For every fan of drone photography, there are several folks who are a lot less enthused with the hobby. It’s certainly a polarizing subject, and it can make some people react violently to their displeasure of the aerial photo/video machines. Take Toby Harriman, a photographer and filmmaker based out of San Francisco who recently took a trip back home to Aspen, Colorado where his brand new Inspire 1 Pro drone met its end via a bullet straight into the side of the chassis.

It happened, in a place I never thought it would happen,” Toby told us. “My drone was shot down by on July 4th in Aspen, Colorado.”

Toby Harriman Drone Shot out of Sky

Photo copyright Taylor Gray & used with permission

Toby maintains he was being the best possible pilot he could have been. “I consider myself a pretty considerate and cautious drone pilot. I try to follow all the rules given for flying, as well as any that exist in a given area,” he told us. Following the rules can be tricky, because the state of drone law is all over the place. It’s hard to know what is always right and always wrong because of the varying laws and regulations, but Toby does his due diligence before flying, including using multiple apps to chart his courses and check for the legality of the airspace. “Sometimes its tough to really know what is right and wrong and why. It’s basically impossible to become a commercial drone pilot until August thanks to new rules that were announced which will replace the old rules. So I fly more for myself and keep my other part of creative more commercial: Timelapse, aerial from helicopters and photography.”

Toby explains what brought him back to Colorado from his home in the Bay Area. “I was back in my birth town of Aspen on a work trip as well as a chance to see family for the holiday. A few winters back I went up on Red Mountain and Smuggler to shoot the firework show and I wanted a similar or same view in the summer setting,” he told us.

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Gif of Fireworks timelapse by Toby Harriman

“So while I was setting up my cameras and waiting for the fireworks show to start, I decided to take up the drone for a quick second to show a few friends that were there that night. I took off from the road and had to fly over some houses but stayed a few hundred feet up. I was focused on the view of downtown with Aspen Mountain as the backdrop. I could care less about “spying,” as some people will jump to conclusion on this and blow it way out of proportion. I’m pretty uninterested in residential areas and homes. And honestly, if you really think about it drones, are terrible for spying. They are super loud, you have to get super close to see anything, and you can barely see anyone on your iPad screen anyhow. Basically, all you are going to see is what is already available on Google Earth.

“During the whole night, people where shooting their own fireworks of course, as with anywhere on July 4th (legal or not, people do it).

“So I was flying the drone forward towards Aspen and then I brought it back a little. I was over a field (brush) in between two houses, (This is Aspen, so plenty of open space and land around each home (or mansion). Thankfully I wasn’t over a house when the incident happened, as it would have crashed down and probably caused more damage. I was showing a few people how you can see the stream on the iPad, and during those few seconds I was just hovering a hundred or so feet up.


Thats when we heard two shots and I looked up and see my drone dropping like a sack of bricks. At first I figured it was fireworks, and was thinking how amazing or unlucky (for me) the shot was. That said, we still considered the possibility that it was a gun. I ran down the hill and was able to retrieve the drone within a few minutes. Some guy came over the side of deck from the house I suspect shot it down. He basically said they heard nothing and they went back to their little party.

Thats when we heard two shots, and I looked up and see my drone dropping like a sack of bricks.

As expected, on impact the Inspire 1 was shattered in multiple places, and was completely totaled. I couldn’t find the camera at the time as it was getting a bit dark. So I ran up the hill and focused on my timelapse of the fireworks, a bit stunned at what just happened… Knowing my drone was just shot out of the sky. I could have approached the people at the house, but figured because it was the 4th everyone was a bit drunk and starting a confrontation wasn’t the best idea. If they had a gun, it was not my time and place to make a scene in my opinion.

IMG_5720 IMG_5722


After the fireworks show, I just threw my mangled drone in my car and went home,” Toby said. “I decided I would deal with it in morning.”

The next morning with some light, Toby took a closer look at his drone. “I really noticed what happened when examining the drone more, and thats when I discovered the bullet hole. It was definitely a gun, and I could tell from the angle of how the bullet hit it that that it most likely came from one of the two houses close to where I was,” he said. In an effort to recover all the pieces, Toby revisited the site to find the camera. “I drove up to the spot and hiked down the hill and found my camera, about where I figured it would be. When it crashed, it must have bounced about 20 feet down and was also broken into pieces.”

