USDA Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Killed in Accidental Shooting

USDA Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Killed in Accidental Shooting
The following is a joint release from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division and the USDA, Forest Service.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Monticello, GA –-( A USDA Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer was fatally shot Friday, March 5, at the Ocmulgee Bluff Equestrian Recreation Area on the Oconee Ranger District of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Jasper County.

The officer, Christopher Arby Upton, 37, of Monroe, GA, was on routine patrol in the area about 11 p.m. Two individuals were hunting coyote with a high-powered rifle equipped with night vision and apparently mistook the officer for game. After the shooting, the hunters dialed 911 and reported a hunting incident.

“This is a tragic incident where the loss of a Federal officer’s life could have been avoided,” said Steven Ruppert, Special Agent-in-Charge for the Southern Region of the Forest Service. “This is a devastating loss for Chris’ family, our agency, other law enforcement officers and his friends and neighbors in Monroe.

“All of our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” Ruppert said. “The standard procedure for a hunter is to identify your target and then shoot,” said Homer Bryson, Law Enforcement Colonel for Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Resources Division (WRD). “The hunter failed to do this, and mistook the officer for game. He then shot and instantly killed the officer.”

The shooter, Norman Clinton Hale, 40, McDonough, GA, and an observer, Clifford Allen McGouirk, 41, of Jackson, GA, were hunting coyotes. The incident investigation is being conducted jointly by the Forest Service and GDNR WRD and is ongoing.

Upton, a 4-year veteran of the Forest Service, had previously worked as a game warden for the Department of Defense, US Marine Corps, at Beaufort, South Carolina, and as a conservation officer, 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. Arrangements are pending.

  • 42 thoughts on “USDA Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Killed in Accidental Shooting

    1. Not that anyone still reads this article, but thought I would provide an update on Mr. Hale and his deplorable actions. I clearly retract my previous statement that “he may in fact be a great man.” I feel empathy for those friends who defended him and now realize the full extent of his actions that awful March night.
      And for those of you who have chosen to attack Officer Upton, may you never have to know the pain that exists without him here.
      Rest in Peace, Chris.

    2. No, I wasn’t there. But, anyone with sense enough to breathe can’t possibly confuse a two-legged, 6-foot tall human with a four-legged coyote. In a stretch I can see mistaking the neighbor’s terrier. What was the officer doing?… wearing a fur suit and crawling around on all fours.?

      This is not an accident… it isn’t possible. At the very least it is gross negligence bordering on intentional murder.

    3. It amazes me that so many people think they know what really happened that night. All of the sudden everyone is an expert.

    4. David more strict safety measures, you are blinded…. I am a LEO and hope you have since moved on. He was doing his job the one I’m sure he loved. Should be rules about driving on Public Roads too b/c possibly of encountering a drunk driver o even better a deer. Point made I hope. And if you were an LEO you should know that lesser things can get you killed “game violation notice” please…. Inherently dangerous job and I speak for myself and possibly others when I say it’s not a job but a way of “life”. “Held in trust for the people by the Government” not just a game violation it is a small part of a much bigger picture that you or I alone cannot protect.

    5. There are already laws in place and more “laws “will not make anything better.I am a former LEO,but I am not blinded by this.This whole situation is very said and my prayers go out to BOTH sides.Nobody is perfect.People make mistakes everyday.Those who say the shooter should get the death penalty should really be ashamed.There were mistakes made on both sides.Maybe night hunting on “public” land should be stopped,it’s to hard to insure your target is what it is supposed to be.The USDA and DNR are partly resonsible for the officers death.He should have never gone out in the woods after dark w/o making his self clearly visible knowing hunters are present.The officer knew the risk and could have made different choices that night like waiting till the hunters came out of the woods to check there permits and licenses.If he was really in the prone position or on his hands and knees,I’m sure he looked just like a coyote through night vison.Most of you people have already convicted this man for something that was mostly Not entirely his fault.I blame the USDA for not implementing more strict safety measures for their officers to adhere to.An officers life is not worth the revenue of a game violation ticket.

