Woman shoots drone: “It hovered for a second and I blasted it to smithereens.”

ArsTechnica – by CYRUS FARIVAR

With a single shotgun blast, a 65-year-old woman in rural northern Virginia recently shot down a drone flying over her property.

The woman, Jennifer Youngman, has lived in The Plains, Virginia, since 1990. The Fauquier Times first reported the June 2016 incident late last week. It marks the third such shooting that Ars has reported on in the last 15 months—last year, similar drone shootings took place in Kentucky and California.  

Youngman told Ars that she had just returned from church one Sunday morning and was cleaning her two shotguns—a .410 and a .20 gauge—on her porch. She had a clear view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and neighbor Robert Duvall’s property (yes, the same Robert Duvall from The Godfather). Youngman had seen two men set up a card table on what she described as a “turnaround place” on a country road adjacent to her house.

“I go on minding my business, working on my .410 shotgun and the next thing I know I hear ‘bzzzzz,’” she said. “This thing is going down through the field, and they’re buzzing like you would scaring the cows.”

Youngman explained that she grew up hunting and fishing in Virginia, and she was well-practiced at skeet and deer shooting.

“This drone disappeared over the trees and I was cleaning away, there must have been a five- or six-minute lapse, and I heard the ‘bzzzzz,’” she said, noting that she specifically used 7.5 birdshot. “I loaded my shotgun and took the safety off, and this thing came flying over my trees. I don’t know if they lost command or if they didn’t have good command, but the wind had picked up. It came over my airspace, 25 or 30 feet above my trees, and hovered for a second. I blasted it to smithereens.”

When the men began to walk towards her, she told them squarely: “The police are up here in The Plains and they are on their way and you need to leave.”

The men complied. “They got in their fancy ostentatious car—I don’t know if it was a Range Rover or a Hummer—and left,” she said. The Times said many locals believe the drone pilots may have been paparazzi or other celebrity spotters flying near Duvall’s property.

Youngman said that she recycled the drone but managed to still be irritated by the debris left behind. “I’ve had two punctures in my lawn tractor,” she said.

The Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office said it had no record of anyone formally complaining about this incident. When Ars asked if the office had heard of any other similar incidents in the region, Sgt. James Hartman replied: “It’s happened around the country but not in this region to my knowledge.”

A gray zone

For now, American law does not recognize the concept of aerial trespass. But as the consumer drone age has taken flight, legal scholars have increasingly wondered about this situation. The best case-law on the issue dates back to 1946, long before inexpensive consumer drones were technically feasible. That year, the Supreme Court ruled in a case known as United States v. Causby that a farmer in North Carolina could assert property rights up to 83 feet in the air.

In that case, American military aircraft were flying above his farm, disturbing his sleep and upsetting his chickens. As such, the court found he was owed compensation. However, the same decision also specifically mentioned a “minimum safe altitude of flight” at 500 feet—leaving the zone between 83 and 500 feet as a legal gray area. “The landowner owns at least as much of the space above the ground as he can occupy or use in connection with the land,” the court concluded.

Last year, a pilot in Stanislaus County, California, filed a small claims lawsuit against a neighbor who shot down his drone and won. However, it is not clear whether the pilot managed to collect. Similarly, a case ensued in Kentucky after a man shot down a drone that he believed was flying above his property. The shooter in that case, William Merideth, was cleared of local charges, including wanton endangerment.

But earlier this year, the Kentucky drone’s pilot, David Boggs, filed a lawsuit asking a federal court in Louisville to make a legal determination as to whether his drone’s flight constituted trespassing. Boggs asked the court to rule that there was no trespass and that he is therefore entitled to damages of $1,500 for his destroyed drone. The case is still pending.

Youngman said she believed in 2nd Amendment rights and also was irritated that people would try to disturb Duvall.

“The man is a national treasure and they should leave him the f#@k alone,” she said.

CYRUS FARIVAR  Cyrus is the Senior Business Editor at Ars Technica, and is also a radio producer and author. His first book, The Internet of Elsewhere, was published in April 2011.

EMAIL cyrus.farivar@arstechnica.com // TWITTER @cfarivar


12 thoughts on “Woman shoots drone: “It hovered for a second and I blasted it to smithereens.”

  1. These drones, flying over private property, are going to become a major issue as time goes on. If it happens over my farm, I’ll be one of the shooters. No questions, no compromise, no quarter.

  2. And yet the white house goes crazy when a drone flies past the fence. What double standard bs we have in this country.

  3. Nice shootin’, Granny.

    “For now, American law does not recognize the concept of aerial trespass.”

    That’s not true. Real estate developers in NYC are forced to purchase “air rights” from neighboring property owners if they want to put windows on the sides of a building, rather than only on the front and back. Once they own those air rights, the smaller building cannot be replaced by a bigger one that would block those windows.

    I know that doesn’t matter much in the world of drones, but there is a precedent of ownership of the air above one’s property.

  4. “Youngman told Ars that she had just returned from church one Sunday morning and was cleaning her two shotguns—a .410 and a .20 gauge—on her porch”

    I love this !

    look at the choice of words

    “Returning from CHURCH”

    and “Cleaning my shot GUN(S)” not just one , on her porch ”

    This is GREAT!

    and on subject … Yeah Blow em out of the freakin sky .. every last one of them

    notice how the “pilot” decided it best to leave, and even better when he decided not to “report” it

    he may not be really smart, but smart enough to know its best to STFU about it

  5. Good for her!

    Some have said that the shotgun is obsolete for self-defense, but it still has its place. No firearm on earth is better at hitting small moving targets at relatively short range, so it’s perfect for drones. And if you switch to 00 or #1 buckshot, a 12 gauge does major damage to people inside 25 yards or so, provided you don’t have to shoot through Kevlar or any other kind of cover.

    1. Not to mention the view down a 12 gauge barrel at nearly 3/4″ in diameter .. really gets ones attention

      1. Yep, the crotch is a good target if it’s unprotected. Be advised, however, that some armored thugs wear Kevlar groin protectors that will stop shotgun rounds.

        The face is an even better target than the crotch, although these are generally identical on your typical armored thug (because they’re d!ckheads).

        For armored enemies, I’d still prefer a semi-auto rifle in 5.56 NATO with M855 ammo. Those who have access to old surplus AP rounds in .308 or .30-06 have it even better. But if all I have is a 12 gauge, then I’ll use it to the best of my ability.

  6. But if it was an undercover cop flying the drone and it was shot down, she would be arrested or fined and deemed a crazed gunman. Doublespeak.

  7. For some odd reason.
    When I read the article title.
    I keep thinking of that song by the Smithereens.
    ” A Girl Like You “.

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