Spotlight falls on gun safety breaches

ROSEMARY IVES: Shot dead while brushing her teeth at a campsite.
ROSEMARY IVES: Shot dead while brushing her teeth at a campsite.

Department of Conservation bosses fear it is only a matter of time before there is a serious firearms incident, as inexperienced hunters flout gun-safety rules in the King Country.

Two DOC investigations were launched this summer, including one into an alleged case of spotlighting on public land.

It comes after two successful convictions for spotlighting last year.

DOC Maniapoto area manager Ray Scrimgeour said his ultimate fear was a death such as that of Rosemary Ives in 2010.

Miss Ives, a Lower Hutt teacher, was shot in the head while brushing her teeth at a DOC campsite at Kaimanawa Forest Park, south of Turangi.

Hamilton man Andrew Mears had mistaken her headlamp for a deer's eye while illegally spotlighting with friends from a utility vehicle.

"Once upon a time lots of hunters learned to hunt in rural areas by being out there doing it all the time, and I guess common sense and practical knowledge was handed on in a father-to-son sort of fashion," Mr Scrimgeour said.

"I get a sense that now, there's a much broader range of people getting into hunting who don't necessarily have a hunting background or the contacts."

And some aren't well acquainted with the rules despite all licensed gun owners being required to attend a lecture that includes details about spotlighting on public land.

Spotlighting is legal on private land - with the owner's permission - but illegal on public conservation land.

Mr Scrimgeour said Pureora Forest Park is more prone to spotlighting than other conservation areas because of its old forestry roads, with deer the most commonly targeted species.

"The golden rule for any hunting is you identify your target clearly and make sure you don't shoot something you can't see.

"With spotlighting your field of view is confined to a narrow beam of light and you can't necessarily see what's beyond.

Last year, Te Awamutu's Logan Wylie and Todd Barry Julian, both 28, of Cambridge, pleaded guilty to spotlighting in the Pureora Forest Park.

Both have since had their firearms licences revoked.

Mr Scrimgeour said that though hunting is a legitimate and popular recreational activity, there are ground rules that people must follow.

"[Hunters] need to identify their target and know that in public places there's always potential for people to be around."

His message to anyone who considers spotlighting in a conservation area: Don't do it.

"It's not acceptable and the chances you will get caught are quite high because there are lots of other people out there who don't like that activity and will let us know.

"DOC will certainly take a hard line with offences on conservation land but I think the police will follow it up too."

Waikato Times