CHARLESTON -- As late as a few years ago, a cynical standing joke among West Virginia hunters went something like this: "If you want to kill someone, take them hunting."
Several unspoken messages lay behind that expression - that hunting provides a ready-made excuse to carry a weapon; that it's relatively easy to shoot someone and call it a hunting accident; that hunting-accident investigations aren't as thorough as murder investigations; and that the legal system takes it much easier on people involved in supposedly accidental shootings.
All that might have been true in the past, but it isn't true now.
A few days ago I took a little road trip down Corridor G to the Chief Logan Conference Center, where Division of Natural Resources officials were hosting a weeklong nationwide Hunting Incident Academy.
Law enforcement officers from 16 states came there to learn techniques the head instructor called "CSI in the woods." Six of the 40 trainees were members of the West Virginia Natural Resources Police.
The investigative techniques they learned were very much like the techniques you see played out on the CSI-themed television shows that run almost every day on broadcast and cable networks.
For example, the trainees learned to interpret blood-spatter patterns. They learned to trace the origin of the shot from the angle at which the bullet or arrow entered the victim's body. They learned how to use a special "measurement of visibility device" that shows what shooters see when they fire their weapons.
Mike Van Durme, a retired New York environmental conservation officer, was the academy's lead trainer. He said it's critical that officers learn to collect and interpret physical evidence, because eyewitness testimony is seldom reliable.