Hot on his Own Trail
Exactly What It Says on the Tin, when a character gets covered with dirt or is walking through the snow, he will look down and see his own footprints. However, because this character is either a Cloudcuckoolander or The Ditz, he will think that his footprints belong to someone else and start following the footprints. It is then that the character is back where he started that he realizes that it was actually his own footprints that he had been following. A subtrope of Going in Circles.
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- In the Tintin comic "Land of Black Gold", the Thompsons get lost in the desert. They're driving a jeep, and soon come across some tire tracks, which they follow. The tracks are joined by another set, and another... until eventually they are convinced they have found a major trail that dozens of vehicles have taken. Of course, it's their own tracks, as they have been driving in circles for hours.
- In another comic "Explorers on the Moon", the bumbling detectives Thomson and Thompson walk around the moon's surface and soon, to their surpise (since this expedition marks the first time men set foot on the moon) find footprints and promptly radio the rest of the crew. When told it's likely their own tracks, they reminisce about the desert episode.
- A story of La Patrouille des Castors involves a bronze boar statuette that is later stolen from their campsite. The scouts notice tracks and decide to cast them in plaster for investigation, and the Fat Comic Relief ends up making a cast of his own shoe print.
- A more high-tech version of this occurs in Now You See Me, where the main character is using an electronic device to tail The Four Horsemen after one of their shows, only for the device to get tagged onto him by one of the persecutee, so the main character would begin tracking him instead. It takes until he plows into and out of a random bathroom before he realizes it.
- The same thing happens in Impostor. The protagonist slips the detective his ID chip, which sets off the alarms when the detectives walks close to a scanner. Him and his men start running around the area, with the ID setting off numerous scanners, until he plays back the event in his mind and realizes what happened.
- There's a hilarious version in That Darn Cat!, when FBI agents tracking the titular cat follow him to a house and barge in with guns drawn, expecting to find a lair of kidnappers. Only problem is, it's the cat's owners' house, which is where the FBI team has set up its headquarters.
- In the original Winnie-the-Pooh book, Pooh finds some snow tracks and starts to follow the "Woozle;" Piglet joins him, and then they discover that the Woozle has been joined by a friend, then two more, and then two more again. Christopher Robin informs them that they've just been following their own tracks around a tree.
- Happens in The Adventures of Captain Hatteras by Jules Verne, after the heroes get lost for awhile and turn out to have been walking in circles.
- In David Brin's The Practice Effect, the hero is stranded on an alien world (just how alien, he doesn't know), and only knows its inhabited by intelligent tool users. At one point he finds a campsite and explores it in growing excitement. They have shoes! Shoes with tread patterns! Patterns just like (falls down looking at his own soles)... oh.
- In the I Love Lucy episode "Desert Island", the Ricardos and Mertzes tow their gasless boat to a seemingly deserted island; after Ethel wanders around a little, Lucy notices huge footprints in the sand she deduces belong to a giant native, and proceeds to follow them, only to find they're Ethel's.
- In a Thanksgiving Episode of The Middle where Frakie's family goes to spend the holiday with the grandparents along with her sister's family Janet whose daughter is incredibly spoiled, when her favorite stuffed bear goes missing, Janet is quick to blame Brick for it, trying to prove his innocence Brick goes to gather clues which include following boot footprints with a star... which turn out to be his own.
- Early in Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald, one NPC won't let you proceed west of Oldale because he's busy sketching footprints he believes belong to a rare Pokémon; he's rather embarrassed to find out they were just his own.
- Early in Eight Bit Theater, Fighter and Black Mage are lost in the Giant's Forest. Fighter announces that he found some footprints and has been tracking them in the hopes of getting the duo out of the forest. Black Mage asks if Fighter can intuit any details about the people leaving the footprints, and Fighter ends up describing themselves.
- In Olympic Dames, two sets of Bigfoot hunters, each ignorant of the other's existence, end up tracking each other, exacerbated by both putting out what the other recognises as Sasquatch mating calls... it doesn't help there are fugitive criminals holed up in the area, one of whom is big and mean enough to look like a shaved Sasquatch...
- In The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh episode "The Piglet Who Would Be King", Pooh enters Rabbit's house by going down the chimney while trying to find Rabbit. Because Pooh gets covered with soot while doing so, he starts tracking soot all over the floor but mistakes his own footprints for "honeynapper tracks".
- In the Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat episode "Sheegwa and the Blizzard", after Sagwa thinks that Sheegwa ran away while it was snowing due to the former's own bossiness, Sagwa starts following what she thought was Sheegwa's tracks, but it later turns out that she was actually following her own tracks and that Sheegwa had never actually run away after all.
- Very briefly in The Scooby-Doo Project they find some tracks (both human and dog) and declare it to be some kind of monstrous freak. Then Fred points out that those are their own footprints.
- The Ant Mill; Some ants use pheromone trails to track their way back to the nest. However if the lead ant gets lost and walks around back to the original trail laid down it'll just keep walking in that circle. The kicker is that it often isn't just one ant but 100's or 1000's of them all following this trail, walking around and around in a big circle until they drop down dead.