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Drive-by idiots with bright lights and loaded firearms in the Kaimanawas

Some things can really make you angry. On Friday night I was bivvying out at a Department of Conservation road-side camp-site in the Kawekas, anticipating a great long weekend (which we had, more to come later). Having come up from Wellington we arrived a little before midnight, and were completely ignorant that this was happening just a short distance away [1] at a similar camp-site over the range in the Kaimanawas.

We eventually heard about the shooting via sketchy gossip on the mountain radio service on Sunday morning. Early reports suggested that a hunter had shot a woman cleaning her teeth at a river outside a hut. Later a rumour came through that not only had the shooter failed to identify what he was shooting at, the hut’s chimney was even visible from the position of the shooter, which should have made it obviously silly to be shooting near there at all. This translated into angry sarcastic chit-chat on the radio. By last night when I’d arrived home, more correct information had begun to emerge about just how reckless and stupid these guys were. Unfortunately they’re not alone, they just happened to be the ones to hurt someone.

Want a picture? Because this one from the Herald on Sunday (pdf) more or less sums it up [2]. Eventually the courts will reveal the facts of the case and if there’s reason to do so I’ll take this back, but right now it seems that what happened here really is disgusting.

Over at Fish n’ Hunt, the forums have gone overboard with disgust [3] of the incident. Spotlighting is banned on all public conservation land, but these people drove just off the main road where they shone a torch into a frickin’ public campsite, well marked with a giant signpost, (Kaimanawa Road Campsite [4], alternatively on Google Maps [5]), spotted a pair of eyes between the trees, aimed a loaded lethal weapon, and pulled the trigger!

So far the popular press has referred to the shooter as a “hunter”, or sometimes a “deer hunter”. What a crock! I’ve met enough hunters in the hills to know about basic hunting codes and responsibilities that are meant to be lived by and respected. Firearm safety and identifying targets is at the top of that list, and even though people sometimes screw up, it’s a long way from what appears to have happened here. This incident is so far away from any sane kind of hunting that it’s an insult to the hunting community to refer to it as a hunting accident, or to refer to some stupid lazy wannabees with guns as hunters at all, let alone deer hunters. This was not it by any respectable standard of the word. It can be described as nothing more than irresponsible twits illegally shooting from a road into a public camp-site without knowing or caring about what they were shooting at. Plain and simple.

So what does it mean if you can’t even stay in a public camp-site without a car-load of jerks cruising past with torches and firing loaded weapons? It’s putting at risk everyone who’s out there to have fun. Hunters, trampers, family campers, tourists, and everyone who shares the facilities. I only hope the repercussions here fall where they should, and not onto people who act responsibly.

This is exactly why spotlighting is illegal anywhere on the public Department of Conservation estate [6].


9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Drive-by idiots with bright lights and loaded firearms in the Kaimanawas"

#1 Comment By Robb On 26 October, 2010 @ 10:02 am

Kia ora Mike,
I agree that in no way should these guys be referred to as “hunters”. I also know hunters, and have shared huts with hunters whom love the outdoors in their own way as much as I do, whom work rugged country and respect the mountains. But I have also seen huts taken over for days by “hunters” dropped off by helicopter with mountains of piss and loaded weapons with little or no respect for the environment or the hut itself. Their disdain for trampers can be palpable. This would be the mentality of the “hunters” in this incident. A shame to lump people like this in with the real deal. I was quite devastated to read of this. A young teacher whom loves the outdoors. If we ever needed young teachers like this in front of our children it is now. A real tragedy.

#2 Comment By Philip Wilkie On 26 October, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

There is a a lot of anger and disgust over this totally senseless killing. Why is it that these cretins always seem to kill the finest and best? Literally and with no exaggeration I’ve been sickened as the details of this came out.

Many years ago camping in the SI near a road I was spotted one evening….terrifying when you realise what is happening. Lesson #1, whenever someone unexpectedly shines a bright light onto you at night… LOOK AWAY.
If you don’t know who is doing it…DROP TO THE GROUND AND SHOUT. You may have seconds to live.

