A Nelson hunter was today jailed for nine months for the accidental shooting of a fellow hunter in a remote area near Reefton in May.
Shane Ian Phibbs, 39, a technician, last month admitted killing William (Bill) White, 40, while on an annual week-long hunting trip in the Rough River area with the victim.
Mr White was shot in the chest after Phibbs spotted movement 60 to 65 metres from his position.
Using a scope he saw what he thought was the head, neck and shoulders of a deer, shot and saw it fall. When he reached the site he found Mr White lying dead on the ground.
Phibbs stood with eyes downcast in the Nelson District Court, as victim impact and emotional harm reports were delivered on behalf of Mr White's wife, Denise, and by Mr White's brother Lindsay who was also on the hunting trip.
After the shooting Lindsay White had to remain in the camp with Phibbs overnight before walking out for help the next day.
Phibbs was given leave to apply for home detention, ordered to pay $5000 in reparation to Mr White's wife and to undertake counselling as required following his release.
Judge Tony Zohrab said the prison environment would be difficult for Phibbs and he wanted to help him as much as he could to deal with it.
Lindsay White said he could not understand how his brother had been mistaken for the fallow deer which were jet black, the size of a medium to large dog and between 30 to 35kg. His brother, on the other hand, was large and weighed 120 kg.
Mr White said he had had concerns about Phibbs' hunting ability and attitude. It was Phibbs third trip into the area and he had yet to shoot a deer there. On this occasion Phibbs was "really hyped up" and determined he was going to shoot one.
Mrs White's report, delivered by a support person, spoke of how her husband and his brother were due to shoot with another hunter who had to pull out of the trip.
Her husband had subsequently invited Phibbs, with whom he had hunted several times before, including in the Rough River area.
She said she knew her husband had some concerns about his shooting ability and had jokingly said he hoped Phibbs would not shoot him.
"I knew immediately it was Shane who shot him," she said when the police came to her door to notify her of her husband's death.
Mrs White said she had lost her best friend and soul mate and she was very angry that in a split second Phibbs' action had taken her husband's life.
"There was no reason for it to happen. It was avoidable and should never have happened."
Phibbs' defence counsel, Garry Barkle said hunting friends had provided references praising Phibbs' hunting ability and attention to safety.
It appeared Mr White had inexplicably strayed into Phibbs' designated hunting area. Upon finding his body he discovered Mr White's high visibility orange blaze hat lying close by behind a tree.
Mr Barkle said Phibbs had been one hundred per cent certain he had seen a deer and was devastated to find the body of his friend instead.
He had met with Mr White's wife and family to apologise, had offered reparation and endeavoured to help in any way he could. He had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.
Phibbs' wife had described the impact on her husband as catastrophic and said he had been withdrawn and apathetic since the accident.
Judge Zohrab said he was impressed with the references provided for Phibbs and there were numerous mitigating circumstances, including his remorse, early guilty plea and good character.
However, he had to hand down a sentence that would provide a general deterrence to others and to "bring home to hunters" that when they used a gun they had to be one hundred per cent certain of what they were firing at.
He described the degree of carelessness by Phibbs as being moderate when compared to several other hunting accidents and said a prison sentence rather than a community sentence was appropriate in the circumstances.