I was a bit stunned at what just happened… Knowing my drone was just shot out of the sky.


“Later that day I went to the sheriffs office in Aspen and filed a police report, though I don’t have a lot of confidence that we will ever be able to catch the guy,” he said. “But reporting it was the proper thing to do, and will hopefully help with insurance. The sheriff was super nice and we both had a pretty good understanding about the situation and the fact that everyone is still getting use to drones. Even the sheriff was not as up to date on the laws as I was.”

Toby also took steps to make the FAA aware of the situation. “I have made contact with FAA to file a report, but I am still waiting to hear back.”

Looking back on it, Toby believes that it’s smart to look at the situation objectively, as challenging as that can be. “I like looking at everything from two sides. On one side, you shouldn’t shoot down a drone. On the other side, I probably should have stayed clear of houses. I mean, I tried to though, as my intentions were in the right place. I didn’t and wouldn’t have flown it in downtown, like I saw a few other people doing while I was in Aspen. I would especially avoid those places with this particular drone, the Inspire Pro, which is more then twice the size of the smaller Phantom drones. I have always said, I’d only flew in downtown areas if I had the smaller drone. The big one is too much of a liability if it crashes (or in this case, gets shots down).”



On the subject of safety and the issue of privacy, Toby doesn’t think there is much for people to be worried about. “Personally I feel drones are pretty safe, and  relatively useless for spying. I use it as a tool to capture beautiful scenery. But no matter how in the right or wrong I was, no one should shoot it down. They made the situation more dangerous for everyone. Shooting it out of sky will force it to crash, and it could have killed someone on impact. More importantly they fired a gun in the air, and who knows where that bullet ended up,” He said. “Actually, both bullets went somewhere in that residential area, as we heard two shots.”

In case you were wondering, it is indeed a federal crime to shoot down a drone (this feels like a no-brainer, but I guess the FAA had to make a statement on it), and you also have to consider that in order to do this, someone had to point their gun into the air and shoot, meaning when one of the shots missed (and the other was a through-and-through), that bullet has to come down. That is a scary thought in an inhabited area.

“I guess it makes for a crazy story,” Toby said. “But also a warning for us drone pilots to know that people really are shooting them down. That to me is far more hazardous than any drone operator could be by themselves.”

  • Oceansides

    Some people don’t use drones responsibly. Like neighbors who buzz others’ backyards continually.

    people have a reasonable expectation of privacy on their private
    property. The victims of irresponsible drone use have no way of knowing
    what the drone operator plans to do with the footage of their children
    playing in their own pool that the drone operator took. It happens. It
    shouldn’t, but when it does, drone users should not be surprised when
    people react. Especially parents protecting children.

    They need to buzz off–literally.
    Like · Reply · Just now

    • jccrtv

      I think you misunderstand and you can put your fear to rest about what “a drone operator will do with the footage of children”. All People are the size of ants from an Inspire One or a Phantom drone in the air. It’s not like a military drone with a zoom lens, footage that you’re seen on tv. You are correct about an expectation of privacy at your home. So if someone is droning a few feet in the air I would agree with you 100%. But at 100 feet, you’re looking down at landscape and people the size of ants. Just wanted to correct that.

      • hah, nailed it, thats exactly how I look at situation. But I think its our job to help better educated people beyond our industry how these tools really work.

      • mzungu

        Depend on how high the drone is…. Note the pilot did not come out say how high he was flying…..being evasive as to say “reasonable”. 😀

        • When shot I was at 183.7 Feet to exact from the app data. However when I scroll through my flight log, it starts showing negative feet, as I was higher up on hill and flew towards town and down a bit. So I assume I would even big a bit higher, but wasn’t sure data came through correctly.

      • No.

