Present work investigates the structural, electronic and magnetic properties of Gd doped wurtzite GaN nanowires (NWs) oriented along the  direction in presence of intrinsic defects by employing the GGA + U approximation. We find that Ga vacancy (VGa) exhibits lower formation energy compared to N vacancy. Further stabilization of point defects occurs due to the presence of Gd. The strength of ferromagnetism (FM) increases by additional positive charge induced by the VGa. Electronic structure analysis shows that VGa introduces defect levels in the band gap leading to ferromagnetic coupling due to the hybridization of the p states of the Ga and N atoms with the Gd d and f states. Ferromagnetic exchange coupling energy of 76.4 meV is obtained in presence of Gd-VGa complex; hence, the FM is largely determined by the cation vacancy-rare earth complex defects in GaN NWs.