So you have a character in the group who is nature-savvy. Maybe he or she is an Elf or Magical Native American or just some gruff Wild Man or Ranger-type. One way to establish that character as being Badass and not the Granola Girl is to show him to be a good tracker. Of course, any moron can follow footprints in the mud. Since our character is so good, he'll not only be able to tell you how many people there were, but any of the following also:
Subverted in a car commercial where a hiker, hearing a car coming, demonstrates his scary-competency in tracking to his friends by putting his ear to the ground and identifying the approaching vehicle as a high-end sports car. The car that eventually passes by isn't a sports car, of course, but the point of the commercial was supposed to be that you shouldn't be able to tell the difference.
A British car commercial had a tribesman observing vibrations and identifying the animals causing them from a great distance. He then spots a car passing in the distance and seems to think it must be a ghost because it's so quiet that nothing is vibrating.
Another series of car commercials had random people placing their ears on the ground and managing to identify the brand, model, various specifications, and even the color of the car.
Anime & Manga
Either a case of terrifying competency or overlooked logic: in the Samurai7 anime, Kyuzo puts his ear to the ground and can hear the bandits approaching. Only one problem: the Nobuseri are giant mecha. That fly.
The vibrations from the sounds of their propulsion systems would still vibrate the ground, allowing him to hear something.
InuYasha has a preternatural sense of smell, keener even than Shippo's, though not as keen as his older brother Sesshomaru's. It's still keen enough to track someone by scent while running, detect the clash of magical auras, and detect Kagome's arrival through a trans-temporal portal from at least half a mile away.
The last one is especially jarring, since it is simply not possible to smell something unless the air that carries the scent comes all the way from there to you.
Don't forget his heightened sense of hearing, once shown comically when he overhears what Shippo is whispering about him from a distance of a couple hundred feet.
Especially early on in the series, Gon from Hunter ◊ Hunter was talented at tracking, being able to locate shapeshifting foxes who specialized in stealth in the middle of a dense forest at night.
Shampoo from Ranma Ĺ managed to track Ranma for over a thousand miles, across at least two countries, and the Sea Of Japan. To make this even more impressive, at the time, she barely knew his name and only knew of his female form, which meant she could only follow him when he was in one form, completely losing him whenever he returned to normal.
Azumanga Daioh: Mayaa found his way to Sakaki in what's apparently Tokyo despite the fact that she'd left Iriomote Island by boat, and then left Okinawa by airplane. Granted, the only boats he might've stowed away on would take him to Okinawa, but how'd he then manage to pick the right plane, much less find one girl in a city of millions (and just in time for a Big Damn Heroes moment)?
Laughed at in the Scrooge McDuck story "The Vigilante of Pizen Bluff" (a part of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck), where Scrooge's uncle Angus tries to act like one of these by trying to hunt down the villains by broken tree branches. Young Scrooge and Goklayeh point out that the villains would have to be fairly incompetent to hit the only tree in miles' reach and set out to mock him by 'tracking' the villains by noticing a single bent cactus spine and a disturbed grain of sand.
Scrooge: This clinches it! This shadow has been bruised on the north edge!
Donald's nephews demonstrate this skill often, though they can be tricked.
The Silver Surfer has cosmic sense that allow him to (if narration is to be believed) track a single atom on the other side of the galaxy. That one just moves straight into A Wizard Did It.
The Black Panther doesn't take it to comical lengths, but he can still track a robot through a devastated war zone by seeing how the rubble has been displaced from where the patterns of explosions would place it.
Lobo has an extremely good sense of smell in an atmosphere, and an additional sense that lets him track bastichs across the galaxy.
Bullseye: "I once tracked an Eskimo huntsman across 200 miles of frozen tundra on foot and killed him with an icicle made of my own frozen feces."
Film - Animated
In Mulan, the Huns are able to identify the movement of the Imperial army simply by analyzing a lost doll (although it's a joint effort of four or five commanders and makes a reasonable amount of sense given the setting.)
Shang Yu: (throws the doll to his mooks, who take turns analyzing it) What do you see?
Mook #1: Black pine, from the high mountains.
Mook #2: White horse hair. Imperial stallions.
Mook #3: (sniffs the doll) Sulphur, from cannons.
Parodied in The Aristocats. Napoleon the dog is able to tell his sidekick Lafayette the size, type, and condition of the pair of squeaky shoes he hears, and then:
Lafayette: What color are they?
Napoleon: Why they're bla- now how would I know that?
Later, he correctly identifies the sound of a one-wheeled haystack.
Parodied in Hotel Transylvania when the Wolfman's baby daughter, after a single sniff at an article of clothing from Johnny's backpack, was able to tell everything right down to the number and departure time of the flight he was leaving on.
Film - Live Action
Aragorn does this in The Two Towers (book and film), first tracking the Uruk-hai, then later explaining how Merry and Pippin escaped them during a battle. That latter example is interesting because it takes him no effort to find the traces of both hobbits over a battlefield. To be fair, Aragorn discovers the footprints by accident while mourning them. Everything else he does after he chances upon them falls under this trope though.
