New Zealand Law Society - The hillbilly marksman who chose law before rocks

The hillbilly marksman who chose law before rocks

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Lured to Otago University with tales of great parties, Whakatane-born Brian Carter headed straight home after graduating, to the law firm he has been with ever since.

Brian joined Hamertons Lawyers in 1987 and is now principal partner.

“Our family were not academic people, we’re hillbillies,” says Brian, who comes from a professional hunting background. His dad was a possum trapper and his mum provided “hunting support”.

Brian Norman (Brian) Carter
Entry to law
Graduated LLB from Otago University in 1987. Admitted in 1987.
Principal partner at Hamertons Lawyers, Whakatane.
Speciality area
Commercial, property, trusts.
Brian Carter
Brian Carter

Away from law Brian is best known as a full-bore rifle shooting champion, and just last month represented New Zealand at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, where he finished 15th in the Queen’s Prize (full-bore rifle) shooting behind his shooting buddy John Snowden, from Ashburton, who finished eighth. He and Snowden also came fifth in the Queen’s Prize Pairs.

Brian represented New Zealand at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games and at the Oceania Games and first represented New Zealand at an international shoot in South Africa in 1998.

He won the Ballinger Belt – the oldest sporting trophy competed for in New Zealand – in 2006, 2008 and 2012. In 2017 he was the top New Zealander to compete for the Belt, finishing in third place.

“The Ballinger Belt in New Zealand and the Queen’s Prize – which is shot at the Commonwealth Games - historically come from Queen Victoria and Bisley and were military-based competitions used to improve the shooting skills of the military,” says Brian.

“Firearms were military-based and used to be .303s. That changed to .308, which is more superior in the wind.”

He shot with New Zealand Universities teams and in Under-21 and Under-25 teams, and began his interest in shooting for the Ballinger Belt in 1983, while at Otago University.

“In New Zealand we do all our own hand-loading of ammunition. But at an event like the Commonwealth Games you use issued ammunition, which puts us at a disadvantage.

“The Poms shoot issued ammo all the time and they are good at it. Our rifles are not set up for that ammo. We tune our rifles to suit our ammo.”

Targets are shot at various distances from 300 yards to 1,000 yards and “the older you get the more cunning you get with judging the wind,” says Brian. “In my event shooters are considered quite elderly. The oldest was a 79-year-old Canadian.

“Full bore shooting is not a great media thing and is hard to understand. Shooters have to calculate wind speed and direction. For example, if you have a 10 miles per hour cross wind you are altering sights 100 inches for deflection of wind at 1,000 yards - for one shot.

“The range is flagged with a lot of flags, so you are reading flags, working out estimated wind speed and direction and calculating in your head what you think the wind is. You adjust your sights and fire the shot. It is very much an experience thing.”

He says rifle shooting is very big in Europe - especially 300-yard shooting - “where you have grandstands full of people clapping and cheering. It’s a different world”.

Brian gets his lifelong interest in hunting and firearms from his Dad, Peter, a professional hunter who trapped possums and hunted deer in the off season in the Bay of Plenty.

“You’ve got to teach them early and as a child I was taught to shoot an air rifle propped up on some pillows in the dining room, through the lounge and into the fireplace. I was pretty good and no ornaments were broken.

Sureshot mother

“Mum was hunting support. Every possum Dad shot, Mum skinned and dried. And she raised six kids. She was very capable.

“We lived at Lake Rotoma and I came home from school one day, looked up the hill and there’s my mother standing there with a butcher’s knife in her hand and blood up to her elbows.

“I’m wondering what’s happened. She had been cooking dinner, looked out the back window, seen a pig, got dad’s .308 and put a cleaning rod through it, shot this pig, then another one stepped out so she shot that one too. I came home from school and she had two pigs on the ground and gutting them. A very capable lady.

“Hunting was a big thing for me because it meant I could trap possums in the May and August university holidays. I could fly home from Dunedin, trap 250 possums, dry them, box them up, take them back on Air New Zealand to Dunedin, and go to Dalgety’s wool store.

“They were good to me there and allowed me to brush them up and present them, then they would grade the skins in front of me. That was how I got my money to go through university. It’s different these days, you have to borrow it.”

In the summer holidays he had what he calls real jobs, working for the New Zealand Forest Service – the forerunner of the Department of Conservation - doing vegetation surveys.

“That was brilliant because it meant getting into the bush for long stints and you couldn’t spend money when in the bush. In my last year I worked in the Tasman Pulp and Paper Mill and that was better money than I earned as a young lawyer. I was lucky I was able to do those things.

“My father had a BSA .222 which I was allowed to hunt with and it had not much recoil.

“The first rifle I bought cost me 50 possum skins. My father won it in a shooting competition, a Remington Model 700 .308. He sold it to me but I had to go and trap 50 possums to get it. They averaged $8, so I paid $400 for the rifle, which was about the going price then.

“Nothing was given - you had to work for it.”

New Zealand-made equipment

Brian began competitive shooting at university and started to look for coaching and people who could teach him.