    6. What a horrible tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers should be with this public servant’s family, friends, and colleagues. When will people stop equating responsible firearms training, testing, and licensing requirements with total loss of gun rights? The former protects everyone and preserves gun rights – the latter is exploitative hyperbole from moral criminals like the NRA. Sportsmen and rural Americas are smarter than conservative political organizations give us credit for – it’s past time we stop letting them put ignorant words in our mouths and stand up for responsible gun laws.

    7. we lay our beloved chris to rest today may all you prayers be with his wife and daughter today for this is a very sad time i really wish that all of us not bash the officer or the two hunters anymore chris was my cousin and i am deeply hurt by this and will truley miss him but as for the hunters justice will be done and the whole truth will come out when they are fully investigated i believe they are guilty in part but that is my thought but i am related to chris i know the familys of the hunters are hurting to but for everyones sake let the truth be told and all the truth out so we can get on. i know the hunters are hurting but at least they get to go to bed at night in their beds and wake up and hold their loved ones chris can not so just remeber that

    8. Hilary, have you heard from any of the folks that know the shooter? by all accounts he is a law abiding sportsmen and a good and decent man. Not a criminal act but an accident.

    9. 25 to life would make me happy for this pair of fools…it never is or was a gun problem… just a criminal problem…jail and the death penality solves the problem…

    10. I have taken my time in posting this because I had an incident with Ranger Upton 3 years ago that resulted in my filing a complaint against him with the USDA . During this incident he was not very professional and spiritually I am having a hard time with this because of the anger I had towards this officer who is now deceased. The reason I write this is because of the people calling for the head of this hunter, while identifying your target is without a doubt the utmost responsibility of the shooter you have to understand that an officer creeping up on coyote hunters on a pitch-black night is just madness and part of the blame has to lie with this officers superiors who KNEW (because I informed them) of this particular officers unsafe tactics and the write-a-ticket at all costs attitude he had. I hate that this had to happen to this officers family and to the shooters family as this will forever change their lives but you have to draw a line somewhere on safety. Officer Uptons disrespect of me and the unprofessional actions he took 3 years ago are now just water under the bridge and I pray for his family and neighbors (my son being one of them) to somehow overcome the loss of someone they respected and loved.

    11. A few comments.

      1) A CHRIS above mentioned (March 7th, 12:54 PM reply) this, “When you night hunt, which is legal, you have to shoot at the eyes of the target reflecting back at you.” Chris a human eyes do NOT glow nor “reflect” in the dark when hit by light like animal eyes do…..try it if you don’t believe me.

      2) In general, to even try and justify this as an accident where everyone SHOULD move on is ludicrous…..Even if legally hunting at night, if you mistake a 190 lb man for a 30 lb coyote, there is a problem there……

      3) All ethical hunters HAVE TO know there target before they shoot…….That is a rule you DON’T break.

      4) If the shooter tries to use the excuse that he saw “glowing eyes” and therefore thought it was a coyote, he should be tried for murder in the 2nd degree, not manslaughter!! Cuase obviously he would be lying. (See comment #1)

      5) I have missed on opportunities in my life at antlered animals becasue I was in an antlered only area but could not see antlers so I passed on the shot, only to discover they were legal antlered animals….but I could NOT identify that! And this was in the daytime!!

      6) What kind of crappy equipment was the shooter using if he couldn’t differentiate between a coyote and a man at night? Does Georgia just allow anyone to run amok, at night, with any kind of equipment, adequate or not?!!?

      This is a travesty……..something needs to be done to the shooter that sends a loud and clear message!

    12. it is against the law to hunt a night for any thang expect for racoons and u can not use night vision im a retired ga dnr officer

    13. Absolutely no excuse. None. I have NEVER had an accidental disharge, never accidentaly shot the wrong animal. There are no accidents when it comes to guns and safety. I dont care why a shooting happens, its not an accident. You accidentally pull the trigger? B.S. Why was your finger on the trigger unless you are ready to shoot? It just went off!! B.S. Why wasnt your muzzle pointed in a safe direction and the gun not loaded until you are in your hunting area? AND he had a night vision optic? WOW! The first gen night vision was bad, but you could still make out the human silhouette. But the gen NV after those became nothing but clearer and better. This is just B.S. This officer lost his life because of the “if its brown its down” mentality. I am a huge gun advocate, but I was raised with NO tolerance for the misuse of a firearm.

