Hunter who killed friend was certain he was a deer

MISTAKEN TARGET: This police photograph shows the sightline of Henry Worsp’s gun when he shot friend James Dodds.
MISTAKEN TARGET: This police photograph shows the sightline of Henry Worsp’s gun when he shot friend James Dodds.

Henry Worsp always believed he was a safe and conscientious hunter - until he mistook his mate for a deer and shot him.

Worsp, an outdoor safety manager and a hunter for 17 years, told an inquest into the death of his close friend James Dodds that he knew the seven basic safety rules of hunting.

"I was well aware of the risk of shooting another person, but never expected it to happen to me."

REGRETS: Henry Worsp sits with Gabrielle Molloy, partner of the deceased James Dodds who was accidentally shot by Worsp.
TRACEY ROBINSON
REGRETS: Henry Worsp sits with Gabrielle Molloy, partner of the deceased James Dodds who was accidentally shot by Worsp.

He sat in Rotorua Coroners Court yesterday alongside Mr Dodds' wife, Gabrielle Molloy. She did not give evidence but was asked by coroner Wallace Bain if she wanted to speak.

She said she had talked the death through with Worsp, and it was "one of the most horrific things you can go through".

"In my mind the only way to stop this happening is to stop people separating when they hunt.

"If you split up, don't shoot until you are clear you can see your partner."

Worsp was convicted of careless use of a firearm causing death in the Rotorua District Court in January, after the accidental shooting of Mr Dodds in September while the pair were hunting fallow deer, south of Rotorua.

Mr Dodds was 34 metres away, sitting down on a game trail, when he was shot.

Worsp said he knew it was possible to shoot someone accidentally while hunting, "but held the belief it was not something that was likely to happen to me".

"The obvious mistake I made was not identifying my target. I believed 100 per cent that I was looking at a deer.

"I checked and double-checked. Obviously I was wrong, but can only think it came back to my low perceived risk of this happening."

Worsp said if he had perceived a greater risk of shooting Mr Dodds, he would have been on a higher alert and taken longer before pulling the trigger.

"It is essential to get the message out there - it could easily happen to you.

"My reasoning is that the idea of committing an offence does not enter your mind when you're about to pull the trigger.

"The shot is taken in good faith, thinking you are about to shoot an animal."

Before Mr Dodds was fatally shot, the pair had split up, as they often did, along a ridge - something Worsp said he now regretted. He described how he saw what he thought was a deer on a game trail. "I could see its back, and it was feeding and moving its head up and down."

Although he was certain it was a deer, he didn't think he had a good enough view to shoot, so he moved to a higher ground.

"I very clearly saw a deer's head . . . clearly enough to identify it as a fallow stag . . . easily enough to confirm the target."

When the deer put its head down, he pulled the trigger.

In retrospect, he said he did not know what he saw through his .270 rifle scope.

Police National Headquarters firearm licensing and vetting service manager Inspector Joe Green told the inquest the majority of hunting deaths involved people from the same party.

Detective Sergeant John Wilson told the inquest Worsp mistakenly thought a fern frond was the antler of a fallow deer, and that Mr Dodds' brown patterned backpack was the deer's back.

Mr Dodds' red hair was similar to the coat of a red deer. He believed Worsp "anticipated" seeing a deer before beginning the hunt.

Coroner Wallace Bain reserved his findings.

The Dominion Post