        Considering that someone already mounted a gun to a drone, and fired it remotely apparently, it’s only a matter of time before folks start rigging super-telephoto lenses to their drones. Heck, a Nikon P900 can go to 2000mm, and weighs less than 2 lbs. There are already plenty of drones out there that can support a full size DSLR. (And now at least one that can support a medium format camera!)

        Ironically, it is at this point in the discussion that your own argument defeats you: From the *ground*, drones start to look the same at a certain altitude, and unless you grab a pair of binoculars (or a rifle scope, or your own super-telephoto camera lens) …you’re not going to know whether that thing up there has a fisheye lens on it, or a super-telephoto lens on it.

        Of course this is all theoretical. And of course, 99% of drone owners aren’t creeps. Maybe even 99.99%. But considering how many thousand drones have sold in the last few years, those odds aren’t all that comforting anymore.

        Personally BTW, I don’t care if you take pictures of me. But I don’t have air conditioning in my apartment, so I sometimes sleep naked with the windows open. If you want to rig up a Sony A7S go be a creep by the light of the next full moon, knock yourself out.

        For me, it’s the noise that I can’t stand. If I’m trying to sleep/nap, or enjoy the peaceful solace of the great outdoors,I don’t want the buzz of a drone ruining my day / night. (Neither do I enjoy photoshopping out the blinking lights that trail through my landscape photos at sunset on the beach, by the way!)

        So I guess I’d be fine if drones were invisible and silent? Oh jeez, that’s a can of worms I’ll leave for someone else to open. 😛

        • jccrtv

          Astro, why all the negatives? Are you that interesting that if you saw a drone up there you think it’s there because of you? An Inspire or Phantom is an amazing tool for photography. Why the immediate talk of you sleeping naked and “spying on you”? I mean, really dude? You can bring this up about any photography tool and any photographer from right on the ground. I don’t get the irrational fear of perversion about phantom drones. Fly one and you’ll see that spying on someone is the last thought you’ll have. But, apply your thinking to your astro landscapes: You’re in a suburban backyard, at NIGHT, with other houses right next to you and you’re imaging the sky. Mrs. Lady calls the police that there’s a man in the dark with a camera pointed at her window. Is that what you’re taking pictures at night for? Of course not, you’re doing astro-photography. Don’t you find Mrs. Lady’s claim annoying?

          • You’re correct, however my point was more along the lines of emphasizing, “it’s only a matter of time before…” …and because of how little time that actually is, it is *already* a moot point to anyone who isn’t educated about drones, and/or doesn’t have eagle-eye vision to discern what type of drone is hovering up there.

            BTW, I’ve shot astro in residential areas plenty, and been kicked out of quite a few different places, including semi-gated communities. I don’t mind. It’s annoying, but I respect property and privacy. I’m sure I’d mind if my gear was at risk of being confiscated or destroyed, but so far I haven’t yet put myself in that position. I put my gear in harm’s way a whole lot more often than most, with all-night timelapses out in the elements. I put waterproof bags over my cameras, and try to weigh them down, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before something gets destroyed by mother nature.

            I love drone footage, by the way, but I don’t blame people for being annoyed by the sound, sight, or the privacy issues, which is why I’m in favor of as much regulation as is necessary.

          • Joey Bagadonuts2

            Your astro and your wedding work is excellent.

    • I guess I’ll copy and past my comment to from facebook, to keep things relevant. I mean, I saw these comments coming before i even agreed to publish this. So I can’t complain that people are worried about this. I agree to it to a point, but with more common sense.

      So are we just going to start assuming that every single drone is spying and taking video of children in a pool? I do agree there is no way of knowing when you see one flying over. But that is why i am trying to help educate more. About how stupid it all is. As a drone operator, I know the drone is loud, making it stupid to spy with. And unless you have one of those $20,000+ drones with giant zoom lens, most drones are terrible quality for it. Not much zoom, and you can barely see people on the group unless you get a less then a hundred feet away. The camera would also need to be pointing at the person. Most people just freak out and assume the camera is always pointed on them. This was also July 4th, about 15 minutes before the fireworks. If I owned the house, I would just assume they were up for the firework show. Making this most likely a bunch of drunk people partying and being stupid.

