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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Nat the Cat
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Nat the Cat 03/10/10 - 08:25 pm
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Thank you very much, Sarge.

Thank you very much, Sarge. I also referred to the wild hog problem that you mentioned in yet another tragic accident which occurred in the past couple of days. Mr. Pavey has even taken note of this phenominom in a separate article posted just a little while ago.

christian1234
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christian1234 03/14/10 - 09:45 pm
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Wow - lots of childishness in

Wow - lots of childishness in the comments. My sympathy to both families, the Ranger's and the Hunter and his'. Smarternu - YOU DO NOT KNOW ALL THE FACTS BECAUSE YOU WERE NOT THERE. Your anger is understood. Your commitment to blame is not. IF you had the ability to look at this situation without prejudice, without anger...you could perhaps have a respectable conversation. If the hunters were there legally (and the first reports indicate they were), if they carried the appropriate licenses (and the first reports indicate they did), if the hunters identified what they thought was an animal based on previous shoots with colors of eyes, position on the ground, whatever their experience - then what crime should they be prosecuted to "the fullest extent of the law" for? Are you capable of understanding the devastation of the incident from the point of view of the hunter? I can answer that for you because I am smarter than you - and that's "NO" - you are only capable of judging - without the entire and complete story - and you will never have that because you were not there.

My profession sees the criminal side of life every single day. There are hundreds of hunting tragedies every year in this country. They are just that - they are tragedies. The men and women that go out to hunt legally, respectfully and with all the appropriate equipment and provisions - do so without any criminal intent in mind. Generally speaking there is always a lesson to be learned from both sides. If you do the research, I think you'll find there are very few - if any - cases where a Forest Ranger was walking and/or crawling toward the hunters while wearing any kind of night vision - albeit binoculars or NV.

Lesson one - more restrictions for hunters...
Lesson two - Law Enforcement of Any Type - IDENTIFY YOURSELF WHEN ENTERING A ZONE WHERE HUNTERS ARE (Hunter = Weapon)

Let's start there shall we - and maybe we'll all be smarter!

christian1234
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christian1234 03/14/10 - 10:08 pm
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Saregbaby and others... Not

Saregbaby and others...

Not sure why you all continued the back-forth with Mr. Smarternu! First, to anyone who has served in any branch of the Armed Services - Thank You. I would hope that the internal truths of your calling would allow you to back away from this person. This site originated for comments about the shooting of Mr. C. Upton. I've read all of the comments and see how far away many of them are from what is important. I posted my thoughts about Mr. Smarternu on another posting as he is disrespectful to all of you and doesn't deserve your continued comments - but also posted a soft message for all of us in that NONE of us have all the facts about this situation because NONE of us were there. What is rather sad is that while many paid tribute to Mr. Upton and his family - there's no sign of concern for the hunters. None of us can know (I hope) the devastation that both sides of this story must be going through. Mr. Smarternu is a perfect example of a human being that is incapable of looking at this situation without prejudice. He is the last man/woman on the planet you would want on a jury. He is the last person you would want as your doctor making a final decision about your life - as he will do so without all the facts, all the info, and simply based on quick anger and his version of uncommon sense. His mind is made up from reading media reports. Perhaps he knows the Ranger's family or even the Ranger. Perhaps he hates hunters. Who knows - and really, who should care. Mr. Smarternu will appear just that if you all continue to debate him by using his own recipe...childishness. No need to respond for my benefit - as I won't be back on this site. Hopefully, additional comments will be to pay tribute to the man and his family - Upton, and to pray also for the hunter's families as I'm quite certain their lives are forever changed as well. Good evening.

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