CHIEF LOGAN STATE PARK – Crime scene investigations have been the source of many recent television series, but have you ever seen it done in the woods? Call it CSI woodlands.
A Hunting Incident Academy brought 39 wildlife officers from 17 states to Chief Logan State Park in Logan County this week to learn the finer points of investigating a hunting-related shooting and other hunting-related incidents.
“We’ve been training here since the beginning of the week with 39 officers from 17 states,” said Retired Capt. Michael L. Van Durme, of Hunting and Shooting Related Consultants, which is the group offering the training along with The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) Law Enforcement Section and the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA).
Van Durme says eight separate teams took to the woods in Logan County to investigate hunting-related incidents.
“We have given the officers all the tools and taught them how to do the forensic work in the woods and what the evidence means, so we are challenging them to go out to these carefully re-created hunting-related incident scenes and work up those scenes,” he said.
Van Durme said that nine instructors from seven states will share their skills, knowledge and techniques on how they go about investigating a shooting incident involving a hunter. The instructors have more than 350 years of experience and have investigated more than 2,000 hunting-related shootings.
“West Virginia is the perfect setting for this training,” Van Durme said. “West Virginia is one of the states that take hunting-related incidents very seriously
Organizers say one aim of the training, which runs through Thursday, Sept. 20, is to reduce hunting accidents.
Investigating a hunting-related shooting incident can be as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack.
The wildlife officers from 16 states will participate in 40-hour specialized hunting-related shooting incident investigation training, Van Durme said.
“The academy, the only one of its kind, provides skills, knowledge, techniques and confidence to state and federal wildlife officers in the investigation of hunting-related incidents,” he said.
Officials said the IHEA is keenly interested in the proper collection, documentation, and analysis of this important data.
“Wildlife law enforcement officers who are already experts in investigations in outdoor landscapes will improve their investigative techniques,” Van Durme added.
“The academy is designed to train commissioned wildlife officers on how to properly investigate and document hunting related shooting incidents,” said Lt. Tim Coleman, West Virginia training officer for the WVDNR. “State Hunter Education administrators then review and analyze the collected data. What they learn is applied to classroom and media outreach efforts to aid in the prevention of hunting incidents.”
Lt. Coleman is the “point man” for the academy, promoting this specialized training and bringing it to West Virginia. Also supporting the training are WVDNR Director Frank Jezioro and Col. David Murphy, Chief of the DNR Law Enforcement Section.
“Having the academy at Chief Logan State Park will provide both inside and outside classrooms needed to present this intensive curriculum,” Coleman said. “Other states that have requested to host the academy in the future include Alaska, New Mexico, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Alabama.”
Attendees of hunting incident investigation, like Sgt. Terry Ballard of the WVDNR Law Enforcement Division in the Logan County area, say the training is vital.
“We have learned to collect detailed information that has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of fatalities and injuries from hunting-related shooting incidents,” he said.
Based on evaluations collected at the conclusion of each course, many officers stated that this was the best training they have received throughout their career.
Nathan Erdman, a game warden in Oklahoma who came to Logan County for the training, said the training is something every outdoors official and investigator could benefit from taking.
“I have learned so much, which I will take back to my home state,” he said.
Officials added that a national clearinghouse database has been created to store data collected from each IHEA member jurisdiction. Standardized reporting forms have been developed so that complete and uniform data can be analyzed. The IHEA has also adopted a standardized definition of a hunting-related shooting incident.
Requests and response from conservation agencies across the country have been overwhelming and the academy continues to grow its list of graduates that now reach nearly 800 wildlife officers, Van Durme said.
“Many of these graduates have gone back to their agencies and provided localized training, sharing knowledge and techniques necessary to conduct factual and impartial investigations,” he said.
“The goal here is to train investigators to properly collect and document the facts of hunting-related shooting incidents and to ensuring proper methodology and techniques are utilized for the purpose of research and curriculum focuses on hunting incident prevention,” Van Durme said.