      Maybe we start walking the street and every time we see a person facing their phone at you, arrest them for being a petafile and taking pictures of your children.

      I try to always put myself on both sides of the story and really think and analyze a situation. And in my mind, people just assuming (creeping and petafile) without any thought into the story, just blows my mind even more. Then again, we are all entitled to own own opinions.

      • Nick Moody

        Oddly enough, when I posted this article on my FB page the comments immediately turned to discussion about pedophiles and perverts. It is a shame the our society really is so ignorant to what drones can and can’t do.

        • Sadly our society is becoming way to uptight with just about anything :/

      • Josh Rubin

        Sry about your quadcopter bro. They won’t shoot it at 400 feet. Best to stay very high if you are going to fly over private property. I think you violated FAA rules by doing that and you told on yourself to the world. Let’s hope that doesn’t get you banned from flying UAVs. Hard to find great places to fly but I avoid flying over houses, and streets. Severely limits where I can fly but my Yuneec Typhoon still flies. Good luck mate.

    • You may bring up valid points, but when drone operators are not breaking the law and are attacked by those who are breaking the law (which is what your comment seems to condone), that’s a punishable offense. If you have issues with drone operation, take those up with your local and state government. Shooting firearms into the sky around residential areas is far more dangerous to children than any drone could be.

    • mzungu

      Could be far worse…. You can burn up someone’s house with your drone….My friend actually know the guy that did this… 😛

      • Exactly! That was actually another worry I thought of when I saw where it landed. It was sitting in high brush and the battery was all messed up. Who ever shot it, should have just called the cops on me if they really had an issue. Instead they created a situation that could have gone south real quite.

        • mzungu

          Drone get lost control too, quite often… with or without someone shooting it. A fray wire, a cheap battery, a loose antenna…. Flying over a residential area, with the potential of crashing into a house or a car…. is just asking for trouble.

          Hate to say it, it often takes 2 idiots to really cause real trouble. You were close enuf to someone’s house for them to hear you, you seem close enuf to be in a gun’s range… . Just don’t buzz ppl’s house no more, it can get pretty annoying. Hell, there are days when I wanted to shoot the mocking bird that comes around every morning, much less drones.

          • You could relate this to sooooo many things though. But just cause drones are new they seem to get those most crap. I definitely agree with you to some point, they are annoying when to close, but just as annoying as so many things, like you said a bird even. I am way more worried about a drunk driver, or a PokemonGO playing driver killing me, then a drone crashing. I don’t fly this specific size drone in heavy rural areas for that reason. I’d fly the smaller Phantom drone though. But the are i choose to fly in is very spread out, as the people own more land. I knew my risk was lower if it crashed, like it did and feel into an area where nothing was a liability, besides my drone.

          • ryfter

            I see cars that should not be on the street ALL the time… yet no one blinks an eye at them. A drone COULD fall on you (EXTREMELY unlikely), It could fall and catch fire, again, terribly unlikely. A car in disrepair could lose control and KILL YOU… yet no one blinks an eye.

            It is difficult for a great many people to really comprehend the chance of something happening, especially when it is miniscule.

    • TXMaverick

      Actually…. on the “reasonable expectation of privacy” part of your comment…No…you do not have any legal reasonable expectation of privacy when you are in your back yard or front yard or outside of your house at all. Another thing to note is that property owners do NOT own any of the air space above their homes. The only “partial” ownership you might have is up to the top of the tallest structure on your property (US v. Causby)

      Seriously, if the drone is 100 ft above your property, they can’t see anything worth looking at in your back yard. We, drone pilots, are allowed to fly over other properties just like any other aircraft…helicopter, plane, hot-air balloon, etc. 99.9% of the time it’s going to be someone who is interested in the landscape or city-scape off in the distance and that’s where their camera is going to be pointed.

