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spectr17
11-25-2002, 08:41 PM
Hunter wounds girl on Appalachian Trail

Cartersville teen shot in the chest

Christopher Quinn, Atlanta Journal Constitution

November 25, 2002

A deer hunter accidentally shot a Cartersville teenager camping along a popular section of the Appalachian Trail early Sunday.

Rachel Ferguson, who turned 16 in October, was flown from Union County near North Carolina to St. Joseph's Hospital of Atlanta, said Sgt. Johnny Johnson with the state Department of Natural Resources.

Rachel was listed in serious but stable condition Sunday night, a hospital spokeswoman said. Her grandmother, Betty Ferguson of Cartersville, said Sunday night, "The way I understand it, it's guarded, but she's in fair shape."

Rangers and Union County deputies were investigating the shooting. The hunter, Matthew Bryant, 21, of Union County, has not been charged.

Rachel was with a group of about 15, including adults and other teens, who had hiked in along the Appalachian Trail and camped Saturday night, Johnson said.

The area near Neel's Gap, in the Chattahoochee National Forest, may be the most popular along the trail in Georgia, according to some hiking guides, because of spectacular views.

As dawn was breaking about 6:45 a.m., Rachel left the campsite and walked about 200 feet. It was unknown why she was out, Johnson said.

The hunter had entered the area on a dirt road that crosses the Appalachian Trail.

Johnson said the hunter was about 220 feet from what he believed to be a deer and fired a shot from a .243-caliber rifle. The shot hit the girl.

Hunters' excitement can lead to mistakes, Johnson said.

"The mind's eye can create what the hunter wants," he said.

A member of the badly shaken group called 911 on a cellphone, Johnson said.

Ernie Pruitt and other Union County Emergency Management Agency workers had to drive about seven miles on the dirt road to reach Rachel.

Pruitt, the agency's assistant director, said it took about 30 minutes to get there. When they arrived, he was surprised by the girl's spirit. She was conscious and talking.

The campers and hunter had given first aid and put a bandage on the single gunshot wound to the chest.

She seemed excited about taking a helicopter ride out, Pruitt said.

Pruitt and his workers put her in an ambulance and took her to a nearby school to meet the chopper.

The national forest contains 746,689 acres and gets more than 10 million visits a year from hunters, hikers, fisherman, rock climbers and picnickers.

Beth Brown, a Department of National Resources spokeswoman, said the forest is open to all users. The DNR encourages those in the forest during hunting season to wear bright colors and make noise.

Johnson said, "Regardless of what she had on, a person who hunts has the responsibility to identify the game he is shooting at."

It's not unusual for hikers to use the 530 miles of trails in the national forest during hunting season, he said.

Many people come from all over the nation to hike the famous trail, not realizing that hunting season is in, he said.

A DNR Web site says the state averages eight accidental fatal shootings by hunters each year, but all the victims since 1979 have been self-inflicted or other hunters.

Deer hunting season in the Chattahoochee National Forest ends Jan. 1.