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A ranger’s life is dangerous business: Between a savage wilderness, sometimes savage people, and blind bad luck, there’s a lot of ways things can go wrong. Case in point: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service officer Christopher Upton, 37, was shot and killed on Friday night while patrolling a stretch of Georgia’s Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. Hunters mistook Upton for a coyote.
While looking through the night-vision scopes on their high-powered rifles, two hunters saw the reflection in Upton’s binoculars and believed them to be the reflection of a coyote’s eyes. One fired and discovered he’d shot Upton, who was killed instantly. He immediately called 911 and has been cooperating with authorities.
No charges have been filed yet, but law enforcement officials blame the hunters, who they believe failed to properly identify their target before firing. Coyotes are considered a nuisance species in Georgia, an hunting them year round and at night is legal. Steven Ruppert, special agent-in-charge for the Southern Region of the Forest Service, reminded employees of the constant danger they face in the field.
“We are all aware of the inherent risk and danger of this job. 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.”
This is the eighth hunting-incident fatality in Georgia this season. One other came from a “mistaken for game” incident, while the others came from a stroke, heart attack, rattlesnake bite, an accidental self-inflicted shooting, and two falls from deer stands.