      • jccrtv


    • takean

      i doubt you know anyone who has had their home or yard buzzed by one…even yourself. Likely you are hearing news media about it and rehashing it out again as something new 🙁 Regardless…its against the law to shoot at an aircraft. Whether you like it or not…your property doesn’t extend up to space and beyond. Aircraft, satellites, birds, superman all fly over your home 24/7. Google drives by it about once a month for street view…if you feel so strongly about shooting drones…please dear lord don’t shoot at the people going by your home working for Google…or the airliner flying over head. And dont shoot the satellites out of space…lol. You might lose your cable and phone service.

      I’m sure what I’m typing sounds like i’m making fun of your statement…but the fact that you believe there are literally all these people flying drones and bothering people prove that you spend more time looking at the news and allowing its perception to educate you than you yourself going out and meeting these people and learning more about it…and having adult conversations. I had one gentleman complain about what I was taking pictures of…which was a house that I was asked to shoot. Never once flew over his property…and I even tried to meet him and introduce myself. He wouldn’t have anything of it. Who was the adult here…and who was the child? If we continue to have this type of dialog between both groups…it wont get better.

      And last…get used to idiots using their drones to do stupid things…I know plenty of people that use facebook, cars, drinking, marriage, gaming, sports, posts, etc irresponsibly. Shrug it off. Its called being an adult.

  • Drones big enough to carry a DSLR now exist, (scratch that, medium format just got airborne!) …so it’s only a matter of time before someone affix the equivalent of a 500-1000mm mirror lens to a drone. This is why the “I’m not spying, I swear!” issue is of absolutely zero use when arguing with someone who is concerned about their privacy. (And why the FAA struggled to determine not just maximum but also minimum flight heights, especially when over private property.

    Either way, it sounds like this was still a highly unsafe (and criminal) act on the part of the shooter, since it was in a residential area. Might have even been a rifle, not a shotgun, but who knows. That’d all depend on how steady the drone was hovering, how low it was, and how good the shooter was. (I’m sure some folks in/near the Rockies practice skeet shooting and/or deer hunting a lot!)

    TLDR; if you’re gonna fly your drone over a residential area, don’t stop to hover, and do it at 450-500 ft.

    • jccrtv

      But his Inspire doesn’t. It’s a wide angle lens. I do agree about minimum heights. That is a valid point about staying high over a residential area. By the way the max height allowed is not 500, it’s 400.

      • Oh, the last I read it was somewhere between 400 and 500 ft. Either way, that’s nice and high, less of a problem (and less of a target) than hovering at under 200 ft.

        BTW, I once photographed a wedding where the videographer flew a drone right ~10 ft above the aisle, indoors, during the processional. Rose petals were hitting me in the face and flying everywhere, and it was bare carpet by the time the bride walked the aisle because the drone kept going back and forth for each bridesmaid.

        So, there are indeed some morons out there, and probably an equal or greater number of pervs. They may be .1%, or .01%, but they still need to be kept in check. (But, now we’re totally off the deep end, since this particular drone operator was doing no such terrible thing, and the drone shooter was a reckless law-breaker.)

  • What I can’t believe is the number of people defending the guy who fired a rifle into the air at a drone. That act is a federal crime, a FELONY. It doesn’t matter if you disagree with the way drone law is set up right now or if you believe that he shouldn’t fly over private property (even though that is completely allowed right now). The fact of the matter is that the gun owner broke the law, endangered others and destroyed property.

  • gellero

    probably an air rifle…….. 😉

  • Harold1966

    In the story, I miss the bit where he tells about his visit to the two houses to tell that he was going to fly the thing, at night/evening, near/above their garden. Perhaps it is not needed to do so, but it would have been smart, and polite.
    If a drone is over my property (or very near too), even during the day, I would go over and ask the ‘pilot’ why it has to be there. He can land the thing first and then answer me. He can be fully in his right to fly it, fly it there, film everything he can, I don’t care, but he has to tell me. First has to tell me. Then he can fly.
    Just a case of good behavior.
    Some people think their private space becomes invaded by drones. That is a fact. Aaaaalllll the palaver about how the cameras are not able to see details when they’re 400ft up is rubbish. People who feel that their privacy is invaded don’t care about that, even if there is no camera, they think that the thing is spying. And every drone pilot should understand that. And act accordingly. Ask permission, even if by law you are not obliged to do so.