Far more realistic in the book, where Aragorn is only able to notice signs because the hobbits had dropped their cloak-clasp as a sign on the way before they escaped and had been carried away from where the main battle was. Even then, Aragorn is only able to deduce fairly basic information from the signs and outright admits that a lot of what he sees doesn't make sense unless he acknowledges that a few pertinent facts will have taken place elsewhere, or will otherwise have left no visible signs. Nevertheless, he does have impressive tracking skills, which is justified by having been raised and lived as a Ranger of the wilds of Eriador. He does mention having limits, being unwilling to continue the chase across the plains of Rohan at night, as the trail is harder to see compared to when they were in the forest and the risk of losing it in the dark is too great. Also, the only reason he finds Pippin's lorien leaf clasp in the book is because Pippin ran from the Orcs to drop it away from them, so the clasp wouldn't be trampled and hidden. In the movie, Aragorn finds the clasp after it's been trampled and buried in the ground. At another point, he's completely baffled by what he sees, because he's never encountered Ent-tracks before.
The original novel also mentions how he tracked down and captured Gollum, one of his most impressive feats. It had been decades since the only solid clue of Gollum's location had gone cold!
A couple of minutes later in the film, Gimli tastes some substance from a leaf and states: "Orc blood".
Prince Humperdinck does it on the location of the duel between Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black in The Princess Bride (in the book, it is said that he can track a falcon on a cloudy day), noting that both men were expert swordsmen based solely on their footwork. He does it again on the location of the fight between the Man in Black and Fezzik. And then again at the Battle of Wits site, where he is able to identify the colorless, odorless poison as iocaine powder by smell, though this one was intended as a bit of a joke for observant audience members.
Hawkeye from Last of the Mohicans is a Scarily Competent Tracker in the same league with Aragorn and Humperdinck. Heck, all the Mohicans and most of the Indians are, too (the Mohicans also have Super Running Skills.)
Hawkeye's Dad Chingachgook determines it was Ottawa who ravaged the settlements based on the shape of the moccassin-print. Then they track their footprints down the middle of a stream.
After the girls are captured, the Mohicans track them up the side of a solid granite hill after spotting a deliberately-turned leaf (see the Aragorn example above).
"A favorite one was to make a moccasined person tread in the tracks of the moccasined enemy, and thus hide his own trail. Cooper wore out barrels and barrels of moccasins in working that trick. Another stage-property that he pulled out of his box pretty frequently was his broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesnít step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred handier things to step on, but that wouldnít satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he canít do it, go and borrow one."
In Without A Paddle, one of the hillbillies figures out not only what they did and what direction they went with perfect accuracy, but what they were talking about when they stopped there.
Multiple times, in fact. All played for laughs, of course. The first time, he stops, picks up something from the ground, and chews it thoughtfully. A few moments pass in silence, and it looks like he's about to rattle off a detailed description and play this trope straight. When asked what's going on by his more mission-focused partner, he deems the object he's chewing cinnamon, and when yelled at, notes that the heroes have been through the area, because all of the broken branches and twigs.
Subverted in Night at the Museum. Just by looking at a van's tire tracks in the snow, Sacagawea is able to tell that the man driving the van lost control of his vehicle and crashed. When the impressed onlookers ask how she did it, Sacagawea merely points to the wrecked van farther down the alley.
Billy, the Magical Native American from Predator, does this several times throughout the movie. As does the Predator itself, but it has the advantage of technology.
Featured in the truly abysmal movie The Hunted, in which Tommy Lee Jones' character tracks Benicio Del Toro's character, using footprints left by the "untrackable" moccasins Del Toro's character is wearing. Please note that no shoe is "untrackable" if someone is wearing it and walking.
Maverick: Maverick demonstrates this ability when he tracks the fake Indians and recognizes from near invisible tracks (the tracks were in the dusty layer covering a rocky path) that the horses are shod. He also parodies the "listen to the ground" approach, to get Miss Bransford to do the same. He can't actually do that.
Sniffers of Push kinda qualify in that they can tell everywhere an object has been and who has used it by sniffing. Justified because it's a psychic power.
Van Helsing: "It's carnivorous. Whatever it is, it appears to be human. I'd say he's a size seventeen, about three hundred and sixty pounds, eight and a half to nine feet tall, he has a bad gimp in his right leg, and, uh... three copper teeth." The last clue subverts the trope in that he only knows this because the monster is standing right behind Anna, but the rest of his analysis is played straight.
The angel Gabriel in The Prophecy is apparently one of these. The creepy part is how he does it: several times, he searches for clues to what he's looking for by...licking things.
Walter Crow Horse, sheriff of the Native American reservation in Thunderheart, tries to convince the FBI that a footprint left at a murder site was of a man who walked like a white man, which the prime suspect doesn't do. The FBI remain unconvinced, so he proceeds to tell one of them about his own weight, eating habits, and ankle holster from footprints.
