USDA Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Christopher Upton, 37, was shot and killed by a hunter who was coyote hunting and mistook him for game at the Ocmulgee Bluff Equestrian Recreation Area in Jasper County, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
A USDA Forestry officer died after a hunter accidentally shot him.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources says 37-year-old Christopher Arby Upton was shot at the Ocmulgee Bluff Equestrian Recreation Area in Jasper County while on routine patrol Friday night.
Ranger First Class Wil Smith says Upton was working his routine shift, until two men hunting coyote in the same area, mistook him for their game.
"It really brings those thoughts to the front of your mind," Smith said. "It makes you alert to the potential hazards in this job."
Smith says the shooter, 40-year-old Norman Clinton Hale of McDonough, did not identify what he was shooting at.
"In the dark, the night vision scope reflected in Officer Upton's eyes," says Smith. "It may have appeared that he was a coyote."
When working at night, rangers are not required to wear reflective clothing or any other equipment to help stand out in the darkness, said Smith.
"At times it's necessary for officers to be secluded whenever they're on patrol," said Smith, a DNR Ranger for 5-years. "Reflective garments aren't always a tool that we would use."
He says Upton was shot once and died instantly. Hale and his hunting partner, 41-year-old Clifford Allen McGouirk of Jackson dialed 911 and reported the incident.
Smith says as a state ranger, working near firearms at night is part of the job. He says it's up to the hunter to be sure exactly what's in his line of fire and beyond.
Hunter and horseback-rider Daniel Daughtry says it's a rule every hunter should know.
"That's why when you take your hunter safety course they teach you to know darn sure what you're shooting at before you squeeze the trigger," says Daughtry, who's visited the national forest for more than 12 years. "If you're not sure, it's just best to let the game go."
Smith says its a basic rule that was ignored in Upton's case, a mistake that cost a 4-year veteran of the Forest Service his life.
The U.S. Forest Service and the State DNR are still investigating the two hunters. No charges have been made.