Lesson #2. Was yarning about this with a friend on the train this morning who was a professional hunter for many years. He made the point that while many hunters wear hi-vis jackets these days, most trampers do not. He was thinking that flouro-yellow or pink are the best colours (not red or orange) and ideally worn on the head as the motion of a person’s head while moving is quite different to that of any animal. *

Lesson #3… Never go tramping during the roar. Too many idiots out there.

*(I know this ain’t directly relevant to this nighttime incident …but still germane to protecting ourselves. Even the best of hunters can all tell you one or two ‘close calls’ they have had.)

#3 Comment By Amelia On 26 October, 2010 @ 6:36 pm

I fully second everything you’ve said here Mike.
For me, whats worse is that its a teacher at the school a close family friend is principal of. They are devastated.

The media reported charge of “Careless use of a firearm causing death” is not a strong enough charge. I want the d*$kheads charged with manslaughter. It carries a longer term.

At a public campsite, or within spit of a hut, you shouldnt have to worry about whether a hunter is going to think you are a deer / possum / rabbit / etc, because they shouldnt be firing in those areas – its not just about identifying your target, its about identifying what else is there if you miss your target.

I think we are also damned lucky that they didnt shoot twice in quick succession and end up getting someone else as well.

Philip – your lesson #1 is very valid. Definitely something I will remember. However, we dont know how long they had the torch on her before they fired, and whether she was still looking at them when they fired. Hell. all we’ve got is their word that thats what happened. It could be that they saw her hat moving and that was enough for them to shoot.

The whole lot should be charged together. I dont care who pulled the trigger, they were all in on it.

#4 Comment By Mike McGavin On 26 October, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

Hi everyone. Thanks for the comments.

@Robb, Yes I see your point about the subset of hunters who tend to take over places. I’ve met the odd hunter who’s spread out a lot with a reasonable expectation that nobody else was likely to turn up for weeks, but in my case they’ve always been accommodating. So far I’ve been fortunate that I’ve not had to share a hut with a group of arrogant squatters dropped in by a helicopter, but I’ve heard many stories.

@Philip, Cool and thanks for the tips. Regarding point 2, we were discussing over the weekend that apparently bright blue is the new orange. I’m not sure where that comes from.

@Amelia, Thanks. Maybe you know more about this than I do. My uneducated guess is that the careless-use charge is the immediately obvious one the police used whilst they consider evidence and decide what other charges may be appropriate. I suppose it’s up to prosecutors to decide based on the evidence they have, and for all we know there may be mitigating circumstances that aren’t obvious which would affect the charge. That said, for reference (and I’m certainly not guaranteeing I’ve found all relevant legislation here):

  • [13] defines Homicide as “the killing of a human being by another, directly or indirectly, by any means whatsoever”.
  • [14] says that Homicide is Culpable “when it consists in the killing of any person … by an unlawful act”.
  • [15] says it can be Murder “if the offender for any unlawful object does an act that he knows to be likely to cause death, and thereby kills any person, though he may have desired that his object should be effected without hurting any one.”.
  • [16] says “culpable homicide not amounting to murder is manslaughter”. (There are a bunch of exceptions that relate to [17] which almost certainly don’t apply here.)

So it’s definitely homicide, and becomes a question of whether it’s culpable or not to determine if it’s manslaughter, or possibly murder if it were determined that the person should have known it was likely to cause a person’s death when they were firing towards a movement or a pair of eyes in an obvious public campground on the Friday night of a long weekend, even if they wanted to kill an animal instead. I’m not a lawyer, and to be honest I’d not be surprised if there were twisty legal issues around connecting illegal activity to the consequences. I wonder if there may also be other things to consider, like prior precedents and cooperation of people accused.

