Police have busted a major deer-poaching ring operating across the Bay which they say was responsible for stealing more than $100,000 worth of stock.
Constable Tim Bonner, who headed the investigation, said four men and a youth had been arrested after raids on three Matamata properties this week.
Mr Bonner said police also seized 11 firearms, including three .270 high-powered hunting rifles, a .303 rifle, a .243 high-calibre rifle and two shotguns. Three vehicles were also seized.
The poaching was widespread and involved properties in Pyes Pa, Te Matai Rd, Oropi and Rotorua, and thefts of more than 130 rusa, red and fallow deer which varied in price from $700 up to $4500 each, Mr Bonner said.
The scale of the poaching operation had surprised police.
"Four victims have been identified so far but we are very keen to speak to any other victims out there, including anyone who may have been the subject of a poaching attempt," Mr Bonner said.
At this stage one joint theft charge had been laid against the four men but more charges would follow.
The inquiry began after the first victim - a deer farmer from Pyes Pa who was the primary focus of the ring - became so frustrated about being targeted he started taking down vehicle registration numbers. The Pyes Pa victim lost in excess of 100 animals over the past year, and police believe the ring is responsible for poaching in excess of $100,000 worth of stock, Mr Bonner said.
"This poaching has clearly had a substantial impact on the first victim's business and it was also extremely distressing for him and his family."
There was always huge potential for disaster when anyone was engaged in such dangerous criminal activity, Mr Bonner said.
"Given the circumstances here and the recent fatal hunting incidents involving guns, police are very concerned.
"We treat poaching as a very serious matter, particularly when it involves people running around on public farms with high-calibre weapons. Public safety is paramount.
"We urge the public to remain vigilant and notify police if they see any suspicious activity around their farm property or see any suspicious vehicles."
Mr Bonner's boss, Detective Sergeant Rob Lemoto, paid tribute to his colleague who had spent months on the inquiry to bust the ring and put four alleged poachers before the court.
Four Matamata men, aged 17, 18, 19, and 24, jointly charged with one count of theft of animals, will appear in the Tauranga Registrar's Court on Monday. Two are brothers.
A 16-year-old who was also arrested is being dealt with by police youth aid.