Fatal shooting of Ga. game officer under investigation

Monday, March 8, 2010 12:41 PM
Last updated 1:25 PM
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The fatal shooting of a USDA Forest Service law enforcement officer by coyote hunters in Jasper County remained under investigation today by state and federal wildlife authorities.


Coyote hunters shot and killed 37-year-old Christopher Arby Upton of Monroe, Ga., Friday night.  Special
Special
Coyote hunters shot and killed 37-year-old Christopher Arby Upton of Monroe, Ga., Friday night.

"At this point, charges, if any, have not been determined," said spokeswoman Melissa Cummings of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division. "It is still under investigation and we are working with the Forest Service on this one."

The officer, 37-year-old Christopher Arby Upton of Monroe, Ga., was shot and killed about 11 p.m. Friday while patrolling in the Ocmulgee Bluff Equestrian Recreation Area of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.

The man who shot him, Norman Clinton Hale, 40, of McDonough, Ga., was hunting coyotes with a high-powered rifle equipped with night-vision equipment. He was accompanied by another man, Clifford Allen McGouirk, 41, of Jackson, Ga., authorities said.

According to the their accounts of the incident, Upton was behind a berm, using binoculars, and the binocular lenses apparently looked like eyes through the men's night-vision scopes. They later told investigators they mistook Upton for a coyote and shot him. They subsequently dialed 911 to report the shooting and are cooperating with investigators.

Coyotes are a nuisance species in Georgia and there is no closed season, Cummings said. They may be hunted year-round, and at night, with no bag limits-and the equipment the men were using is legal for such hunts.

Steven Ruppert, special agent-in-charge for the Southern Region of the Forest Service, said in a letter to employees today that the incident has been a terrible tragedy.

 "We are all aware of the inherent risk and danger of this job," he wrote. "Ability, training, and experience, however, cannot protect us in all situations even though we do the right thing. Chris was doing his job and doing it well."

Law Enforcement Col. Homer Bryson of Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division said the officer was killed instantly-and blamed the tragedy on the failure of the shooter to properly identify his target before pulling the trigger.

The accident marks the 32nd accident and eighth hunting related fatality in Georgia for the 2009-2010 seasons, according to Department of Natural Resources records.

The eight fatalities included-in addition to Upton's death-two deaths attributed to natural causes (stroke and heart attack), one "mistaken for game" shooting, one accidental, self-inflicted shooting, a rattlesnake bite and two falls from deer stands.

By comparison, Georgia's 2008-09 hunting season yielded 34 hunting accidents with four fatalities.  Two of those cases involved heart attacks and two were due to falls from tree stands. There were no fatal shootings, but state authorities did investigate six people who were shot by other hunters in cases where people were mistaken for game; and six cases of accidental self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

One of victims among those 2008 shootings was a Georgia game warden, Cpl. Curtis Wright, who was shot in the lower chest with a 7 mm magnum rifle by a deer hunter 70 yards away. He survived his wounds but has since retired.

The deer hunter who fired the shot, Lynn Jeffers, eventually pleaded guilty to negligent use of a firearm, hunting without hunter education certification, hunting without a license and hunting without permission. He received four years of probation plus fines and was given first offender status, according to DNR records.

During the 2007-08 season, there were five shooting fatalities, of which four involved children or teenagers. During 2006-07, there were no fatal shootings and the single reported fatality involved a fall from a tree stand.

Most hunting accidents occur during deer season, which attracts the most participants. Typically, about 350,000 people hunt in Georgia each season.

Upton, a 4-year veteran of the Forest Service, previously worked as a game warden for the U.S. Marine Corps and as a game warden and pilot with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.  He is survived by his wife, Jessica, and a 4-year-old daughter, Annabelle.

GEORGIA HUNTING ACCIDENTS

2009-2010: 32 accidents with eight fatalities

2008-2009: 34 accidents with four fatalities

2007-2008: 21 accidents with five fatalities

2006-2007: 22 accidents with one fatality

2005-2006: 28 accidents with three fatalities

2004-2005: 16 accidents with two fatalities

2003-2004: 17 accidents with four fatalities

Source: Ga. DNR

THE SOUTHERN COYOTE

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Canis latrans

COLOR: Grayish brown to reddish tan to nearly black

AVERAGE WEIGHT: 25 to 45 pounds

PRIMARY DIET: Rabbits, rodents, fruit berries, birds

SCAT: Cigar-shaped, with bone, fur and seeds

TOP RUNNING SPEED: 40 mph

HABITAT: All areas of Georgia, South Carolina

HOME RANGE: 2 to 20 square miles

LITTER SIZE: 5 to 7 pups, born in spring

Source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; Ga. Department of Natural Resources

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KSL
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KSL 03/09/10 - 08:16 pm
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Do they actually have any

Do they actually have any natural enemies around here?

KSL
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KSL 03/09/10 - 08:25 pm
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Other than humans. We don't

Other than humans. We don't have a lot of bears and mountain lions.