When the FBI agent sarcastically asks how much change was in the man's pockets, the sheriff gives that information too. Given that Crow Horse is a Deadpan Snarker, one assumes that he's joking.
In Rabbit Proof Fence, the 'school' employs an Australian Aboriginal tracker Moodoo. When the girls run away, they do what they can to conceal their tracks, yet he manages to follow them. (It's implied that he deliberately lets them get away from him.) The DVD commentary reveals that the actor who played the tracker could do the same thing.
The same actor, David Gulpilil, played a similar character, called The Tracker, in a movie titled...The Tracker.
Etain (Olga Kurylenko) in Centurion. She tracks the Romans relentlessly through the whole movie, even after they use every trick they know, including riding river rapids. One of the Romans remarks, each time, "How does she do that?"
In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Butch and Sundance are pursued relentlessly by a group specially outfitted to hunt them down and bring them in, dead or alive. The group counts Lord Baltimore, a famous Indian tracker, among its members. Lord Baltimore is talented enough to track Butch and Sundance across stone cliffs, and follow the right horse when they double up on one and let the other horse run off in the other direction, much to the pair's amazement. They only escape the group by jumping off a high cliff into a river, made doubly frightening for Sundance because he can't swim.
The Rough Riders, in a dryly hilarious parody of the Sundance chase scene, subverts the trope: the "posse" just happens to be going in the same direction as the outlaws.
In the Cyber Punk movie Circuitry Man, there are these two cops who keep showing up in pursuit of the main characters, all the way across the U.S. They're clearly rather incompetent — both the heroes and the villains are constantly getting away from them — but they keep showing up.
Part of the advertising for The Wolfen said, "They can track you by yesterday's shadow."
The title character of Dersu Uzala (subject of a book and two movies) is a real-life hunter and super-tracker in the Russian far east.
Spoofed in Year One. After Zed and Oh have been exiled from the village from Zed eating the forbidden fruit of knowledge, Zed thinks he's become smarter and all around "better". After happening upon a pile of crap, he proceeds to pick it up, lick it, eat it, and draw random conclusions.
Zed: One woman, maybe two... And a child. [eats] They ate some apples before.
Oh: Yeah and did they eat some shit too? Cuz there's a lot of shit in that shit.
Zed: My mistake. This is bear poop.
Two-Bob, an Australian Aborigine working for the colonial troopers, in The Proposition. At one point, he points out some distant smoke on the horizon that nobody else spots. Even after the camera cuts to the horizon, with him pointing out the smoke, you still can't see it.
In The Incredible Hulk (the Edward Norton version), General Ross is able to track down Banner to South America, and the only clue that Ross had was elderly gentleman that was sick from gamma radiation poisoning. With that, Ross was able to trace the drink back to Brazil to it's processing plant.
In Paul Kelly's indie film One Night The Moon, a lost little girl dies because her racist father refuses to let an Australian Aboriginal tracker search for her. He searches for her for several days with a small army of his white friends, but they find no trace. When his wife finally goes behind his back and begs the Aboriginal man for help, he finds her in a couple of hours, but by then it is too late.
A small group of hikers are walking along a narrow mountain road in the Rocky Mountains. Along the way they come across a man lying on the side of the road with one ear pressed to the ground. "What is it?" one of the hikers asks him. The stranger replies, "A horse-drawn wagon, traveling east. One of the horses is chestnut, the other black with a white spot on its forehead. The driver is a young man in a blue flannel shirt, and he has a passenger, a blond woman in a yellow cotton dress." "Wow, you can tell all of that just by listening to the vibrations in the ground?" the hiker asks. The stranger answers: " No, they just ran me over half an hour ago."
In a variation on the joke, an Indian presses his ear to the ground and says "Buffalo come." The non-Indian members of the party, impressed, ask him if he can hear the vibrations. " No. Ground sticky."
In another joke, a group of hunters come across tracks in the woods. They argue about the details of the animal that left them until one mans leans down and claims he's determined the animal's age and zodiac sign. When the others join him, they're all hit by the train.
Child Of The Storm has Agent Coulson refers to Harry Dresden as possibly the best magical tracker on the planet and refers to him as 'the Detective'.
Dresden Files: Harry Dresden is in the Yellow Pages as a detective/wizard. Despite his general poor showing at subtler magic, he's known to be an excellent tracker and detective, to the point that his testimony is considered for a crime that happened on the other side of the world from him. He eventually builds a voodoo doll of Chicago in order to track people with as little as a speck of paint from their car.
In the very first story, A Study In Scarlet, he provides this description of the murderer:
"There has been murder done, and the murderer was a man. He was more than six feet high, was in the prime of life, had small feet for his height, wore coarse, square-toed boots and smoked a Trichinopoly cigar. He came here with his victim in a four-wheeled cab, which was drawn by a horse with three old shoes and one new one on his off fore leg. In all probability the murderer had a florid face, and the finger-nails of his right hand were remarkably long."
