Animal vs Human 


Is It Human?

Comparative Osteology for First Responders

"This class vastly improved first responders' abilities to distinguish between human and non-human bones with hands-on examples and real-life comparisons. In addition to the majority of the time spent utilizing a variety of resources (e.g. Jim's book, website, and phone app) to arrive at accurate conclusions, determining decomposition stages and clandestine deposits of human remains strengthened the rest of the presentation. I actually want to take the class several times."

Rob Speiden

Search Mission Coordinator

Search and Rescue Tracking Institute

“A huge thanks to Jim Russell and his team for the amazing two-day class they put together. It was a great deep dive which gave me a better grasp of such a complex and vast topic. Even though I have taken a one day class with Jim before as well as similar courses over the years, Jim’s knowledge and experience which he and his team bring to the table is truly amazing and keeps giving me a deeper understanding and insight into the application of this information as it’s specifically meant for first responders. I honestly think everyone can benefit greatly from this experience as there is no other class out there like this one which covers so many topics and gives you tangible skills you can use in the field. Again, thank you SO much for this class! I am looking forward to the next time I get to take this course.” 

Anna Novoa

Black Diamond Search and Rescue

"Jim has a great deal of passion for osteology! This passion shows through in the way he chooses to teach others in his Comparative Osteology for First Responders class. His ability to retain such a large amount of detail for what happens to humans and animals after death is truly amazing. I would recommend this class to any first responder or anyone in the medical field. The hands-on knowledge gained in this class is a great look into the science of osteology. The resources gained in this class will be helpful for many years to come."

Chris Edwards


Piedmont Search and Rescue

"You will leave Jim Russell's bone identification class able to identify human and animal bones in the field not only through handling the tangible examples from his extensive collection but also from the deeper understanding of why they are shaped the way they are, rooted in their structural and mechanical purposes." 


Search and Rescue Tracking Institute

"Mr. Russell was very knowledgable, one of the best classes I've been through." 

Class participant, Hampton PD Training Academy, Sept. 7, 2023


The Comparative Osteology for First Responders Workshop is an invaluable resource designed for search and rescue teams, law enforcement, fire/rescue personnel, and park rangers. It equips participants with the skills to distinguish between human and non-human remains, crucial for effective identification of human remains.

Workshop Components:

This hands-on workshop features a dynamic slide presentation complemented by genuine and replica human and non-human bones. Participants have the unique opportunity to closely examine bones, with a special focus on differentiating white-tail deer and human skeletal structures, prevalent in the Virginia wilderness.

Why White-Tail Deer?

Given the prevalence of deer remains in wooded areas, this workshop strategically begins with these common specimens. Participants gain insights into distinguishing features, addressing the ever-present question: "Could these bones be human?".


Length of Class:

Customizable to suit varying needs, the workshop can range from an intensive 3-hour session, a comprehensive 1-day session or an in-depth 2-day exploration.

Available Modules

Number of Participants:

This workshop is ideally designed to include 8 to 15 participants, but can accommodate up to 30 participants in an appropriately sized venue.

Venue Requirements:

Factors to be considered when choosing an appropriate venue is the area/size of the classroom, internet access, number of tables for students and displaying a large number of bones, and an area for the presenter, technology/presenting equipment, and screens to project presentations.


The Comparative Osteology for First Responders Workshop offers a comprehensive and adaptable training program, arming participants with the knowledge and practical skills essential for effective response to bone discoveries. Through a blend of theoretical understanding and hands-on experience, this workshop plays a pivotal role in enhancing the capabilities of those responsible for human remains detection.

To request additional workshop information and cost, please CLICK HERE or email

Members from the following agencies have participated in this workshop:

Angel Search and Rescue

Black Diamond Search and Rescue

Blacksburg Rescue Squad

Blue and Gray Search and Rescue

Blue Ridge Mountain Rescue Group

Chesapeake Police Department

Chesterfield County Sheriff's Office - Search and Rescue

Commonwealth of Virginia Search and Rescue

DOGS - East

Greater Atlantic Rescue Dogs

Hampton Police Department

K9 Alert

Maryland Search and Rescue

Mid-Atlantic D.O.G.S.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service

Newport News Police Department

Norfolk Police Department

Ocean Park Volunteer Rescue Squad

Peidmont Search and Rescue

Search and Rescue Tracking Institute

Shenandoah Mountain Rescue Group

Spartanburg County Search and Rescue

Suffolk Police Department

Tidewater Search and Rescue

TrotSAR Mounted Search and Rescue Team

Virginia Beach Police Department

Virginia Department of Emergency Management

Virginia Search and Rescue Dog Association

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation - Virginia State Parks

Virginia State Police SRT Dive Team

York-Poquoson Sheriff's Office