CHAPMANVILLE, W.Va. -- Slowly and carefully, the two officers examined the dirt road that led to the scene of the shooting.
"There's some blood here on this paper cup," said one, as he stooped to flag the evidence.
"Look over here," said the other. "There are a lot of broken branches, and there's a camp chair that's been knocked over. This might be where the victim was shot."
The blood wasn't real. The evidence, spread over 3 acres of rugged Logan County hillside, was set up deliberately to confound and confuse the officers investigating an imaginary hunting accident.
The investigating officers were trainees at the Hunting Incident Academy, a once-yearly gathering of law enforcement officers from throughout the country. Participants spend a week learning how to properly reconstruct hunting-related shootings.
"It's CSI in the woods," said Mike Van Durme, a retired New York environmental conservation officer and head trainer for the weeklong school. "We deal with ballistics, collection and preservation of evidence, and potential legal issues. We want the officers to be able to reconstruct these shootings based on evidence they find at the scene."
Van Durme said evidence collection is especially important for hunting-incident investigators.
"In three-quarters of all hunting incidents, the initial report of what happened is wrong," he said. "People will lie about the shooting to protect friends or family members from getting into trouble, people will lie because they weren't supposed to be where they were, and sometimes people give wrong information just because they were in a stressful situation and their memory isn't clear."
Van Durme and the academy's other trainers teach students to reconstruct incidents based on the evidence, and then to use the evidence to see if witnesses' stories check out.
"We use the same sort of technology the guys on the CSI shows use," he said. "We use blood spatter and entry-wound angles to determine where shots came from, and we use a special piece of equipment called a 'measurement of visibility device' to determine what the shooter was actually able to see."