His explanation to Watson follows shortly
Holmes:"The very first thing which I observed on arriving there was that a cab had made two ruts with its wheels close to the curb. Now, up to last night, we have had no rain for a week, so that those wheels which left such a deep impression must have been there during the night. There were the marks of the horse's hoofs, too, the outline of one of which was far more clearly cut than that of the other three, showing that that was a new shoe. Since the cab was there after the rain began, and was not there at any time during the morningóI have Gregson's word for thatóit follows that it must have been there during the night, and, therefore, that it brought those two individuals to the house...Why, the height of a man, in nine cases out of ten, can be told from the length of his stride...I had this fellow's stride both on the clay outside and on the dust within. Then I had a way of checking my calculation. When a man writes on a wall, his instinct leads him to write about the level of his own eyes. Now that writing was just over six feet from the ground. It was child's play."
Watson: "And his age?"
Holmes: "Well, if a man can stride four and a-half feet without the smallest effort, he can't be quite in the sere and yellow. That was the breadth of a puddle on the garden walk which he had evidently walked across. Patent-leather boots had gone round, and Square-toes had hopped over.
Watson: "The finger nails and the Trichinopoly."
Holmes: "The writing on the wall was done with a man's forefinger dipped in blood. My glass allowed me to observe that the plaster was slightly scratched in doing it, which would not have been the case if the man's nail had been trimmed. I gathered up some scattered ash from the floor. It was dark in colour and flakey — such an ash as is only made by a Trichinopoly. I have made a special study of cigar ashes."
William of Baskerville does it too, at the beginning of The Name of the Rose (the book), in what combined with his name is an obvious Shout-Out to good ol' Sherlock.
In the film, he's a Scarily Competent Tracker, too, but he does not reveal his deductions till later on.
One of the guardsmen in David Gemmell's book Legend does this. Basically, he retells how a fight happened, move by move, just from the footprints in an alleyway.
Well, that and the bodies scattered around. I imagine that makes it somewhat easier.
The scene in Sabbat Martyr, where Mkoll essentially has a 'Scarily Competent Tracker' CONTEST with a Dark Eldar. Mkoll WINS.
In the Discworld novel Jingo, Angua the werewolf is, in fact, able to tell what color coat a tracked person was wearing, by the distinctive smell of the dye.
Vimes parodies this in the same book; he picks up a clove and (having met the man who chewed them), describes him in perfect detail to the others' amazement.
Vimes: The trick is to know the correct answer beforehand.
Gaspode might also qualify in The Fifth Elephant, although admittedly, he is a dog.
Dog or not, his highly-detailed description of Ginger (as discerned by smell alone) from Moving Pictures is surely a parody of this trope.
Granny Weatherwax parodies this trope in Lords and Ladies by giving a very detailed description of a man who had recently traveled through the grass she and Nanny are clearing. The reason she knew all those details is because she just stepped on the man's body.
In the Wheel of Time, we're treated to Lord Gareth Bryne, whose grandfather allegedly could track a shadow over a river. While the grandfather never actually comes on-screen, the Lord manages to track Suian and Leane across at least half a continent, only because Leane insisted that they ask for directions barely a quarter of the way there. When he successfully finds them, a random soldier informs the women that he has arrived, which is the cue for Suian's priceless and dumbfounded reaction.
There was the line about the old soldier who could track yesterday's wind across stone by moonlight. Although it's obviously hyperbolic.
Then there's Nynaeve, who out tracked a guy who is used to dodging dark creatures and magic assassins on a more or less daily basis.
Though Moiraine quickly realizes that she was actually tracking Egwene, who she had once healed with The Power and thus could now naturally sense the location of.
Although he was helped considerably by his sense of smell and being in a 'shadow world', Hurin tracked an army, not by following them, but actually finding out where they will be in the future, and arrived at the destination where the army was going to camp with time to spare in The Great Hunt.
Hurin in general has a paranormal sense for violence that he describes as having a scent. Even the Aes Sedai don't know how he does it. It's known to not be Channelling, so he's assumed to just be a Talent.
Basically everyone from the book Lonesome Dove, but especially Deets, who is somewhat of a Magical Negro. He can identify someone's horse AND that that person was riding it just from the hoofprints.
It should be pointed out that the person in question was an old trailmate of Deets and he favoured a certain type of horse and had a distinct way of riding it.
Voltaire's character Zadig has an example at some point, but it gets him imprisoned due to what is either poor communication skills or smartassery (on his part).
In Andy Hoare's White Scars novel Hunt for Voldorius, Kholte is angry because although he managed to detect a squad of the Raven Guard, famed for their ability to hide — in time to prevent a fraticidial bloodbath — he missed the company.
Famous Shoes the Kickapoo tracker in the Lonesome Dove series can track pretty much anyone, anywhere. He can also walk further and faster than you can ride your horse.
In the Belisarius Series, the title character has Abbu, a bedouin chief who is doing mercenary service as a scout with the Roman Army.
