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Slain deerhunter's mother: Someone has to pay

Published: 6:14AM Saturday April 14, 2012 Source: Fairfax

A firearms licence is too easy to get, say the grieving family of slain deerhunter Cam McDonald.

He was a "beautiful boy who was loved by everybody" - but deerhunter Cam McDonald died in a Wairarapa forest at Easter and his mother wants the hunter who shot him held accountable.

Alexander Cameron McDonald, a self-employed Auckland builder with a passion for big-game hunting and fishing, will be cremated after his funeral today.

The 29-year-old was fatally shot last Saturday while hunting deer in an isolated area of Aorangi Forest Park, near Pirinoa in South Wairarapa, with his long-term hunting mentor and friend, Greytown fencer Doug Williams, 59.

Cyndy McDonald learned of her son's death from police on Easter Saturday night. "I was in a state of total disbelief. My heart went out to the person and family ... of the person who shot someone in the bush. But on hearing that no-one has been charged yet, my thoughts have changed.

"I keep saying to myself someone has to pay for this," Cyndy McDonald told The Dominion Post at her Auckland home this week.

It is understood police believe one of a group of four Wellington hunters fired the fatal shot.

Cyndy McDonald described her son as a beautiful boy loved by everyone. "As a family we are hurting ... but accidents do happen." She said firearms licences were far too easy to get.

"It is just like walking into a dairy and buying a packet of cigarettes. Cameron, being a city boy, learned the rules of the bush from experienced hunters like Doug [Williams]."

The grieving family reflected on the need for hunters to positively identify their targets as McDonald's body was returned to his Auckland home on Wednesday night.

The scene, with a message exhorting loved ones to "never-give-in, never-give-in" positioned atop the closed coffin, was temporarily a scene of desolation when friends and family realised the enormity of the circumstances.

The coffin was placed beneath the antlers of an 11-pointer red stag McDonald shot in Fiordland two years ago.

McDonald's father, Ranald, an importer, said better hunting education could have prevented his son's early death.

"How can someone just shoot someone like this, without identifying the target?

"People must ensure they are not shooting a fellow hunter - and they must take control of their shooting and actions."

McDonald and Williams had hunted together regularly in Fiordland, Whanganui and Wairarapa over the past five years, since being introduced in Fiordland by the younger man's uncle - also named Cameron McDonald.

The pair went into Aorangi Forest Park via Humes Rd about 5.30am last Saturday, after an unsuccessful hunt on Good Friday night.

Williams shot a stag about 8.30am, taking the final photograph of his hunting companion with their quarry about 15 minutes later.

After gutting the animal and storing the venison, the men continued hunting till about 11.30am, when Williams called in a stag near a place known locally as Williamson's Creek.

They separated so McDonald could get a shot at the stag Williams was luring in. They had been apart for about 10 minutes when Williams heard a muffled roar, the sound stags often make to attract females and warn other stags off during the mating season.

A shot rang out about 10 seconds later - which Williams thought was his hunting partner firing at a stag. But he grew concerned when there was no response on their two-way radio.

About 11.45am, Williams found McDonald dead near the creek. He had been shot in the head. Williams marked the location on a GPS and began the two-hour trek out to the nearest farmhouse, in Humes Rd, where he rang police.

He described his hunting companion as a safety-conscious young man and an accomplished hunter.

"He was a great bloke. This is a real tragedy for Cameron's family."

The slain man's namesake uncle lauded Williams and his nephew as extremely safety-conscious deerhunters.

"This is our family's worst nightmare. No-one can believe what has happened. [Cam] had all the safety ID equipment ... It is just terrible when you do all the right things and others let their passions overrule their judgment. This is a recipe for a tragedy."

McDonald's younger brother, Auckland helicopter pilot Jonathan McDonald, frequently accompanied his brother on hunts in the South Island and outside Whanganui.

As a hunter himself, he felt a police prosecution would not achieve much. Rather, he wanted more emphasis on his fellow hunters being educated on the need to identify their targets.

"Something has got to be done about it. There has to be more public awareness on the issue of firearm safety."

Long-time McDonald family friend Bruce McCallum was more forthright in his criticism of the as-yet-unnamed shooter. "This was an outright act of somebody not thinking and identifying a target in a very serious sport. The fact is that this death was preventable from my point of view. I feel bitter about this ... Cameron should still be here with us."

He described McDonald as a young, positive, enthusiastic man who lived life to the full.

"Cameron was never going to be a guy who would stay on the tools until he was old and broken down. By the time he was 35 or 40 he would have been doing something else. He was a person who was capable of making the next step up. He was building up a nice little nest-egg for himself. He was a young man with a very bright future."

Police investigating the shooting say four Wellington hunters spoken to on Sunday have been "largely co-operative" so far.

The four, who are believed to have been hunting in pairs at the time of the incident, all travelled to Masterton police station the day after the shooting and consented to an interview, Detective Senior Sergeant Sean Hansen of Wairarapa CIB said.

It is understood investigators believe one of the four fired the shot that killed McDonald.

For the Easter period there were 981 active Conservation Department hunting permits for the Aorangi Range, covering 18,300 hectares from Pirinoa south to Cape Palliser on the coast.

Given that each hunter must have a permit, there were potentially hundreds of hunters in the area who may have seen or heard something, Hansen said.

However, despite appeals for information, only two other groups of hunters had so far come forward. They had been eliminated from the inquiry.

Police expected investigative work to take "another week or so", before they sought legal advice on laying charges.