Community anger over farm thefts has boiled over in the Far North after a farmer shot a man he caught trying to steal one of his bikes.

The farmer from Whangae, northwest of Kawakawa, found three men trying to steal a quadbike from his property on Sunday about 9pm.

Armed with a shotgun, he shot one of the three in the upper back between his shoulders. The other two fled.

The farmer then rang police and told them what he had done.

The shot man was taken by helicopter to Whangarei Hospital, about 54km south, with serious injuries, before being transferred to Auckland Hospital, where he was in a stable condition last night.

The farmer, aged in his 40s, was yesterday supported by Federated Farmers and a family friend.

Northland Federated Farmers operations director Bill Guest said no farmer in the region would have sympathy for the shot man.

"No one can condone a shooting but the farming community up here are sick and tired of their cattle being rustled, thieves taking equipment and farmbikes being stolen."

Mr Guest said a group of men were known to be stealing farmbikes in the area.

"Farmers must have the right to protect their home and property against these people. We've had a gutsful of them."

A few kilometres north, family friend Lindy Aickin, of Pakaraka, also told of being targeted by thieves. Her family had had to buy a shipping container to lock up bikes and other gear. Police are still investigating the shooting and have yet to decide whether to charge the farmer.

The shot man's accomplices were still on the run late yesterday.

Inspector Paul Carpenter, the Northland police rural area controller, said the farmer held a firearms licence.

In September 1989, police decided not to prosecute Auckland man Mark Williams over the shooting dead of a burglar outside a vacant Panmure unit.

The intruder, Jimmy Rapata, 35, had been disturbed by Mr Williams as he burgled the next-door apartment.

Mr Rapata was shot with a .32-calibre pistol as he took jewellery, a TV set and a video from the address.

Police said at the time that they would not charge Mr Williams with murder or manslaughter because they believed he fired at Mr Rapata in the belief he would be attacked.

The latest incident also has similarities to the 1996 case of Mangonui farmer Matthew Oates, who shot dead Wayne Phillip Rogers when the man raided his house.

Justice Sian Elias ended a murder case against Mr Oates after a jury failed to agree on whether the shooting was murder or self-defence.