    14. Matt, go back and read what “Just lookin’ at both sides” had to say, the officer was lying on the ground. I feel so bad for all involved! Clint is a good man too.

    15. Was the officer crawling around on all fours with a dog suit on? No!

      The hunter was negligent and it cost a child their father who is irreplaceable.

      He deserves to go to jail for life but he’ll probably get off and live free while someone who served his country with honor lies in the cold ground, his family left to wonder why?

    16. I never met Chris, but knew first hand how caring a man he really was. Being an outsider, I only know how he continually cared for my brother who is homeless due to losing his job, etc….and was living in a camper where Chris patrolled. Chris met my brother and assured him things would turn around and not to worry about having to leave the site where he was. He told my brother that he would come out and check on him from time to time to make sure he was ok and didn’t need anything…water, etc… He actually took him a tin of cookies for Christmas. Patted him on the shoulder and told him not to worry. Chris seemed to be a caring and wonderful person. He did exactly what he told my brother he would do. My brother felt safe that if anything was to happen to him, that Chris would find him. That was a relief in itself.
      Chris, I know you had to be a fine man, Christian beliefs, and a caring person to do the things you did. You are in a better place but am so sad for your family. Your wife, child and family are in our prayers. God Bless you. You are truly an ANGEL and I know you are looking down on us. God Bless You

    17. I am not against hunting or for gun control. However, if you are holding a lethal weapon with the specific purpose of killing you have an increased responsibility to make sure of your target. When you know that when you aim, pull the trigger and hit your target, a living creature is going to die, then the bar of due diligence is raised. Especially at night when you know that your vision is compromised. Hunters are not the only ones with the right to be in the woods. Law enforcement for one, campers for another. This was not an “accident”. It may have been a “mistake” but not an accident. For any hunter to defend this mistake does nothing to further the cause of hunters. Coyote hunting is a hobby and your hobby should not make someone else a widow. When weighing life and death decisions, it is the hunters responsibility to let one get away rather than shoot at a target they are not 100% sure of. Not 99% sure, 100% sure. Last time I checked, coyotes are not the only creature with eyes.

    18. Charlie you are wrong. You can hunt coyotes at night and you can use night vision. Just because you have hunted all your life does not mean you know all the rules. Read the regulations. If it was illegal the two would have been arrested that night. Get a grip. DNR does not let you walk away after that if you have been drinking, on drugs, or doing anything against the law.
      People love to second guess people without the facts. The hunters were hunting legally. They had loud calls they were playing again and again. The DNR officer was lying on the ground watching them for some time. The hunter saw the reflection of eye, due to the fact of the officer using night vision binoculars. He knew they were hunting. At that time the hunters watched the eyes look at them and then away, just like a coyote. Human eyes do not reflect light that way. If the officer would have been wearing some reflective clothing or identified himself or stud up, the shot would have never been taken. For the sake of other officers the DNR need to find away to help identify them as human and not give every sign of the pray being legally hunted. THIS WAS AN ACCIDENT. As for those of you calling for the hunter’s head, I hope you or your children never cause an accident hunting or in a car. Because you think all accidents can be avoided by a Monday morning quarterbacking and should be punished to the fullest. No charges have been filed. So much for innocent until proven guilty. God help us if you have your way and punish a man that made a true mistake, while legally hunting.

    19. the 2 hunters should go to jail for life the only thang u can hunt in ga at night is racoons that is all and u r not allowed to use a night vision scope either and u can tell the differnce between a man and a dog so they hunters were wtong and hsould be tookin to jail i have been hunting in ga since i have be old enought to hunt my prayers go out to family of the officer

    20. I have known Clint for multiple years now – I work with him and have found him to posses an honorable soul. He is one of the most responsible people that I know.

