With approximately 166,675 active hunters across New Zealand and more than half of them hunting at least once per month, it’s extremely important that those who are hunting do all they can to keep themselves and others safe, Police and the Mountain Safety Council say.
‘A Hunters Tale: A deep dive into hunting incidents in New Zealand’ released to the public last month has some sobering statistics for those heading out this year, with target misidentification remaining the biggest cause of fatalities for big game hunters.
“Anyone who is planning to use a firearm, whether it’s hunting for game animals, birds or target shooting for sport, is required to be in possession of a valid firearms licence and comply with the New Zealand Arms Code at all times,” says Senior Constable Darren Cox.
Mr Cox is based at Omakau in Central Otago and he covers a large rural policing area which is popular for its hunting opportunities.
Unfortunately the area has also had hunting tragedies, something he is keen to prevent in the future.
He is adamant that anyone using a firearm needs to ensure not only their safety but the safety of others who may be around them.
“If you do not have a licence you must be with someone who does – and they in turn must supervise the unlicensed person closely.”
“Even if you are an unlicensed person accompanying a licensed hunter, it is still a good idea to familiarise yourself with the New Zealand Arms Code, which sets out the seven key basics of firearms safety.”
- Treat every firearm as loaded
- Always point firearms in a safe direction
- Load a firearm only when ready to fire
- Identify your target beyond all doubt
- Check your firing zone
- Store firearms and ammunition safely
- Avoid alcohol or drugs when handling firearms.
“If hunting, you need to be aware there may be other hunters nearby who you are not aware of,” Mr Cox says. “They may make noises imitating the calls of game, which can mistakenly be taken for the real thing.
Even the definite sight of skin and antlers is not positive enough to identify your target, as hunters have been shot while carrying deer.
This means you must double and triple check that your target is in fact live game, and you must be 110% sure before taking a shot, as the slightest mistake can have lifelong and tragic consequences.”
Mr Cox says if there is any doubt about the target, do not shoot.
The Arms Code outlines the circumstances under which it is not safe to fire:
- Do not fire at movement only
- Do not fire at colour only
- Do not fire at sound only
- Do not fire at shape only
“In addition, hunters must ensure they have the necessary permits, or permission from the landowner for the land you are hunting on and respect the boundaries of land you are not entitled to hunt on.
Also be aware that there may be other hunters, trampers or people working in these areas.
But if everyone takes the time to familiarise themselves with the Arms Code and follows the seven rules, then this will go a long way to ensure that everyone gets home safely to the family and loved ones.”
Mike Daisley, CEO of the Mountain Safety Council, reiterates that while the roar is an exciting time of year for hunters, it does have specific risks that need to be managed.
“Almost 40% of big game hunting fatalities are from are from misidentification.
These are completely avoidable incidents that change families in an instant,” he says.
“What’s also troubling is that 88% of all North Island big game fatalities involve a firearm,’ he added.
“It’s worth noting that if you roll March and April together, you have 56% of fatalities (06/07 – 06/16) and 40% of search and rescue events (07/10 – 06/15).”
Big game hunters are being urged by the council to focus on safe practices overall, with a particular focus on target identification.
“The ultimate responsibility for target identification is with the shooter,” says Mr Daisley.
“Until you can be categorically certain, assume any shape, colour, movement or sound is a human until you can prove otherwise.”