Rana Sanga has a Pathan who does this for him. In his case, Rana Sanga captured him in battle. The Pathan serves him on the grounds that any warrior great enough to capture him must be worth serving.
The fact that Belisarius is able to fool the Pathans tracking him and escape makes him an instant legend among them.
Muldoon shows himself to be one in Jurassic Park. He finds the crashed tour car after the T-Rex kicked it, the last known place where Tim and Lex were known to be. After finding Timís watch left behind, he notices that while the face is cracked, the band is uninjured, deducing that given the toughness of watch face crystals, it could have only broken during the attack, but the uninjured band means that the T-rex didnít tear it off the kid. So Tim must have taken off the broken watch after the attack, meaning he survived.
The paragraph before, though, Muldoon subverts this. He remarks that itís usually very difficult to track anything after an animal attack, and while most people assume the aftermath of such encounters are filled with blood and gore, the truth is that thereís usually nothing, since a predator can easily kill a child just by shaking them to snap their neck, making it look to the detectives as though the child just walked out.
Twilight has James, who at least justifies his skills by having "can track you anywhere" as his vampiric gift.
And the Cullens and Bella told him outright where they're going. They did so in an attempt to invoke reverse psychology, but obviously, it didn't work.
Lew Wetzel (aka "Deathwind") and Jonathan Zane in Zane Grey's The Last Trail.
Animorphs had an Insectoid Alien version of this, Taxxon trackers. The Animorphs had a very hard time losing them in the book they were featured in.
The Redwall books have a number of these. One in Triss is even able to keep tracking her target even after they go through a river by picking out broken reeds that they left in their path.
Vampires and werewolves both in Women Of The Otherworld. Vampires have some sort of weird instinct that lets them always accurately guess which direction someone has gone or if somebody is near by. Werewolves have heightened senses of sound and smell, and since they also possess human minds, they're basically tracking dogs that can make well thought out decisions and predict where a target they lost the scent of has gone based on human behavior.
In The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell, General Zaroff is capable of tracking down his quarry, through a forest, at night. What's more, his target, Rainsford, is himself a competent hunter and tracker, and has the skills and intelligence to make himself as hard to track as possible. Zaroff finds him anyway.
Tom Clancy portrays sonar operators aboard US Navy submarines in much the same way; while they may have some very sophisticated sensor equipment backing them up, some of the most skilled can tell a hatch slamming closed from a dropped wrench. On the Russian submarine they're tailing.
We don't actually know how he did it, but in Harry Potter, Rubeus Hagrid tracked Harry and the Dursleys around Surrey and at least another county before getting tired of waiting and showing up. Note that he didn't even know how Harry looked.
In Oath of Swords, Bahzell turns out to be one of these. When he and Brandark set out after the party that abducted Zarantha, he took a few minutes to familiarize himself with the individual hoof prints of the horses they were chasing after.
Jasmine from the Deltora Quest is an amazing tracker due to having grown up in The Lost Woods and can also talk to trees. Her anime version is even more adept to tracking than her book counterpart due to fillers in the show.
In the Ukiah Oregon series,due to his superhuman senses and wilderness experience, Ukiah is this. His partner Max tells a police officer that he has never failed to find someone who was on foot, and nearly 50% of the time has successfully tracked people who drove off in a car, on the road.
Bra'tac and Teal'c sometimes do this, most notably in "Maternal Instinct". O'Neill, beingO'Neill, lampshades it. Bra'tac is not amused.
Though it's more of a Sherlock Scan; two sets of heavy bootprints and a set of light sandalprints = two men and a woman. Men found dead in one place, woman found dead elsewhere with new group of dead men but with hands unbound = woman was carrying something important.
Dr. Frasier also pulled this off in "Allegiance" when describing in detail how a Tok'ra was killed from behind and with a blade of exotic design. Teal'c and Bra'tac are visibly impressed.
Stargate Atlantis: Ronon Dex from the spinoff show has managed this a few times. Once, he didn't even look at the ground. That could have been bad blocking, however.
In LOST, Locke and Kate do this. Kate is even able to figure out when someone has set up a dummy trail, or when someone has doubled back.
The Huntsman (natch!) does this in The 10th Kingdom: after emerging from the Dwarf mines, he puts his ear to a boulder and is able to hear through the rock (complete with cool shrieking hawk sound-effects) all the way to the Royal Estate where Virginia and Tony are walking. Either something they say is indicative of their location, or he can tell how far the sound traveled, because he's able to know exactly where they are.
And there was the episode where they were being tracked by a U.S. army Black Ops team. Bowler knew the tracker and said that he was able to track anything over land, no matter what.
Parodied in Father Ted. When Ted has to locate a lost sheep, he tells Dougal that sheep instinctively head north and gives a long explanation as to why. When Dougal then asks which way is north, Ted sheepishly admits he doesn't know. He then tries to press his face to the ground and gets a face full of mud for his trouble, while Dougal is able to figure out where the sheep is simply by following ominous noises.
