I have boundless sympathy for the father who accidentally shot his son because he thought he was a deer. But I have little sympathy for his lawyer, who seems to have run a mumbo-jumbo defence to have him discharged with conviction. Hunters need to recognise their mind can trick them, the lawyer argued. So it wasn’t the father’s fault.
Nothing will bring the son back. But I must confess that I have trouble reconciling the lawyer’s statements on radio this morning with, frankly, basic reality.
The police summary said [the hunter] had seen movement in the bush that he believed to be two white-tailed deer. He told police he spent two or three minutes confirming this with both the naked eye and his rifle scope.
"He spent two to three minutes from three different vantage points adjusting his rifle scope before he took the shot," [lawyer John] Fraser told Radio NZ [this morning].
"That his mind tricked him by a set of unfortunate circumstances into taking the shot, is the issue I'm trying to highlight here."
The case showed the psychological influences, known as cognitive biases, that could affect hunters.
"Their experience, their predisposition, their hunting skills ... predisposes them to thinking, believing and concluding that what they're looking at is in fact a deer, when it's not," Fraser said.
Research showed experienced hunters were prone to that kind of fundamental error.
On radio, Fraser said that the more experienced the hunter, this alleged cognitive bias makes them more likely to make this sort of mistake, rather than less. He offered no evidence for this suggestion that, should you go out hunting with a mate, you’re safest if you pick one who’s never handled a weapon before.
"This whole psychological field has yet to be recognised... in the licensing procedure that we have in New Zealand at the moment," he said.
"I hope through the publicity that arises from this, that experienced hunters might recognise that they are all prone to cognitive bias and they need to recognise that as reality."
A “cognitive bias” is “a type of error in thinking that occurs when people are processing and interpreting information in the world around them.” Which in this case is a fancy way of saying, he didn’t see what he thought he saw. Well, obviously. But that’s why you take precautions.
But, it was argued, the hunter did take “all necessary precautions.” Except, well, maybe another hunter can help me here, but If the standard for judging these things is 'were the precautions taken sufficient to avoid accidental death’ then the answer is clearly “no.” They weren’t.
Isn’t that a reasonable point?
And how do you experienced hunters (and your hunting mates) now feel about being told that the more experienced you are the more likely you are to make this kind of error?