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firearm safety course. We have a firearm safety code but basic principles are broken, people get complacent.
‘‘Those stats are pretty good. Ideally you would have none but when you are working with a firearm which is a tool used to kill – something is going to happen but we are pleased with how low the stats are considering how many users there are out there. But it could be better. ‘‘
New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association president Bill O’Leary says despite ‘‘hammering the message’’ there were still incidents occurring, particularly in areas of thick bush and poor visibility.
‘‘It is a very complex issue . . . You have got situations where a person is so keen to see a deer that when they see a movement they are determined it is a deer. When you go in, you should go in with the clear idea that you are going to see a human being.’’
Competition between hunters and pressure to ‘‘take an animal’’ is also an issue, he says.
‘‘If you haven’t taken an animal for a couple of days and are feeling under pressure, getting tired, we would say don’t push it, go back to camp, have a cup of tea and think about going back out tomorrow.
‘‘A danger time is when people have actually seen an animal. They might catch a glimpse, the adrenaline goes up, it’s been spooked and moved off. It puts pressure on the person – there is the animal and to get the shot away. Again, we have had examples of where that has happened and as a result someone has been killed.’’
The majority of people who shoot others tend to be older and experienced, and 60 per cent are shot ‘‘by a mate’’, he says.
‘‘We suspect they were keen to get an animal to demonstrate to younger people they still had it. There is also the fact they are so familiar with the hunting scene they work on the basis – there is a movement, I have seen it 100 times before and it has been a deer – and I guess their judgement is flawed by over familiarity.
‘‘We have evidence of people who fired a shot have been more interested in getting a kill than recovering meat.’’
There is at least one hunting death a year in the South Island, he says. ‘‘As a hunter and a family Andrew Paterson, of Matakanui Station, near Omakau, caught four illegal hunters on his property last month during a kids’ hunting competition. man you reflect on that, and I never ever want to be in the position where I take a shot and end up taking someone’s life – it is hard to think of anything much worse.’’
There are certain ‘‘basic rules’’ when hunting, and an important one is to contrast with the environment.
‘‘The animals you are hunting, deer, pigs, goats – are colour blind. At the end of the day you are stalking. It is all about the stalk and being seen – not what you are wearing. The animal is likely to smell you, hear you before it sees you. A deer can hear a mechanical watch ticking at 25 yards,’’ McKee says.
Department of Conservation national hunting adviser Ian Cooksley says traditionally the ‘‘roar’’ was the busiest time of year and hunters should be aware other people ‘‘can be anywhere at any time.’’
A critical factor in several fatal incidents in recent years is hunters failing to differentiate between a person and the intended animal being hunted, he says. It is illegal to hunt on conservation land after dark – half an hour after sunset and half an hour before sunrise.
‘‘Hunting at night using a spotlight, or other night vision equipment, poses a serious risk to other people who are using these areas. This practice must stop.
‘‘Most hunters are responsible and follow the firearms safety code. But it’s important that firearms safety awareness is at the forefront of all hunters’ thinking when in pursuit of that trophy or meat for the table.’’
The Mountain Safety Council administers a firearms safety course on behalf of the New Zealand Police, the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association runs a Hunter National Training Scheme, and there is information on safe hunting practices around walks, huts and campgrounds on the DOC website, he says.
McKee says the council puts 10,000 people annually through its course, which was increasing. However, a course can only teach so much.
‘‘We have a hunting culture in New Zealand and the ability from one end of the country to the other for people to hunt different types of animals and eat it . . . but there is only so much you can teach in 21⁄ hours and then we encourage them to join a club.’’
Illegal hunting adds an additional danger ‘‘x-factor’’, and is becoming a growing concern for the hunting fraternity, landowners, police and industry watchdogs.
officer Sergeant Lindsay Peacock says many hunters were opting not to shoot during the roar now because of added risk.
‘‘It’s just not worth the risk – there are too many hunting in the area and there might be four or five groups you have no idea are there which creates a problem. If you are not legally there you are adding an x-factor.’’ People need to ensure they have authorisation to hunt on a property – either private or conservation land, he says.
The season of the deer roar is here.