      The most presious entity that I have in this world is my 14 year old son. He has recently expressed an interest in learning to hunt. Clint is one of only 3 or 4 people on this planet that I would trust to take him hunting. This is a terrible accident and only God understands why such things occure. Pray for all parties.

    21. this was a terrible accident for sure. could it have been avoided, Yes! by hunter and leo and the department. next time you drive a car be careful that you dont fail into some terrible accident yourself, a moment looking at your radio,backing out of the drive way, talking on your cell phone or even daydreaming or sleepy. there are so many accidents and mistaken identiy that happens be careful on who u condemn. i police officer a few months ago accident killed a fellow policemen in az state. family members have backed over their kids, and or brother or sisters. soldiers are involved in freedily fire issues. an older guy accidently shot his soon to be wife thinking she was a intruder in his home. and i can go on and im sure so can some of you. why was he walking around so quite in the woods? with bears,mtn lions and whatever else u can come across out there who knows what can happen. Maybe the department should have a new policy,unless your intently sneaking up on a poucher or bad guy, maybe it wouldnt be a bad idea if u put on a reflective vest or have a light on. these guys could have done something to hide the evidence, pls i dont want to mention the details but they didnt hide any thing and called 911. that lady who was on american idol had a minor accident on the freeway and fled the scene, these guys did the right thing. it is a very tragic accident one for which i think mistakes were done on both sides, u ride a bike and u expect to crash, u go out in the woods where hunting/night hunting is legal dont be caught off guard period

    22. One comment. No sympathy for the man behind the trigger. He pulled it. He killed another. He deserves the maximum sentence behind bars. No sympathy. Just justice.

    23. I agree with Amy I’m not lashing out at any one it is not my place. I just think there is more to the story accident or not we will truely never know, and one day we will all have to make peace with god. May my cousin rest in peace and his memory truely be honered in the matter it should. For the hunters involved I hope it was truely a accident and that you can make peace with what has happened cause this is something you can never forget but one day find forgivness.Chris Upton’s memory needs to be honored and cherished by all that loved and knew him. R.I.P. officer Chris Upton

    24. This was the exact reason I suppose I hesitated even commenting on this article, but felt it was important to at least make known what a loss it is with Chris gone. I feel everyone is all too apt to defend “hunters” and the “right to bear arms” argument when forgetting the real tragedy here.

      I realize that some of my family have lashed out against Mr. Hale in their sorrow. I do not wish to attack his character, for it is something I know nothing of. But the fact remains – however tortured his heart may be, he still gets to see his children grow up. We are not sitting in judgement, or at least I myself am not. I am not judging his heart and I don’t think anything said on here portrays that. God is the only judge of that – I am sure he is a great man. But I will not apologize for asking for him to be held accountable to his negligence. It is not a judgement against him as a person – let’s not confuse the two. As I said previously, accountability is not absolved by not intending to do it.

      I will not comment anymore on this article as I feel it has become a lashing out of people who are obviously feeling sorrow from both sides of the issue. It is a disgrace to Chris’s memory to have this argument on a freakin’ website.

      Just remember – one man is alive and will have years to make peace with what has happened. Another will never have that chance. That in and of itself is my main point.

    25. I want to say I am truly sorry for Chris’s family. I am sure he was a wonderful and doting father and husband. I am also sorry for Clint’s family. He too I hear is a doting father and husband. I too lost my father at age 14. Its a tragic loss but we are taught to forgive and pray for those of us who are left here to deal with the mess. Chris’s young daughter can hear wonderful stories about her daddy and know she was loved. I love for my mom to tell me stories of my father. On the other hand there is a man alive, suffering, and will probably never forgive himself for something he would never intentionally do. I hear both men were and are wonderful individuals and I feel sorry for all the people that have posted comments judging Clint. You are the one that will have to stand in judgement one day because this is not what god teaches us. No one on this earth should judge another person. No matter how you look at this……it is truly a horrible accident and my heart goes out to both families. They need all the love and support they can get from their friends and families at this time.

    26. Amy Said

      “We all must be held accountable for our actions. Years of being a “safe” hunter does not give anyone a “free pass” to make a tragic and careless mistake. EVER. Much like the “safe” driver who CHOOSES to drive drunk one night and as a result may take the life of another. While perhaps unintentional, the fact remains that a CHOICE was made and as a result tragic consequences occur. Accountability is not absolved by “not meaning to do it.”’

      Well Amy I lost my wife years ago to a mistake a doctor made. Is that the same as a drunk driver???? I also hunt and the thought of a person showing up in the area you are varmint hunting at 11:00 pm does not happen often. The chance of that person wearing night vision goggles that reflect the light from your scope the same way a coyotes eyes would are next to impossible. I feel for the family of this officer. I still think any officer would say that try as you may mistakes happen. Clint does not get a “free pass”. He has to live with this the rest of his life. The “what if” questions will haunt him forever. He is a man with a big heart that is the type of person that would have traded places with Chris if he could. Clint is the type of guy that would lay his life down for a friend. I know you as family and friends are hurting. It is normal to lash out at the person that you think is at fault. But before you stand in judgment just remember but for the grace of God go you. Things in life happen. You could be the person that takes his/her eyes off the road for a second to text or answer a call and end someone’s life. Two families are suffering here. Chris and Clint met in the worst accident I have heard of in years. We should be praying for both families and not waiting to cast the first stone. O how easy it is to second guess the actions of another when we know the outcome.

    27. i feel that this was no accident i 35 yrs of age have hunted all my life always knew what i was shootin i havnt talked much with my cousin chris much since we were kids i feel bad for that at this tim of need for family and friends my heart goes out to jessica and daughter in which i hav yet met yet i hope that one day i may and let her know how her father was as a cousin my heart also goes out to other family members who i hav nt seen or met in the last 20 yrs as for the 2 guys that did this tradgic thing i hav used nite vison optics u know what ur shootin and i think the judge and jury need to find a tall tree and short peice of rope

    28. When I heard of this tragedy I was not much involved as most of the time until I read the internet about who it was that did the shooting. I do know Clint Hale and do not know the officer. Ths is sad and I listened to Clint and what he had to say. He is in a condition I have never seen him in before over this. He cried the whole time he was talking to me about this and was so overcome with grief. Clint is a good hearted man with good family values. He told me the whole story of this accident and though he slipped on his duty to identify, I know how coyote hunting is. I have had coyotes standing in the woods with eyes glowing and yet I would not shoot them until I see hair, that is me. I know that sometimes people get caught up with anxiety over what they are doing while hunting. We all hurt from these types accidents and My heart is sad for the little girl and I know Clint feels the same way about what he has done. We can’t bring it back and undo it but we can learn from it and build better ways of policing for safety. In my eyes there are no deer, bears or ducks worth a man’s life. I have had warden’s walk up on me and scare the ever living out of me. I question the methods that are demanded of investigating a hunter. I really think that DNR needs to overhaul its way of jeopardizing their officers lives over making an arrest. Safety first on both parts. My prayers to the officers family and the hunters family.

    29. chris was my cousin and even though we did not keep in touch like we should i truely regret it cause now i can not ever tell him how proud of him i am. His loss is truely a tragedy that should have never happened. I am a hunter and ther is now way this would of happened if they would of been truely following safety. I believe in my heart that there is more to the story even though they called 911 they were up to no good and were about to get caught and did not think of the result of their actions until it was to late and then and only then they realized what they had done. My heart and prayers go out to his wife of 18 years and their beatiful little daughter, but for what really went on that night we will never truely know because we have lost chris. For the other two guys that took his life I feel sorry for them on judgment day when they have to answer to the lord and justice will truely be served.

