The only thing better than exploring the great outdoors with kids is bringing a little bit of the outdoors back home or to the classroom. Molding wildlife tracks is so simple that anybody can do it, and the process (as well resulting casts) can be used as both outdoor science and nature activities. Plus, an entire collection of various tracks makes for great conversation.
Common Plaster of Paris (found at craft stores) allows students and hikers to practice good wildlife stewardship while allowing them to bring a little bit of nature to back to their home or classroom. Carrying just a few extra items with you on your hiking trip or wildlife tracking adventure will have you prepared to cast any tracks that you find along the way.
Materials to Bring Along:
- Plaster of Paris
- Ziploc baggies (gallon size), or any container to mix the plaster.
- A tin can (or coffee can) with both ends cut off. Make the ends of the can smooth (after the ends are cut off) by taking a metal spoon and pressing along the insides of each end forcing the jagged metal against the can. Also, lightly on the inside of the can. A 12” x 2” strip of cardboard can be used as a mold in place of a can.
- Big paper clips
- Plastic spoons
How to Cast Animal Tracks
1. When you come across a nicely formed track, carefully remove any twigs or debris that may be in the print.
2. Place the can around the track. If you’re using cardboard, form a circle and secure it with a paper clip. Then place the cardboard over the print.
3. Using one of the Ziploc baggies, put 2 parts plaster to 1 part water (example: if you used 1 cup of plaster, you would use ½ cup of water) in the baggie and mix with a plastic spoon until it reaches a pancake batter consistency. Mix immediately as the plaster sets up fast.
4. Pour plaster into the mold by pouring it on the side of the print, letting the plaster ooze into the track. If you pour directly onto a track, you could distort it. Fill it to about 1” inside the mold. Don’t add any plaster or water once it starts to set up.
5. While the plaster sets up, you can take a paper clip and place it flat about 1/3 of the way into the mold as a hanger if you wish (don’t forget to leave a little of the end sticking out).
6. This is the time to add a stick or wire to the back if you want to reinforce the cast.
7. Tap on the back of the cast lightly to bring up any air bubbles that could interfere with the cast of the print.
8. Leave the mold there for about 1 hour. You can work on other tracks while you wait.
9. After 1 hour, lift the mold from opposite sides of the can. Don’t put sticks or anything underneath to help lift it, or it could crack.
10. Place it inside a new baggie to take home.
Once You’re Back Home:
1. Take the mold (with cast) out of the baggie so moisture can escape, allowing the cast to dry completely.
2. After 24 hours of drying inside the mold, remove cast from mold.
3. Clean off dirt and debris by placing it under running water while gently brushing away dirt. Avoid rubbing on the print itself.
4. Leave it natural or try painting it. Don’t seal over the paint.
Bear track photo by Gosheshe
Raccoon tracks by Brx0
Casts photo by Born 1945