Fatal shooting of young soldier reminder to identify target when hunting

By Nicki Harper -
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Gary McCurrach was jailed for six months for careless use of a rifle, causing the death of 23-year-old Danny Jordan.
Gary McCurrach was jailed for six months for careless use of a rifle, causing the death of 23-year-old Danny Jordan.

A call for eyesight testing when getting a firearms licence was made in court yesterday when a Hastings hunter appeared for sentencing.

Gary McCurrach, 58, was sent to jail for six months on a charge of carelessly using a rifle causing the death of 23-year-old soldier Danny Jordan in the Ruahine Range on March 30 this year.

McCurrach accidentally shot Mr Jordan who was hunting with two Army friends. They were sitting on the Sparrowhawk bivouac walking track, taking a break from their tramp into their hunting area.

Family, friends and supporters of both the victim and the defendant filled the Hastings District Court to hear the sentencing, and Mr Jordan's father, Tony Jordan, a flower grower from Waiuku, broke down in tears at times as he told the court of how his life would never be the same again having lost his son.

A soldier based at the Linton Military Camp at the time, Mr Jordan was a person who had a strong sense of justice, which the Army and his whanau reciprocated, his father said.

"The rules of a hunting permit state do not shoot near a track - Danny was resting in a place he thought was safe ... I want people to feel safe in the bush ... Danny would have demanded that we put things right in this instance."

He said he felt empty and angry, and his pleasure in life had suffered following his son's death.

These thoughts were echoed in other victim impact statements from members of Mr Jordan's family and his partner.

Lawyer Richard Stone said McCurrach was devastated by the event and would never hunt again, and no longer had firearms.

Mr Stone said that although it was concerning, and an aggravating factor, that McCurrach did not have a hunting permit at the time, it would unfortunately not have reduced the risk of this tragedy.

He noted that McCurrach had deteriorating eyesight.

"This is an unusual situation where an experienced hunter has been fooled by his eyesight, coupled with his experience, into believing he knew what he was shooting at.

"He took significant time with glasses on and off, scope at wide and close magnification, roaring at the target and seeing how the dog was reacting - this shows a degree of care that was insufficient but reduces the carelessness."

He added that it was surprising that eyesight was not tested when obtaining or renewing a firearms licence, and that McCurrach would like to see eyesight tests made compulsory.

Mountain Safety Council chief executive Mike Daisley said that the New Zealand police was the agency that made decisions on licensing criteria, and that while eyesight was a contributing factor in the decision making process to identify a target, it was not the only factor.

"The onus is squarely on hunters to identify their target beyond all doubt.

"A parallel could be drawn to driving a car in that people with perfect eyesight still crash cars, and those with glasses do as well."

Mr Daisley said that if there was any public good to come from the extremely tragic and potentially avoidable event, it was that this was a sobering reminder to hunters of all ages, and of all experience levels that identifying your target is your responsibility.

"The consequences of getting it wrong are just too great, and we'd like to see everyone make it home from their hunt."

Judge Tony Adeane said McCurrach was an experienced hunter who knew the risks when he shot and killed Jordan instantly at a 42 metre range.

"At 23, Jordan was an admirable young man, a soldier in the Army - this is a tragedy for his family and others who knew him.

"You [McCurrach] are 58 and also a family man of good reputation who has never before been in court. I accept your remorse and that your life has been changed, although it does not compare to Jordan."

Although McCurrach made an early guilty plea, and was at no risk of re-offending, Judge Adeane said that accountability was needed and as such a home detention sentence was not adequate.

As well as the six months in prison, McCurrach was ordered to pay incidental expenses of $330.

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