An 18-year-old who attempted to illegally hunt on conservation land, having taken methamphetamine, had expensive hunting equipment confiscated and was slapped with a hefty fine.
Alex Jack O’Connor pleaded guilty to charges of unlawful hunting, possession of methamphetamine, and possession of methamphetamine utensils in the Nelson District Court on Monday.
A police summary of facts said O’Connor drove his ute on the Braeburn Track near Murchison about 9pm on March 9, taking along an associate who shone a “powerful spotlight” from the front passenger seat.
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The defendant drove his vehicle slowly along the rural road, stopping at vantage points to scan nearby hill faces with his thermal imaging monocular.
Police said the device was “relatively new technology” which had only recently been accessible to the general public and allowed hunters to see warm-bodied animals or people in complete darkness.
Once an animal was identified, a light was used to illuminate the exact location without casting unnecessary white light around the hills in an effort to locate game.
This type of hunting is only lawful on private property if the hunter has permission of the landowner, and it isn’t allowed on DOC land.
Police said a property owner west of the Braeburn track saddle had spied a spotlight being cast from O’Connor’s vehicle over hillside within his land, and the adjoining DOC land.
The defendant and his associate were found at the Tutaki Valley end of the Braeburn track by police.
Police also found a loaded Howa firearm in the back of the car, along with spotlights and other hunting equipment.
“A subsequent search of the defendant’s vehicle resulted in the location of 0.17 grams of methamphetamine and a glass ‘P’ pipe that the defendant admitted he had just used prior to the arrival of police,” the summary said.
Judge Tony Zohrab fined O’Connor $4000, plus court costs, for the unlawful hunting charge, and ordered the forfeiture and destruction of the $1500 firearm, the $5000 thermal image monocular, as well as the other hunting equipment.
He also ordered the destruction of the methamphetamine and utensils.
Police prosecutor Sergeant Wayne Johnston said people who took part in illegal hunting needed to remember they would be facing “at least” a significant fine if they were caught.
“Of course there can be imprisonment and confiscation of vehicles and disqualification involved as well,” he said.
A law change in November 2013 saw the maximum penalty for unlawful hunting increase from a maximum $500 to a maximum $100,000 fine, and two years imprisonment.
Johnston said the reason the government uplifted the fine and period of imprisonment was because unlawful hunting was becoming “quite prevalent” and was dangerous.
“A big part of the problem is farmers get up in the early hours of the morning because they hear shots going off up the road or see spotlights on their land, and they’re having to approach and deal with these sort of people, sometimes on drugs and alcohol, who are prowling around at night with firearms.”