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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hunter in forest shoots ranger mistaken for coyote

A few months ago the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the following:

"A U.S. Forest Service ranger was shot and killed in middle Georgia by a hunter who apparently mistook the ranger for a coyote."

Officer Christoper Arby Upton, 37, was on routine patrol in the Ocmulgee Bluff Equestrian Recreation Area in Jasper County on March 5, 2010 at 11:00 pm when he was shot by a 40-year-old hunter, who, along with a companion, were hunting coyote in the area. The hunters were using high-powered rifles equipped with night vision.

"The standard procedure for a hunter is to identify your target and then shoot," said Homer Bryson, Law Enforcement Colonel for Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division, "The hunter failed to do this and mistook the officer for game. He then shot and instantly killed the officer."

The U.S. Forest Service and the state Department of Natural Resources are investigating the incident.

I'm not sure how often hunting accidents occur in Georgia or elsewhere, but it raises a red flag to RVers that routinely boondock or camp in the national forests. Maybe there aren't a lot of hunters prowling the woods that can't tell a ranger from a coyote, but I still don't like the odds. Not all hunters are reckless or irresponsible--in fact, most are not--but I'm sure there are some that are, and I don't know how to tell the difference. And I do have a couple of personal experiences.

My wife felt threatened when running on a trail in a forest in Mississippi by three hunters who told her she shouldn't be on that trail scaring deer away. We packed up and left.

At a forest service campground in the national forest above the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, we were sitting at our campfire in the late afternoon when a bow hunter walked right through our campsite saying he thought he had seen a buck nearby.

As hunting season approaches, you might want to alter your boondocking plans to avoid hunting areas. However, if you do camp in the national forests, the following suggestions might save you from also being mistaken for a coyote, or deer, or anything else that hunters shoot at.

  • Learn when hunting seasons are in the area where you boondock.
  • Avoid camping in national forests during hunting season if possible.
  • If you do camp, when straying from your hopefully obvious campsite (not mistaken for a coyote den) on a hike or walk, wear a bright orange hunter's vest or jacket and cap. You can find these cheap safety items at any outdoor store. Hunters don't tend to shoot each other.
  • If you see or hear hunters nearby, call out so they know you are present. Do not howl at them.
  • Head in the opposite direction and tell them which direction you are going.
  • Avoid your morning or evening run through the woods as you may be mistaken for something other than a human runner--and it excites the chase mode in hunting dogs.
  • If there are a lot of hunters (more than one) in the area, pack up and move.
  • Camp on the edges of the national forest if possible, where hunters will be more scarce.
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