Connor, most of it learned during his Quartoth childhood and made possible by his Dhamypr like enhanced senses. He once said he could track anything anywhere.
Not only can Angel sniff the air and tell if the soil beneath him has been disturbed, he can glance at a spot of blood and immediately determine who and what it belongs to. This sort of blood hyper-analysis appears to be common to vamps. Spike mentions that you can tell if someone's evil by tasting their blood (it tastes like pennies).
House took a different spin on this, but nonetheless subverted it all to hell. House's team is attempting to figure something about their delusional homeless patient's identity and their only clue is a sheaf of artwork she had drawn. House is able to take one look and interpret each of the details in one drawing to mean that the patient was in a car accident in Philadelphia on Oct. 22, 2002. The team's shock at discovering that House is a Scarily Competent Tracker quickly turns to chagrin, though, when House finally concludes that the patient had broke her arm and the doctors had "fixed it - with this!" He holds up a surgical pin, the serial number on which he was able to use to track down their patient's name and medical history.
Played straight in the season 3 episode Whac-A-Mole. House tells his team that he knows what is wrong with the patient, but wants to give them a chance to figure it out for themselves. He writes something down and seals it in an envelope and tells them they can do one test each. After they fail to diagnose the patient, House opens the envelope which, instead of saying the diagnosis, says which test each team member had done and, in Foreman's case, why he had done it (too stubborn to take House's hint).
The Pretender: Jarod has a couple of episodes where he displays expertise in tracking people. In one he finds a child and in another episode about a military cover up he manages to find an elite team of soldiers who are supposed to be covering their tracks.
Chuck Norris does this in Walker, Texas Ranger. He is traveling through the forest, gets on the ground, sniffs some dirt, takes a lick, and then states in a matter of fact voice that, "A plane crashed here."
Lampooned during the Top Gear Small Japanese Car Hunting episode when Richard Hammond proudly uses his "tracking skills" to follow Jeremy's 4x4 through a forest.
Hammond: *spotting the tire impressions in the mud* I can see tracks! I'm using my tracking skills; I'm not even using the hounds. *walks into a low branch* Ow, a tree!
The black tracker Fuller uses to pursue the bushrangers in the second episode of the Wild Boys. Despite the bushrangers using every trick they know to lose him (riding along a creek, etc), he stays right on their tail. And he isn't fooled by the pig carcass they blow up in an attempt to fake their deaths either.
One episode of Criminal Minds had an Apache tracker come in to consult on a case that had Native American themes. The man was able to deduce an insane amount of detail, including seeing from Hotch's footprints that he wore a gun on one ankle, because his footsteps were slightly deeper on that side.
Despite the show's title, the protagonist of Tracker is not one of these, although he still has a number of superhuman abilities due to the fact that he's an alien Energy Being in human form. In one episode, though, he meets an elderly Native American named Wahota Keene (played by Don Francks) whose son was killed by one of the escaped alien convicts Cole is tracking. Keene immediately recognizes his son's killer by simply looking at him and then shows remarkable skill at tracking his movements in the woods. Cole does find that he likes Keene, given that they're both trackers.
Hawk, the Native American deputy, can do this in Twin Peaks. However, at one point, he leads everybody to the wrong cabin in the woods.
Once Upon a Time: Red Riding Hood and her grandmother can do this because Red is the current wolf and her grandmother used to be one. Ruby, despite not being the wolf and not knowing who she is in Storybrooke, shows similar capability when she manages to track down David by hearing when he's in the middle of a forest.
The Unit: Jonas boasts of being this, while they're tracking the President-elect of the United States.
Jonas: "I track a man, I can tell you what he had for breakfast."
James May's Man Lab: Real Life tracker Ian Maxwell shows tricks of the trade for tracking down escaped prisoners while hot on the trail of James and Oz, who have themselves "escaped" from Dartmoor Prison and are on the run to show how to do orienteering.
An episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys had Hercules turned into a pig by a ploy of Ares and had Iolaus and Autolycus communicating with him via a parrot who could translate for them, along with a female pig who Hercules befriended. A man was tracking them and was able to tell the female pig had a crush on Pig!Hercules as well as know the parrot was on Iolaus' shoulder.
On Bitten all the werewolves are good natural trackers but Elena is specifically stated to be the best tracker in the Pack even though she grew up primarily in a city. Her senses seem to be better than those of the male werewolves.
Parodied in The Far Side comic, where a hunter spots some easy-to-miss signs that show a deer has slept there - completely ignoring the sheets, the pillow, a bedtime book, and a picture of a deer that's there also.
Another one featured an Indian listening intently at the ground, saying "I hear fifty, maybe sixty horses!", while coming up right behind him is an entire US Cavalry regiment.
The best part about that comic was the dropped spear nearby; indicating that his "friend" already spotted the cavalry and high-tailed it out of there without telling him.
This troper recalls a cartoon from a magazine(?) with the traditional Indian with his ear to the ground, reeling off the usual list of facts ("one of the horses is lame", etc.), concluding with "A satellite is passing over their position."
