A Tauranga hunter is fighting for his life in Waikato Hospital after being shot while hunting south of Taupo last night.
The man, 69, was in a critical condition in the hospital's intensive care unit this morning.
He was shot in the chest by another hunter with a rifle about dusk at Hatepe, between Taupo and Turangi, Acting Sergeant Ross Humphrey of Taupo police said.
The man was using a spotlight to hunt rabbits at the time.
The hunter who shot the man was helping police with inquiries and was "traumatised" by the incident, Mr Humphrey said.
The injured man was flown to Waikato Hospital in a critical condition by Westpac Waikato Air Ambulance about 11pm.
Dean Maisey of the New Zealand Deerstalkers' Association Bay of Plenty branch did not know the details of the accident, but said it was likely that the hunters were on private property.
"In most areas, if they were spotlighting, it would be more than likely be private property.
"Generally it wouldn't be on forest land unless they had a special permit for it."
Mr Maisey said the Deerstalkers' Association did not "officially encourage" spotlighting as a method of hunting because of the high risks involved.
"It's generally not traditionally an ethical way of hunting.
"Spotlighting is something that a lot of people in New Zealand do, and some do it safely.
"But because you are dealing in a dark environment, you can't always see hidden obstacles, and the chances of potential accidents are higher."
While most deerstalking accidents were a case of target identification problems, with spotlighting it was more likely to be a "freak accident".
"Particularly if they were just after rabbits - you can't mistake a rabbit for a person," Mr Maisey said.
"Without having more information, I would suggest it would probably be a gun-handling accident.
"Because you are in the dark, you can sometimes have gun-handling problems.
People who shot rabbits and possums tended to be more casual hunters than dedicated hunters, Mr Maisey said.
"Unfortunately it's one of those tragic events that does occur," Mr Maisey said.