He shoots now with a Barnard rifle, made in Auckland, fitted with a True-flite barrel, made in Gisborne. “Barnard rifles are used all over the world. At any big shoots around the world a large number of rifles on the range will be Barnard. It’s nice to have local gear and people who can support you locally.”

Brian Carter action

His shooting exploits have taken Brian to Bisley, in England, Camp Perry in the United States, South Africa and Australia, where he says he has “got on pretty well”.

“I have not won a big international competition outright, I came first equal in Australia a few years ago. It’s difficult at the top level. Anyone in the top 20 or 30 could win. If you finish in the top 10 you have done very well. Shooting sports can be up one week and down the next.

“For 18 months out from the Commonwealth Games I was getting up at 5.30 in the morning, exercising, going to work, coming home at lunchtime, dry firing with my rifle on the floor at home and coming back to work in the afternoon. In the evening more exercising and mental training. The amount of effort required for an amateur sportsman is huge.”

Having the nearest 1,000-yard range a three-hour drive away didn’t help. “It’s difficult and also hard to compete with a shooter employed by their military and that’s their job. But the top two shooters in the event I compete in, one is an actuary and one’s an ear nose and throat surgeon.”

He has a sister teaching in Australia, a sister nursing in Tokoroa, another sister with an LLB working as a government policy adviser, a cabinet maker brother and another brother deceased.

Brian’s wife Linda who looks after daughter Caitlin (17) and son Josh (15) - both at high school. “Caitlin is talking about going to Otago University, which is a worry for me. She likes Super Rugby games. She has not shown much interest in following me into law and is more into science. Josh is into English.

“I was one of those kids who never really knew what I wanted to do. You don’t know because you don’t know what the job involves.

“I’m not sure how I was attracted to law. I was attracted to Otago by a very effective recruitment campaign - an Otago student came to our school and said ‘you’ve got to come to Otago because we have great parties’.

“It was either going to be science or law. I was interested in geology and studied both in my first year. I was accepted for law which was too good an opportunity to turn down. If I had gone down the geology track I probably would have ended up in the middle of Australia.”

With a long-time interest in conservation, Brian has served six years on the Fish and Game Council for the Eastern Region. “When you live in small town you have to go fishing, so I naturally became involved with Fish and Game.

“I am interested in duck-shooting and am heavily involved in wetland improvement and development. I have a very substantial wetland I spend a lot of time working in, planting and doing all the good things.

“We live in town but also have a rural property and I feel happiest outside in the country, duck-shooting, fishing and whitebaiting.”


He has assembled various self-hypnosis tapes to help him focus on his shooting technique.  “A large part of what we do is mind over matter. If your heart starts pumping and you are full of adrenaline it’s very hard to hold your rifle still, and you need to be in complete control.

“There are various breathing techniques and things you can employ. I have tapes I have used over the years I play to myself wherever I am. So if you see me on earphones it’s not music.

“I’m not musical, don’t play instruments and can listen to anything, but I’m not so big on rap.

“I don’t have a lot of time to read but I liked Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove and some of his other stuff. And Catch 22 and To Kill a Mocking Bird, anything that’s a famous book I like to read.

“I like Country Calendar and go to the movies that Linda tells me we’re going to. We saw The Death of Stalin, which didn’t really work for me, but some people behind me laughed the whole way through it. I thought it was a bit silly.

“We like a holiday at Ruapehu with the kids for a bit of skiing.”

The family pet is Casey, a 12-year-old Labrador and retired duck dog. “We have always had labs for that reason. And would you be surprised if I told you I drive a Toyota Hilux?”

He says there’s not much in his legal career that would qualify for a memorable moment.

That moment came when he first won the Ballinger Belt in 2006.

“I can’t recall the score but it was a comfortable win. I had wanted so long to win and had done so much to prepare. I know a lot of really good shooters who have never won the trophy. You can do everything right then get caught with one bad spoiler in four days of shooting if you get some bad luck.”

Venison for Mr Churchill

“My dinner guests would include Teddy Roosevelt - a great conservationist – and Winston Churchill. With venison, duck and whitebait.”

He doesn’t drink anymore. “I did all of that, especially at Otago. But when you get busy and are trying to achieve things in sport you can’t afford to have a day when you are not at your best.

“I have no problem serving guests whatever they want – a Marlborough Sav, a red from Hawke’s Bay or Speights. It’s hard to beat a good Speights.

“We made fun of Speights when I was a first year in Dunedin but by the time I left the place that’s was all we drank. Otago suited me because it was a place where they said you have to make the grade and it’s up to you how you do it. Law lecturer Mark Henaghan was a great influence on us and a fabulous teacher.”

Brian says geology might appeal as an alternative career. “I was really into rocks, but rocks are hard work.”

“We enjoy duck-shooting, which is more about family, and is more important to me than Christmas.

“It’s when we get the family together and have a great time. Ducks are a bonus. I am a lawyer and father first and an amateur sportsman next.”

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