In Dungeons & Dragons, it is technically possible to track a hamster across dry rock, one week after the fact, and just after having snowfall. (DC 39). Depending on bonuses and equipment, this is reliably doable as a frighteningly low level.
Apparently Raiden turned into one in between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4, in addition to having TakenALevelInBadass. In the latter, he coaches Snake about tracking, including telling him to check the depth, shape, and stride of the footprints, check for broken branches, and something about the direction of the wind. You immediately have to use this advice to track down another character, and for the most part, it comes in handy.
In World of Warcraft, the hunter class can track things...which basically means they have radar. Confusingly, they can only track one type of monster at a time: if they're tracking humanoids, they won't be able to track beasts.
Certain elixirs and food items grant the ability to track specific creature types.
Through a certain combination of class, profession choice, and quests, it is possible to be able to track everything in the game. This is only possible if you roll a Hunter (Track Beasts, Humanoids, Dragonkin, etc, etc) who is an Herbalist (Track Herbs) and a Miner (Track Minerals), and who has also managed to fish up a "Weatherbeaten Journal" which, upon reading, allows you to Track Fish.
Similar to World of Warcraft, in Everquest 2, a Scout class can track anything from land mammals to birds to fish to entirely stationary mushrooms. In fact, the tracking window even brings up the name of everything in the area, allowing the Scout to track specific NPCs (including ones they have never met before and know nothing about).
By the time of Revelations, he can actually follow a ghost image of his target with his Eagle Vision, seeing the image as clearly as if the person is still walking the path in front of him. You know how, in some games with Time Trials, you have the option to follow a "ghost"? Exactly like that. Oh, and if you're a guard who is on patrol with a set path, he can also see the paths you are going to be walking, and where you tend to stop. And where your path intersects with other guards. His Eagle Vision can also pick out concealed doorways and passages, along with being able to find the one person in a crowd who has what he needs. Fifty guards wandering around, and only one of them has a key, which is hidden in a pouch where no one could possibly spot it? Disguised as a hooded priest in a monastery full of men dressed exactly the same way, from whom you are indistinguishable to the point that your own mother couldn't pick you out of a line-up? If Ezio turns on his Eagle Vision, you will be lit up like the Holy Grail. Good luck escaping this man.
Connor Kenway fits into this category as well, though in the traditional sense of tracking rather than Eagle Vision.
Connor's grandfather Edward has this as well, although lacking Connor's Native American upbringing. One would wonder why a privateer/pirate would need such skills, but they appear to be exclusively based on Eagle Vision rather than training. Once he's caught a glimpse of you, he'll even see you through a building.
Interesting enough, this is averted with Altair, who is acknowledged as the greatest in-universe several times. He had the simplest version of Eagle Vision (you couldn't even walk with it like you could with Ezio and the others) but was apparently the most competent of them all.
Both The Nemesis from Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and The Ustanak from Resident Evil 6 have uncanny tracking abilities when it comes to chasing their targets. Ustanak at least has support and Intel from Neo Umbrella to help him out, but The Nemesis' ability to find Jill wherever she goes in Raccoon City is near supernatural.
Subverted by Belkar in The Order of the Stick, who, as a ranger, is supposed to be a scary-accurate tracker (and was hired as one), but actually has no skill at all at tracking and has, on more than one occasion, forgotten it's what he was supposed to be doing.
Well, actually, Belkar seems to have some tracking ability, but he is too distracted and uncaring to use it...until Roy points out (falsely) that the person Roy wants him to track has insulted Belkar.
Belkar: "Oh, that's it! I'm gonna track them down and kill their whole family!"
The next strip, however, Belkar forgets that he was tracking anybody.
Belkar is a parody of a combat twink who chooses to be ranger not for their class specialties, but for whatever perks they can exploit in combat.
Sabueso from The Dreadful is able to track the protagonist to a location she hasn't reached yet in order to ambush her. He handwaves this as simply down to him being the best. He's lying, but the authorities won't let him use magic in pursuit of Kit so he got them to hire him as this instead.
In Elf, the title character notices she sounds scarily competent.
Elf: Something nasty is stalking a trio of halflings... and one dwarf with a gimpy right foot. It's hunting. Elf: I am sounding so pro right now.
Dhur from MeatShield can read dirt He can tell a targets hair colour and dominant hand from their tracks but get lost if he tries to use a map.
Subverted in the Ace Ventura animated series: Ace finds a footprint and gives a detailed description of the owner's age, size, health, and appearance. Turns out the guy dropped a drivers' license next to the footprint.
Sokka does this in the season 1 episode "Bato of the Water Tribe". He spots some scuffmarks in the dirt and some broken branches and one water tribe artifact. He's able to determine what happened and make an entertaining story out of it until they get to the beach. He also knows you can amplify vibrations by putting your ear up to a knife stuck in a tree.
He's nothing compared to the Combustion Man, however. That guy can track a flying bison (disguised as a cloud) across an island chain.
