Shot ricochet off duck blamed for hunter losing an eye

Jim Morton lost his left eye, on the right of this picture, in a duck hunting incident. An expert says shot likely ...
WARWICK SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Jim Morton lost his left eye, on the right of this picture, in a duck hunting incident. An expert says shot likely rebounded off a duck before hitting him.

A hunter has avoided conviction for recklessly using a firearm, because an expert says the fired shot may have ricocheted off a duck before hitting a fellow hunter in the face.

But the shot man is frustrated, as police said they did not have money in their budget to get their own expert forensic report.

​The hunter, who has has interim name suppression, had a charge of careless use of a firearm causing injury to Jim Morton withdrawn in the Palmerston North District Court on Friday.

The charge stemmed from an incident in May 2016, when the hunter was duck shooting near Akito, a two-hour drive north of Masterton.

According to a court summary, the hunter and Morton were among 14 shooters hunting around a pond.

Jenny and Jim Morton are frustrated police could not pay for a firearms expert to prepare a report after Jim was hit in ...
WARWICK SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Jenny and Jim Morton are frustrated police could not pay for a firearms expert to prepare a report after Jim was hit in the face by shotgun pellets.

Morton was in a mai mai 47 metres in front and to the right of the hunter's.

Duck shooters need to be 90 metres apart when on public land, but the rule does not apply on private land.

Two paradise ducks lifted off the pond between the mai mai and the hunter fired two shots, killing both ducks.

Two shotgun pellets hit Morton in the left eye and right cheek.

The charge was dropped largely because of a report the defence sourced, offering many explanations as to why the injury was not the hunter's fault.

DUCK RICOCHET THEORY 'COMPELLING'

The author of the report was Auckland/Waikato Fish and Game Council wildlife manager John Dyer, a former shotgun editor for New Zealand Guns and Hunting magazine. He has more than 40 years of shooting experience and has given expert evidence in court before.

Ad Feedback

He concluded the most likely explanation was the pellets ricocheting off one of the shot ducks.

Steel shot, the only legal shot for duck hunting, was notorious for ricocheting off hard surfaces.

But Dyer said he had no idea shot could ricochet off ducks until he read a 1985 article by Don Zutz​.

​Zutz, considered to be a leading American gun writer, said he had for some time harboured a suspicion shot rebounded off birds.

He noted many ducks he had shot showed "streaky indications" of pellet deflecting, while hunters had also reported shot rebounding of turkeys, and pellets were known to rebound off glass milk bottles.

Lighter shot was more likely to be deflected, especially when hitting ducks at long range.

Deformed pellets further raising the risk, Zutz said.

Dyer said Zutz's findings were "compelling and logical", but would have been only read by 0.1 per cent of current New Zealand shooters because of the article's age.

"The risk of this type of ricochet is not widely known. There is no publicity warning New Zealand hunters of this risk of random ricochet off live birds' feathers," Dyer said.

The Winchester cartridges the hunter shot, provided by the lead shooter, may have played a "key role" in the incident, with Dyer describing them as some of the worst he had ever seen.

Many of the steel Winchester pellets taken from an unused cartridge were not round, with some the shape of rugby balls.

On the other hand, the mai mai were some of the safest Dyer had seen, with bulldozed dirt banks surrounding the iron structures.

A lack of shotgun pellets hitting the corrugated roof of Morton's mai mai, and evidence from other shooters, discounted the hunter shooting directly toward Morton's mai mai, Dyer said.

"Had the shot that injured [Morton] been aimed either directly at him or very close to him, there would be multiple pellet-strike marks left on the iron around him. That was not the case when I inspected the mai mai."

A lack of strike marks also ruled out the pellets ricocheting off the mai mai, which would have caused more serious injuries, Dyer said.

"It is my opinion that [the hunter] acted appropriately and to the standard that could reasonable have been expected of a prudent firearm user in similar circumstances."

The hunter will be back in court in June to find out if his name suppression becomes permanent.

MONEY STOPS POLICE GETTING EXPERT REPORT

Outside of court, Morton said he was frustrated police budget constraints stopped them getting their own expert report made, something Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk confirmed to Morton.

An ESR scientist also reviewed Dyer's report and found it was sound, Vanderkolk told Morton.

Morton said he and his wife Jenny had been told it would cost $8500 to pay for an expert, but were told it would not be accepted as the defence had already been told the charge was being withdrawn.

"That probably took me to the lowest point in the 12 months, and that's from the team that's supposed to be supporting me.

"The police have got no money to investigate it from the victim's side. It's a hard pill to swallow.

"This is not about me. This has never been about me. This is about money."

Morton said a piece of shot that went through his eye landed 2 millimetres from his brain, and was still in his head as it was too dangerous to remove.

POLICE SAYS BUDGET 'ADEQUATE'

Detective Inspector Ross Mckay said money was not an issue in the case.

"Central District [police] has a forensic budget which is sufficiently adequate to service all of its forensic and investigative needs.

"Our ability to prosecute is note reliant on budget."

Central District police could get an extension on its budget if it was required, Mckay said.

In Morton's case, an expert was never requested or declined. Rather, it was decided by a ballistics expert the Dyer report could not be refuted, McKay said.

"Police can say that the decision made were based on evidential suffiency."

SHOT MAN SAYS REPORT NEEDS TESTING

Morton said he was frustrated the defence report stood, as the Zutz article was based on old firearms and ammunition.

Furthermore, the pellets removed from his head were perfectly round, he said.

The Dyer report had not been tested to check if the physics behind the duck ricochet theory were correct.

"We needed a peer review to look at the circumstances from a different angle than was put forward by the defence, and that has not happened because the police have not got the money.

"The police should have had the funding to do something about it.

"We don't know if there's an issue around careless use of a fireman causing injury when you can simply claim 'not my fault, it's a ricochet'.

"Is this now a new standard for gun safety?"

 - Stuff

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback