticks
  • Awareness (an entire section/discipline)
  • Edible and Medicinal/useful plants

At the end of it, I’d like to think that we came away with a foundational understanding of some of the skills and attitude you need to keep yourself alive in a survival situation. I’m definitely not running out to live in the forest any time soon, but I feel a lot more confident that I could at least survive in some tougher conditions than before.

Hide Tanning

In addition to those “basic” survival skills though, are some of the more interesting ones which can influence your every day life. Appreciation for the uniqueness of everything in Nature. Thinking about the very style with which you walk (and therefore leave tracks). Increased awareness of what’s going on around you. The near-meditative state of wide-angle vision, and maybe even the Spiritual connection of all things to a single thread.

Tracker School was a truly unique experience, something I will never forget. I don’t know if I’m ready to go back for another class of some sort just yet, but I quite possibly will at some point. I have a huge new family there now, who have all shared experiences that most other people don’t understand, and won’t understand just from reading these words. If you feel any desire to do anything like this, I would strongly encourage you to act upon it. The experience might just change your life a bit.

  1. fxgeorges said:

    I teach tracking and survival in Va.. Apparently I don't charge near enough? I have tried to read his tracking books and couldn't stop yelling BS. I have had several of his graduates take my class, none could show me what they learned….sad. There is some good stuff in his book on pressure releases, but you have to weed out the "fictional".

    • I am sorry you weren't able to understand his books, guess he needs to do a series of starter books… 😉

      I have also run into those taking his classes that weren't paying attention or didn't take it seriously, and thus didn't continue practicing it afterwards, and they wouldn't be able to show anybody else, since they didn't bother actually learning anything. The fact that they seem to gravitate to you concerns me! lol

      As a long-time student, and friend of several that have been involved with him for years, I can tell you without a doubt that what he teaches works, because he teaches the skills passed down from the Lipan Apache.
      And before you claim that story to be BS, I am also friends with one of the members of Grandfather Stalking Wolf's tribe who now is involved with Tracker School and the Children Of The Earth Foundation (the non-profit branch dedicated to bringing kids back to nature and teaching them the primitive skills) as an instructor.

      The biggest problem with the books is that he had editors that cut and rewrote a lot of the material, plus the fact that many things can't be taught via a book.

      I find it interesting that most of the people that love to ridicule TBJ/Tracker, have never actually had any experience with them, and are simply parroting hear-say from others that didn't apply themselves to learn the skills. Sad really!

      You should come to one class and see for yourself, who knows, I might even be there helping!
      (I plan to be in Boulder Creek May 2012, see you there!)

    • You may not Like Tom. You may not like is books. He got a style that not everybody likes and it's ok. I just want to make two points #1 look at the true students of Tom, not people who just do it for a hobby.

      for example
      Kevin Reeves
      Jon Young a well-respected naturalist.

      I don't say that those guys are better than you, but they are not amateur !

      Lots of tracker students don't practice after the class… It's like a MMA school, if you don't practice, you are not good. It's not the coach problem…

      At the Tracker I have met a lot of active military, veterans, engineers, police etc… They keep coming back… So it must be more than the fuzz.

      Take an online class with Bill Marple, you will see no bullshit.

      #2 about the price : 6 days 900$ for food, teaching from 8am to 11 pm and in some classes non stop, with more than 20 people in staff… It's not that much after all.


  2. enlightened one said:

    then charge more…nothing bad comes from enlightenment of any kind or nature.

  3. one for truth said:

    Snake Oil..that is what Tom Brown is selling you. Tom Brown's tracking books are close twins of the famous Boy Scout leader Earnest Thompson right down to the style of the pages with animal prints on them and the story of boy who befriended an indian. TB was a Boyscout you know. Look them up. The difference is the detailed information and accuracy of Thompson's books verses Brown. Anyone can learn tracking and anyone who dedicates time to anything can be above average.

    • See my reply above for more details, but I have to disagree with your claims!
      What you find in the books is a fraction of what he can teach in even one class, and without the practice time to learn it, reading the books (or taking a class) won't do you any good anyway.

      Unless you can teach the skills better than he can (which I can attest too via my experience, as well as knowing many others that are now teaching on their own based on what they learned through Tom), then you are in no position to critic his skillset.

      Oh, and if you go around the country and look at many of the biggest and most respected survival skills schools, you will find a large percentage of them include Tracker School in their background, and many of the skills as currently taught were originally learned from Tom. (obviously he learned them from Stalking Wolf, and Stalking Wolf learned them from his tribe and others as he wandered the Americas for 60 years, but many were effectively lost until Tom began teaching them)

      He who is trained better, let him cast the first stone!

  4. neighboursforest said:

    Tom Brown is an amazing person if not a God sent angel to warn us of the coming dangers and teaching us how to survive through the disaster. As well as bringing us back to our Spiritual roots. The proof is whats happening to us and the earth now, this is certainly not fictional for the world has been upside down definitely for the last hundred years or so pollution wise, and unspiritually for thousands. Therefore if you can not see or understand in your heart, then society has blind us all. For those who do know and see with their heart, hear the call and feel the Awakening. They are thanking Tom by doing as he is and passing on the knowledge and prophesies as fast as we can to save and change as many people as possible so the whole hearted have a chance to Awaken their Spirit and live a full rich life!

  5. Tom Brown's tracking books are close twins of the famous Boy Scout leader Earnest Thompson right down to the style of the pages with animal prints on them and the story of boy who befriended an indian. TB was a Boyscout you know. Look them up

  6. truthbearer said:

    Nothing he learned is so unique. If you read Thompson book. which Brown says he studied you will see it is a duplicate. Also, American Indians especially a shaman would never and can not leave his wisdom to white man..espeically in those times and being of that generation of Apache. The gifts given are those by the Creator that make medicine men and women you don't teach people people find their teachers and must be of native blood. Tom refuses to prove the existence of Grandfather as a mystery hoping to romanticize the issue or protect him but think ..why? A shaman would leave to his people his gifts, his legacy bound by the Creator to help his people. The Owl you see on Mr Browns web page is that of a bad means "beware"

  7. Tim Karman said:

    @ Fxgeorges

    If you believe everything what Tom tells you, you are a fool.
    prove him right and prove him wrong.

  8. Shadow Hawk said:

    A story does not neccesarily need to be true, it just has to be good. And in the final analysis there are thousands of people who have taken his classes and can truly do what they learn in those classes. The tracking works, the bow drill works, the shelters work, and so on.

    Who really cares where he got his info as long as it is legit and there were not many if any people teaching what he has been teaching for over 30 years back when he started teaching. Most of those who are teaching now days learned from him or from those who learned from him.

    No one has to like him, he is many different things to many different people. Sometimes asshole and sometimes saint yet all the time doing everything he can with everything he has to teach people to start caring for the earth and each other. Who cares if one does not like him, he is an exccelent someone to learn some incredible stuff from.

    • Doc said:

      I own and have read all of his books at least twice, I took my boys (7 & 8 yo at the time) and we practiced what I had read. True or not his story is good and enjoyable read. In the end my two boys and I spent many, many days having great fun. Now they are 20 & 23 and still remember all those days and nights we spent together camping.

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