Azula also counts, mixing being a Magnificent Bastard and Dangerously Genre Savvy into a very dangerous combination. At one point, she even realizes that the heroes are trying to get her off of their trail after they split up into two separate directions.
Well, Zuko tracks the airborne Gaang up one side of the world and down the other throughout season 1. From sea. And then there's Jun and her Shirshu, Nyla, who is the living embodiment of this trope, capable of tracking anything, anywhere on the planet by scent alone.
Darkwing Duck, being a mix of Batman and Sherlock Holmes, knows how to locate villains with one seemingly inconsequential clue. His Dangerously Genre SavvyEvil Counterpart Negaduck lampshades this when he takes over the city and moves into the tallest skyscraper:
Negaduck: I see you found the breadcrumb I left at the bridge. I knew you wouldn't notice the giant flag.
Darkwing Duck: Giant...flag?
(Flag with Negaduck's face is outside the window, at least 5 stories high, easily visible from the bridge)
Subverted in an episode of Family Guy where Peter and Chris are out hunting deer in the woods (it's winter). Peter sees some tracks, which he then begins to follow. Chris points out that they're SNOWMOBILE tracks, but lo and behold, they eventually come across a deer, drinking coffee from a thermos. It hears them, gets on its snowmobile, and drives away.
Scourge (whose very title is 'tracker') and his huntsmen, the Sweeps, of Transformers Generation One. Scourge's sensors are so good that given a general direction of travel from their current location, he can find people who are on other planets without taking a step. He's reportedly capable of picking out a single amoeba in the ocean, or a wind-up toy in the Sahara Desert.
The Wild Thornberrys: Nigel Thornberry, despite his slight Bumbling Dad appearance, is a formidable tracker — even when trying to catch up with a rare rhinoceros who left footprints that led in the wrong direction to try and fool him.
Tracker Smurf, a Season 2 character in The Smurfs, is one of these.
Dogs. Once they have your scent, they are very difficult to throw off. All the tricks you've heard about won't work with a properly trained canine; just ask the Mythbusters since they've not verified one yet. (Admittedly, they are doing them with trained bloodhounds, who have been selectively bred specifically for this purpose, but it's still damned impressive.)
Even the one about going through the water. Apparently, it intensifies the strength of the scent.
Truth in Television: the Yung!Sang tribe are actually able to define the age, sex, and health of their hunt, as well as how long they've passed by, by the footprints. According to some accounts, they're even able to identify people by name only by looking at their footprints.
The Lipan Apache of North America could also do this, plus more, such as identifying various psychological states, body positioning, specific injuries, and fullness of stomach and bladder. They could also follow tracks across solid rock. Tom Brown Jr., who learned tracking from a Lipan Apache, has demonstrated many of these skills.
...both men and women are able to identify an individual person merely by the sight of his or her footprint in the sand. There is nothing mysterious about this. Their tracking is a skill, cultivated over a lifetime, that builds on literally tens of thousands of observations (see also Liebenberg, 1990).The Ju hunter can deduce many kinds of information about the animal he is tracking: its species and sex, its age, how fast it is travelling, whether it is alone or with other animals, its physical condition (healthy or ill), whether and on what it is feeding, and the time of day the animal passed this way.
The Shadow Wolves, a law enforcement group composed largely of Native Americans that falls under the Department of Homeland Security, largely rely on traditional methods to track illegal aliens and drug smugglers who try to cross the U.S. - Mexican border. Their track record is quite impressive indeed, as they're often able to track and catch their quarry using only the slightest of clues as to their presence.
Terry Grant from the Canadian reality show Mantracker is a Badass Grandpa that fits this trope. Each episode consists of him using his expert tracking skills to hunt down the "prey" (contestants), such as immediately identifying a stump that was freshly cut by observing that the dirt used to attempt to camouflage it included a small pebble that couldn't have gotten there naturally.
An extreme example: About every other group will try to "trick" Mantracker by doing something sneaky, like walking backwards through mud, or attempt to double back on their footprints. And almost without fail, Mantracker will take one look at their work and instantly spot the deception.
The show also provides a demonstration of the part of tracking that isn't usually mentioned: not merely looking at the tracks, but anticipating what your target is likely to do, so you know where they are likely to go or have been and can pick up the trail after you've lost it.
To someone who doesn't know much about the subject, it can be somewhat scary how much a paleontologist can learn about a given dinosaur just by looking at its fossilized tracks: whether it was alone or in a group (usually; sometimes it's impossible to tell if the other tracks came at a different time), whether it was walking or running, how fast it was walking or running, the type of ground it was walking or running on, the general type of dinosaur if not the exact species (and through that, the approximate time period in which the tracks were made).
Jim Corbett was a hunter famous for killing man-eating tigers and leopards that terrorized villages, some of them with victims numbering in the hundreds. He could tell how old tracks were, as well as the sex, size, and condition of the animal that made them. He could even identify individual tigers he had observed before.