The grieving partner of a man shot by his friend during a deer-hunting trip is devastated by the loss of "the love of my life".
James Dodds, known as Dodzy, was fatally wounded early yesterday morning in remote bush in the Waikite Valley, about 30km south of Rotorua.
Mr Dodds was shooting with Henry Worsp, an experienced hunter and fisherman who is known by the nickname "8-shot" and has more than 10 years' experience managing outdoor safety.
Rotorua's police commander, Inspector Bruce Horne, said last night that the shooting appeared to be accidental "and another tragic reminder of the absolute necessity for hunters to properly identify their target before they shoot".
The men were in heavy bush on one side of a ridge more than 600m above sea level when Mr Dodds was shot, just before 8am.
Minutes later, his hunting partner dashed, distressed and disoriented, to a high point to get cellphone coverage and called police.
"That person reported that there had been an accident and that he had fatally shot a hunting partner," Mr Horne said.
Mr Worsp walked about 2km across steep terrain and met police officers near Te Kopia Rd.
Members of the armed offenders squad returning from an unrelated matter were diverted to help rescue staff to find Mr Dodds' body.
They scoured an area below the Paeroa Ranges, about 12km up therural road, as a helicopter carrying Mr Worsp hovered above.
"We flew him over the ridge so he could identify where he thought the body was," said Bay Trust Rescue Helicopter pilot Art Kowalski.
"He was quite distressed."
Searchers had to be winched into the bush because there was nowhere to land near the shooting site.
Mr Dodds' body was found late in the afternoon but remained in the bush overnight under police guard.
The weather was too bad for a helicopter to winch out the body and wet, slippery conditions and approaching darkness made it unsafe to carry him out on foot.
Mr Kowalski said there was drizzle, low cloud and high wind in the area all day.
Mr Dodds' partner, Gabrielle Molloy, described in a public online tribute the pain of losing her long-time love.
"He was the most inspiring, loving, caring, clever human being I have ever met and I am so privileged to have spent nearly nine wonderful years with him," she wrote on Facebook.
"I will miss him with my entire being. I love you Dodzy, so so much baby. Your Gabs."
Mr Dodds' shocked best friend, Jeff Carter, described him as full of life and said he would be terribly missed.
"We are all in disbelief ... He was just one of the most alive guys.
"He was into mountain biking, motocross and hunting. He was an awesome mentor to a lot of people in New Zealand and around the world."
Mr Carter said he and other friends were also feeling for Mr Worsp.
"Our hearts go out to the guy that was with him. He must be feeling terrible."
Mr Worsp has worked as a senior raft guide and snow safety officer, and has taught emergency management courses, says the website for Peak Outdoor Safety and Emergency Management, which lists him as a director. The site says his passions are family, fishing, hunting, skiing, diving and mountain biking.
He belongs to the hunting group Wildman NZ.
Mr Dodds' death is New Zealand's third hunting death this year.
Cam McDonald, 29, was shot dead by another hunter in Aorangi Forest Park, Wairarapa, on April 7.
A few weeks earlier, 26-year-old Southlander Mark Richard Vanderley was killed by another man in his hunting group while spotlighting for deer.
Of the 12 hunting-related deaths between 2002 and last year, 10 were caused by someone in the same hunting party.
All had been avoidable, said the Mountain Safety Council's firearms and safety manager, Mike Spray, and if every hunter followed the basic rules of firearm safety, the figure could be reduced to zero.
- Additional reporting: Daily Post