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 03/09/10 - 08:41 pm
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Nat asks; "{ I am genuinely

Nat asks; "{ I am genuinely curious about this,} are coyotes a real problem here in the CSRA as far as needing to "thin them out," so to speak?"
___________________

Nat, from personal experience, the only real problem is proliferation. Once they inhabit and multiply, they are a threat to wild turkeys, quail, and other small game, to include fawns, dogs and cats. Where I come from in Kansas, they offer bounties on them when they become too plentiful, because of the reasons stated above. They are a threat to pheasants, which we have few of, and they will get rabies. If we had the numbers of coyotes that the Midwest has, then I would say they were a threat to our state, but they're just not that plentiful yet.

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 03/09/10 - 08:47 pm
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KSL, their only natural

KSL, their only natural enemies are us, and antlered deer. Just a note; when just two of them howl at night, or anytime, they sould like there are five or six of them howling at the same time. It's neat to hear them.

To agree with Glassrinkmaker, they will attack most small animals, and people, when they are rabid, or when they feel threatened.

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 03/09/10 - 08:55 pm
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Escuse me, if we had bear and

Escuse me, if we had bear and mountain lions, they are enemies too, but coyotes rarely go near them!

KSL
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KSL 03/09/10 - 09:00 pm
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We do have a few bears.

We do have a few bears.

glassrinkmaker
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glassrinkmaker 03/09/10 - 09:21 pm
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Coyotes will also breed with

Coyotes will also breed with domesticated dogs.

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 03/09/10 - 09:25 pm
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I do recall, KSL, and they

I do recall, KSL, and they were "shipped out" to other locations. I think some are drifting down from North Georgia, or crossing the river from SRP, but I don't think we have any permanent residents, at least that I know of, and I keep tabs on that because of wher our Grandsons live.
Wonder if George has ever seen one? He lives close to the Grandson!

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 03/09/10 - 09:27 pm
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Glass, forgive me from

Glass, forgive me from laughing, but I just had a vision of one trying to mate with my Grandson's 127 pound Great Dane. This pup isn't a dog, he's a horse in disguise! :o)

KSL
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KSL 03/09/10 - 09:37 pm
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A bear has been seen in

A bear has been seen in Aiken. Don't know if he was just a tourist. But he wasn't caught and relocated.

KSL
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KSL 03/09/10 - 09:38 pm
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My friend, The Madame, has

My friend, The Madame, has seen evidence of bears in the woods of Aiken County.

glassrinkmaker
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glassrinkmaker 03/09/10 - 09:39 pm
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Sarge, I agree--it is mostly

Sarge, I agree--it is mostly with ferrel dogs!

glassrinkmaker
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glassrinkmaker 03/09/10 - 09:42 pm
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Sarge. did you ever have the

Sarge. did you ever have the pleasure to attend NTC in CA? The "song dogs", aka yodel dogs, would make their daily appearance in the "dustbowl" looking for scraps. You would see them all over Ft Irwin, including the housing area and the populated portions of the post.

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 03/09/10 - 10:07 pm
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Never had the pleasure,

Never had the pleasure, Glass. I retired in 1977, so if it was in existence then, I possibly could have. My Dad found an injured coyote on the riverbank, at his office on post at Fort Riley, and fed the animal back to health. It had been injured somehow, and Pop felt sorry for the thing, so he brought if food and water for weeks. When it was well, it limped off, looking back at Dad as if to say thanks. He showed up some weeks later, and sat staring at Dad's office, and when Dad went outside, he wagged his tail. That was the last time he ever saw his Friend. A friend of Dad's took a photo of him eating dogfood out of his bowl, but we never got copies. Shame, it would have been good to have!

Riverman1
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Riverman1 03/09/10 - 10:21 pm
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Glassrinkmaker, I had the

Glassrinkmaker, I had the displeasure of 5 "trips" to the NTC. I remember those dogs all over. Bicycle Lake, Dust Bowl and many places way out.

Nat the Cat
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Nat the Cat 03/09/10 - 10:37 pm
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Thank you all for your input

Thank you all for your input and stories concerning these creatures. Coyotes remind me somewhat of foxes {I don't know if they are related}, which I have seen, both red and silver, around the CSRA. Which brings me back to the scarcity of Coyotes in this area. Why would these Hunters go to the trouble of going out in the middle of the night loaded for bear, {no humor intended}, and be hunting Coyotes if they are not even around here, especially in packs, like wolves? What were their chances of killing one, much less even spotting one? Perhaps these Hunters knew of a particular Coyote that had attacked one of their pets or other animals? Otherwise, the Coyote hunt sounds......well, "Wiley!"

KSL
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KSL 03/09/10 - 10:30 pm
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I'll take a fox around my

I'll take a fox around my cats in my yard any day over a coyote. Foxes have never harmed one of my cats. And they have come face to face many times. I do suspect the raccoons and the foxes for the murder of my frogs.

Fiat_Lux
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Fiat_Lux 03/09/10 - 10:39 pm
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Nat, this incident didn't

Nat, this incident didn't happen in the CSRA. It was a ways west of us, about half way between Macon and Athens.

