Courtesy of the MABRC
When locating what you suspect as being a shelter it is important to follow some very basic steps that will assist you in classifying it. These procedures are also important in proper documentation, which will help your research credibility and overall understanding.
We will be dealing primarily with shelters at this point but most of the procedures are true for all constructs you find in the woods.
First and most importantly, when you find one, DO NOT start walking all over, jumping up and down, pulling material off or generally messing up any possible evidence that may be present.
Stay at least 10 feet away from the structure, you can even take a branch or use your foot to draw a rough circle around it as a reference point and no intrude zone (for the time being).
Make note in your field journal of location, date, time and initial observations, include GPS if you have that available. Also, note any ground conditions present at the location, is the ground covered in leaf litter, is it grassy, or dirt. How, thick is the vegetation, trees, brush etc.
Now, take pictures of the structure from all angles possible, without entering the 10 foot circle. You cannot take too many photos. If the structure is particularly interesting I would even suggest picking a point, take a photo and step sideways take another picture, continuing to do so until you have circled the entire structure.
The majority of the time the ground will be covered in leaf litter, which really can assist your investigation greatly.
Pick a location, preferable in front of any opening and start removing the leaf litter within the circle. Take your time and pay close attention to the ground under the leaves. If the construct is human there is a very good chance you will find shoe or boot tracks under the leaves. If this is the case, do not stop your investigation, because you can still learn a great deal from doing it. Also, this does not automatically negate a bf possibility. Obviously, you are also looking for possible bf prints under the leaves. However, finding human tracks at the location, you will have to pay closer attention to any possible bf tracks to insure they are not distorted human tracks.
Any tracks you find, make sure you photograph, even the human ones.
The next tracks to look for under the leaves are deer and bear. The reason being that both animals are opportunistic with shelters and will use human constructs in the woods. Also, document these tracks.
Your next step is to sketch the structure in your field journal, sketch it from the four cardinal points. Now, carefully measure the structure, noting your measurements on your sketches, including opening size.
Now move to the interior of the structure, look and see if there are any compression areas within. This is especially important if you can ascertain it is a relatively new construct. (It wasn't there last week.) All animals including humans will leave compression areas if it was used for a shelter. If you find a compression area, measure and photograph it. If you are leaning toward it being a bf shelter, remove the contents, especially those in the compression area and secure them in bags, taking care not to contaminate them. You will go through the material at a later time in a clean environment to ascertain if there is any hair etc. in it.
Now examine the construct itself in detail, how old is the material, is there any cut marks, is there any weaving of material and if so how intricate. Any larger limbs or tree material, was it carried or dragged to the location (if dragged you should see the scuff marks on the ground when you removed the leaf litter.).
Make sure you note everything in your journal and take photos!
There are a few basic types of human constructs made in the woods by, survivalists, hunters, boy scouts, kids and photographers. In some areas these can be plentiful, especially if any Boy Scout or survival classes were taught in the area. Take a little time and familiarize yourself with these. I will give a basic inscription on some of them; it is by no means extensive, complete or definitive.
Debris Shelter: Primarily a survival shelter for protection from cold weather (even when it is cold outside you can be very warm in one)
Common construction: One end of a large limb or tree is placed in the crotch of a tree, stump rocks or other such to support the end 3-4 feet off the ground. The other end is left on the ground. Smaller limbs and brush are leaned against this to form an inverted "V". They are placed in sufficient number to support the cover. The cover is forest litter, creating an insulating blank of leaves etc. Very, very seldom with there be any cut marks on this type of shelter as it is make completely from available forest materials.
Tee Pee Shelter: Similar to a debris shelter, constructed when no notch or other suitable location is available. Both free standing and using an existing tree for support. These are more often made by boy scouts and kids, as they are much less efficient, less stable and more energy intensive to construct. Branches with leave material still attached is the prefer method of insulation as the angle of the structure is not great for holding leaf litter. (Note: look for cut areas on the insulating branches, knife, saw etc. a good indicator of scouts and kids.)
Wikiups: These are domed structures, where brush is pulled to a center location from still rooted plants, secured and covered. If planned the blank or what ever will have been removed.
They may also be made by driving saplings into the ground. The frame work will usually be interwoven with horizontal brush. Not a survivalist structure, but is made by kids, scouts, native re-creationists.
Blinds: Used by hunters and photographers, these are often only two or three sided. Consisting of loosely woven branches, with enough openings to allow for good views. Often times they are very loose weaves as the intent is as much to break up the human outline as it is to completely hide them. They can be found with or without foliage woven or stuck into them.