A group of campers in the Kaweka Forest Park came within centimetres of being shot as a hunter, illegally spotlighting, targeted and shot a deer in direct line of sight with the camp.
One of the men camping at the Department of Conservation managed site last weekend said freshly gutted remains of the deer were discovered the next morning within 100m of the Ox Bow Kuripapango campsite.
He said he was stunned after taking measurements of where the hunter would have been as he made the shot.
An experienced hunter from Wellington, who didn't want his name published and hunted the Kaweka park regularly, worked out the deer was directly between the shooter and the campsite. Had the shot missed it would have torn into the camp where a group of about a dozen people were sleeping.
He said the shooter clearly knew the area well, as the path and trail was often a night-time spot for wandering deer. "And this person would have been using a spotlight and they would have known there was a campsite there ... they would have known and that's what makes this so callous."
His advice to the shooter?
"You could not publish that, but it gives good hunters a bad name. It's just thoughtless and heinous."
They reported what happened to police and the "line-of-sight" near miss was confirmed - alarming both police and DoC staff.
"It came close to being a tragedy and it's only a matter of time before there is a tragedy around here," Taradale Community Constable and investigating officer Peter Gimblett said. "There is as real cavalier attitude among some hunters and this incident underlines that."
He said it appeared the hunter may have been using a muzzle silencer of some sort, to further conceal his activities, as the campers did not hear the shot.
Mr Gimblett said poaching, and hunters defying permit rules, was a continuing concern for police and an ever-present threat to people camping in rural areas.
He said the case of schoolteacher Rosemary Ives, who died after being shot in the head by a hunter shooting at night near Turangi in October 2010, had highlighted the danger of hunting at night and failing to identify targets and ensure no one else could be in the firing line.
The man convicted of manslaughter as a result was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and ordered to pay reparation of $10,000 to Ms Ive's partner.
"How many reminders do people need?" Mr Gimblett said.
Napier-based Department of Conservation compliance officer Tom Barr agreed and said Saturday night's incident was chilling.
"It's not a matter of 'if' any more," he said. "It is a matter of when."
He said the area the shooting had taken place in was on DoC land and the regulations for hunting there were clear.
"Hunting at night is a big no-no there. The only place hunters can shoot at night is on private land and they must have the full permission of the landowner."
He said there were continuing issues with hunters who defied the rules - committing arms offences, conservation offences and, of most concern, putting innocent lives at risk.
"Sometime there is alcohol involved and sometimes it is buck fever.
"They don't think, and if something tragic did happen then ignorance is no defence."
Mr Barr said the realisation there had been five deaths over the past 36 months where hunting incidents had resulted in fatalities, had "clearly not got through to some people".
Mr Gimblett appealed to hunters to abide by regulations which had been put in place to ensure safety.