Disclosure: Links to external websites on this page may be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This means, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
One of the most exciting things to discover on a winter hike is a set of clear wild animal tracks in the snow — especially when you can identify what you’re looking at: bobcat or coyote track?
Few things feel more primeval than seeing a line of coyote or a bobcat prints disappearing into the distance. Both animals are feared hunters, and both are wild cousins of domestic species. Seeing their prints is both familiar and other-worldly.
Telling feline from canine prints is actually pretty easy, once you know what to look for.
Here’s how to tell bobcat tracks from coyote tracks in the snow.
Key Differences between Bobcat vs Coyote Prints in Snow
Download the Identification Poster
If you’d like the following information in a single page printable poster showing all print identification features, I’ve added one to my ko-fi store for download.
Hi! You might really enjoy…
Degraded Snow Prints
Unless you’re very lucky and come across a super-fresh print, you’ll usually be looking at some level of degraded print.
Most snow prints I’ve found have been through at least one freeze/thaw cycle, or some other weather degradation: rain, evaporation, more snow…
So prints are seldom as clear as depicted in diagrams.
- You’ll also enjoy reading How to Identify Bear Tracks in Snow
On the other hand, photos never seem to show animal prints as clearly as they appear to my eye in the wild.
Even so, feline and canine prints are almost always easily discernible from one another. Once you’ve identified a few sets in the field, they’ll seem as different to you as chalk and cheese.
Here’s a relatively fresh bobcat print…
Here’s what to look for…
Bobcat/Coyote Prints: Key Similarities
Compare the two prints below…
- Both prints have four toes arranged in front of a larger central pad
- Both prints are similarly sized with adult prints apx 2” in width
- Coyote prints are slightly larger — but size is also dependent on an animal’s age, so the size of a print is not always useful for identification
- Bobcats and coyotes are both perfect steppers: felines and canines use direct register to place their hind paws directly in the print left by their fore paws
- Why do animals direct register? Because, when hunting, it reduces the chances of making noise by 50%.
- Adult bobcats and coyotes are both solitary animals, so their tracks will typically be lone-animal tracks
Bobcat/Coyote Prints: Key Differences
- Feline: The overall shape is pretty square
- Canine: The overall shape is a little rectangular (slightly taller than wide)
- Feline: one front toe is slightly ahead of the others
- Canine: both front toes are arranged symmetrically
- Feline: all toes point forward
- Canine: outer toes point outward
- Feline: two lobes at top of the central pad
- Canine: one lobe at top of the central pad
- Feline: three lobes at bottom of the central pad
- Canine: two lobes at bottom of the central pad
I like to remember the difference by remembering that cats have many lives — and many more lobes on their palm and heel pads — than do dogs. Cats have 5 lobes in total. Dogs have only 3.
Cats retract their claws until needed, whereas a dog’s claws are always out. The presence of claw marks is one of the strongest differentiators in feline/canine print identification.
- Feline: no claws (except maybe very rarely)
- Canine: claws present (always)
Taken all together — the overall shape of the print, the arrangement of the toes, the number of lobes, and the presence or absence of claws — in combination, these four clues will give you great confidence in your identification.
Coyote Tracks vs Domestic Dog Tracks
The easiest way to spot a domesticated dog track is notice how crazy it is. (Domesticated dog tracks are also normally accompanied by a human track.)
In the wild, all animals exist more-or-less in a state of permanent hunger. They are not keen to waste a single calorie or gram of body fat. The tracks of bobcats and coyotes tend to run in long, clean, uninterrupted lines. There are, essentially, on patrol or just moving efficiently between one area and another.
Whereas, domesticated dogs are big dumb pampered kings and queens. They enjoy an endless supply of food, treats, warmth, comfort, play. Every single day! At the same time! In complete safety!
So domestic dog brains are wired, not for survival, but for fun. Their tracks betray this.
Domestic dog tracks run here and there, giddily, wherever their nose takes them — and, in the wild, their nose takes them everywhere.
If a coyote’s track were a piece of string, it would be pulled almost taut between two points. If a dog’s track were a length of anything, it would be, comparatively speaking, a hot mess of spaghetti noodle knots.
Download the Identification Poster
If you’d like the above information in a single page printable poster showing all print identification features, I’ve added one to my ko-fi store for download.
- Read How to Identify Bear Tracks in Snow
- Read 27 Unbeatable Tips for Winter Hikes
- Read Animal Tracks in Snow: How to Recognize Common Critters’ Prints (Backpacker)
Get full access…
Get full access to this website instantly and enjoy great supporter benefits!
Hot on the website right now…
- Identify Bobcat vs Coyote Prints in Snow
- The Six: Friday, Balsam Cap, Rocky, Lone, Table, Peekamoose
- Table, Peekamoose, Lone & Rocky
- 15 Best Hiking Movies, Ranked Perfectly
- Catskills Trail Conditions
Follow for more…
Follow my @TotalCatskills account on Instagram for regular hiking inspo and safe, inclusive community.