    30. The loss of Chris’ life has left a gaping hole in our family’s heart that will be everlasting. We are grieving the loss of a man who was a great friend, husband and father. His beautiful wife and precious daughter now have to face a future without him in it. You have never seen a man more in love with his daughter than Chris – she was his world. The thought of her growing up without her Daddy haunts me.
      However “accidental” the shooter may claim the incident was, the fact remains that a moment of recklessness cost a dear man his life.
      I do feel for the shooter, and I have prayed from the moment this happened for God to give me mercy and compassion in my heart towards him. I hope in the deepest part of my heart that this was truly unintentional, but that does not absolve anyone from accountability. We all must be held accountable for our actions. Years of being a “safe” hunter does not give anyone a “free pass” to make a tragic and careless mistake. EVER. Much like the “safe” driver who CHOOSES to drive drunk one night and as a result may take the life of another. While perhaps unintentional, the fact remains that a CHOICE was made and as a result tragic consequences occur. Accountability is not absolved by “not meaning to do it.”
      I will not get into my feelings on gun control here, as I realize not many of you would not agree with me. And that is okay. I would simply make this argument – if you have ever lost someone you love at the hands of another who was reckless with a gun, wielding the power of life and death over another in their moment of stupidity – perhaps then your opinion on the matter would change.
      Those are all issues that are irrelevant, however. The greatest thing we could ask for is your prayers. Let us not lose sight of the real issue at hand – a great man is now gone. Rest In Peace, our dear Chris.

    31. “you have to shoot” “accident” I don’t see any reason you would have to shot or how this would be an accident. “The best job he could to identify his target” wasn’t good enough. You know your target or you don’t and a good ethical hunter would have known but 20/20 means nothing in the end. I pray for all parties involved and support the Officer’s Family, Friends, and Agency fully.
      This act was reckless and avoidable.

    32. I just found out about this. My thoughts and prayers are with the family.
      I know Clint personally. He is an ethical hunter. He is a family man and a good person. Accidents happen. They would have been hunting under legal parameters. This is a terrible accident. But I would encourage everyone to find out all the facts. When you night hunt, which is legal, you have to shoot at the eyes of the target reflecting back at you. I know the Officer was doing his job and I respect that but the hunter was also taking the best care he could to identify a non-moving target laying prone on the ground. This is once again a terrible accident, and I believe that is what this was. An Accident.

    33. I did not know chris personnally only in passing. I did not know the hunters or what type of people they are. I do know that we as LEO’s do a job that know wants to do. We work hard, long hours and alone protecting the land and it’s people. We are hated by most and disliked by all.

      His death was senseless and avoidable. These men are of low class and diserve all that the courts can throw at then and the harshest punishment is what they diserve.

      My prayers and thoughts go out to the family of Officer Chris Upton.

    34. Chris was my nephew and I loved him like a son. His smile, his sense of humor, and his love of his family made him one of the treasures of life. I will surely miss him.

      My daughter and I was talking today & she mentioned that she was going to join the anti-gun movement. I told her that it had nothing to do with the gun, it had to do with the person using the gun.

      I can not understand the stupidity of someone with a scope on a rifle, shooting a person, thinking it was game; especially a coyote.

      I hope the shooter serves the maximum time for man-slaughter you can get. Someone that stupid does not belong on the street, or in society.

      1. You have our deepest condolences and the support of the Ammoland community, our hope is that all hunters learn through this tragedy so that your nephews loss becomes a stark reminder that we all need to religiously follow the simple rules of hunter safety.

        Fredy – AmmoLand Editor

    35. This was my family so I Agree with you guys if you dont know what you are shooting then You should not shoot. I lost my wonderful cousing because of these idiots. You had no right to take him away from us in this way!!!! Now his beautiful daughter Annabella and his wife Jessica there hearts and the rest of our families heart will forever have a missing part!!!! I hope you spend the rest of your lives seeing there faces and his in your every waking moment and in your nightmares at night!!!

    36. I agree a lot of hunters mix alcohol while hunting, and then cry foul that the “gov’t” is taking away their rights. I hope this shooter frys, he has no business owning any weapons.

    37. Accidental my ass. You gun XXXX [editorial edit for hate speech policy violation] need to get a grip and stop defending idiots who shouold not be out of sight of their momma.

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