I realise spotlighting itself has been a problem for some time, and I feel absolutely disgusted that it’s come to this. It’s bad enough that someone’s died, and even worse that it should have been a completely safe place. All sorts of people and groups use these campsites for very positive things, and this really could have been anyone: another hunter, a tramper, a family group. Anyone. This time it happened to be a school teacher who was out for a long weekend of tramping and climbing. And it’s ((allegedly)) completely the fault of a group of stupid jerks who can’t act responsibly when other people’s lives are in their hands, and yet they’re not the only people who act like this. Any of those other idiots out there could have “accidentally” done the same thing, and still could.


#5 Comment By Mike McGavin On 27 October, 2010 @ 2:11 pm


#6 Comment By Robb On 28 October, 2010 @ 8:31 am

Kia ora Mike,
A disturbing trend indeed. Yet read many old books from the hunting days and spot lighting was a very common practice, so this is not new, many of these stories are written almost as a rite of passage. Perhaps a reflection of the bush and mountains having more people in them than back in those almost wild west days, and also a new generation of disconnected young people emerging wearing bush shirts, buying guns, and used to pulling triggers on computer games reenacting ol’ uncles spotlighting stories. Not a good combination added up in anyway.

#7 Comment By Mike McGavin On 31 October, 2010 @ 3:47 pm

Yeah, it turns out the hut that was being shot within 50 metres of during Labour Weekend [19]. That must have frightened a few people.

Robb, you may be right, it’s not as if the back-country has been vacant of people acting irresponsibly (including with guns) in the past, and I guess if people get guns without good role models, maybe they’re more likely to do stupid things.

I’ve seen a few people come out in sympathy of the shooter’s personal devastation following the Kaimanawa death, including parts of the victim’s family. Each to their own, but I still have trouble accepting why I should be seeing this guy as any different from the other idiots out there simply because he and his friends’ stupidity resulted in someone innocent dying as a consequence when they didn’t mean for it to happen. It’s up to the police and the courts now, I suppose, and I hope something positive comes out of all of this to actually reduce the likeliness of other people acting like this in the future, rather than just punishing him.

#8 Comment By Amelia On 31 October, 2010 @ 10:01 pm

Shooting within 50m of Totara Flats hut on a long weekend? Find those people and slap them someone please.
Considering people regularly camp on the river flats around that hut as well. Thats absolutely “nucking futs” (not swearing on your Blog, Mike :))… And its not like the spotlighters could claim they didnt know the hut was there.
The worst part is, if they were staying at the hut, the people staying there with them SO would have all been too scared to tackle the shooters about their improper behaviour. I know I would be!

#9 Comment By Mike McGavin On 2 November, 2010 @ 10:23 pm

The Rotorua Daily Post [20] that LED headlamps can quite easily be mistaken for a Deer’s eye, which I hadn’t heard before.

“I looked up and saw the deer’s eye through the trees.”

Mr Ellery’s father was a firearms safety officer who had taught his son to fully identify his target before shooting.

“I couldn’t identify anything of that deer apart from the eye, so I didn’t pull the trigger.

“It seemed to walk away, then all of a sudden it was there again.

“I closed my bolt again but it was through the trees and not exactly right.”

Mr Ellery decided not to shoot as he couldn’t see the whole animal and he and his friend grabbed the portable spotlight and ran towards where they thought they had seen the deer.

“As we ran we could see his light in the trees – his light was still shining.”

That was when Mr Ellery realised the light was an LED headlamp worn by a person – not a deer’s eye.

“I’d closed my bolt twice on a guy’s head. If I’d been a little less on to it I could have killed someone,” he said.

“But so many people would just pull the trigger. These LED headlights look exactly like a deer’s eye,” he said.

The reflection of a deer’s eye in a spotlight is a silver or green colour and has a very intense, bright reflection. LED lights emit a similarly intense light, as opposed to the old-fashioned incandescent yellow lights, he said.

Edit 3-11-2010: I guess it’s on the newsfeed because this morning it’s been [21] (although abbreviated).