Nat the Cat
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Nat the Cat 03/09/10 - 11:24 pm
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comment removed by author.

comment removed by author.

KSL
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KSL 03/09/10 - 10:53 pm
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Nat, as a cat you should be

Nat, as a cat you should be supporting hunters of coyotes.

KSL
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KSL 03/09/10 - 10:53 pm
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And that statement has

And that statement has nothing to do with this particular tragic incident.

Fiat_Lux
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Fiat_Lux 03/09/10 - 11:00 pm
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It happened in Jasper County.

It happened in Jasper County.

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 03/09/10 - 11:31 pm
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Nat, some hunters like to

Nat, some hunters like to have a taxidermist mount them. They are beautiful animals. But to determine why these guys were specifically hunting coyotes, is anyone's guess They should be hunting wild hogs. Those are the biggest problem in south Georgia.

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 03/09/10 - 11:33 pm
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KSL, apparently, there is

KSL, apparently, there is "open season" on coyotes. That means, with a proper license, you can hunt them anytime. I haven't cleared the night hunting issue yet, but it's on my list of to do stuff!

Nat the Cat
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Nat the Cat 03/10/10 - 02:31 am
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For fear of getting caught up

For fear of getting caught up in the pro-choice, pro-life, Hunting Argument, I will attempt to be brief and to the point with my final comments regarding a very difficult and controversial subject:

This entire inexplicable, tragic incident seems so senseless and avoidable to me on both sides of the "hunting coin."

First, I support legal and legitimate hunting for game/sport, [and obviously, so did Mr. Upton], and I feel that this incident gives legitimate Hunters a "bad name." The modern sport of Hunting, since time began, serves a valuable social purpose--for food, furs, and population control such as Deer. And tragic accidents DO happen. although very rarely, while legitimate Hunting is taking place, even Hunting involving very skilled and seasoned Hunters.

But for two men, even though it is apparently Legal to do so {and our Law should definitely be changed, NOW that someone has been shot to death}, to go out in the middle of the night {and I am not talking about shooting a chronic nuisance Coyote in the back yard that has been killing your pets and/or livestock}, to a National Forest without any type of Notice to anyone, for no other purpose but to kill an animal that is scarce in Middle Georgia, and not causing a Nusiance to anyone; an animal that has no food value, fur value, or any value whatsoever; that these Hunters would just leave there dead, to rot, except to stuff so as to admire their trophy and superiority with a rifle from time to time, seems completely senseless, non-legitimate, and easily avoidable to me. [My Opinion]

And more importantly, the stark reality of all of this useless so-called "hunting" resulted in the senseless death of a human being, a 37 year-old Husband and Father of a 4 year-old, a good man...... whom his daughter will never see again.
And not quite as sad, is that the dreaded and feared Coyote lives on for others to go out at night and attempt to erradicate! After all, it's Legal isn't it?

That, my friends, is a true shame.

KSL
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KSL 03/10/10 - 12:18 am
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Sarge, what is the thinking

Sarge, what is the thinking behind the open season on hunting of coyotes, including night hunting?

KSL
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KSL 03/10/10 - 12:21 am
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By the way, I am a hypocrite.

By the way, I am a hypocrite. I will gladly eat meat, but I would probably starve if I had to provide it for myself. When we go fishing, I will sit and watch you guys catch 'em.

glassrinkmaker
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glassrinkmaker 03/10/10 - 07:58 am
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Coyotes, also are reducing

Coyotes, also are reducing the red fox populations. I don't know if it is because they are killing them or depleting the fox's food sources. Nat, i live about 60 miles south of Augusta, and believe me--we have plenty.

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 03/10/10 - 07:56 pm
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Hi folks, sorry for being

Hi folks, sorry for being late, I was tied up with the VA and doctors all day. Anyone heard from CobaltGeorge lately? Let me know!

KSL, normally, animals not considered game, may be taken all year long. Each state has their own regulations governing night hunting. If Coyotes had some value for conservation, food, fur, or anything that would make them a consumable product of any kind, the DNR would probably put a season limit and numbers allowed to be taken. To date, coyotes are just a nuisance, that unchecked, could get out of hand, like the wild hogs around Abbyville, Ga. and Texas.

The night hunting aspect is possibly due to the fact that coyotes nocturnal and do most of their hunting and roaming at night.

Nat, your 1:31AM was a super post! I did a short research and found that so far, Mr. Upton was the only person killed by a hunting accident involving another hunter using a firearm, in the past year, up to his recent death. I am presently looking for that report, and will post it as soon as I locate it. It's not good that this tragedy happened, but the statistics have improved, which is a good sign.

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 03/10/10 - 08:09 pm
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O.K., according to this

O.K., according to this article, the total accidental shooting deaths are three, per this article by Mr. Pavey;

http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2009/12/13/pav_559283.shtml

It should be noted, that there are over 200,000 licensed hunters in Georgia. The majority are responsible hunters. For further information on Georgia Hunting and Fishing reg., look here;

http://pub.jfgriffin.com/doc/jfgriffin/09GAHD/2009072301/

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