A man was fighting for his life last night after a bullet meant for a water buffalo ricocheted off a tree, went through the roof of the ute he was sitting in and hit him in the back of the head.
The accident happened yesterday afternoon at a farm in Harrisville Rd, Pukekohe, as four men were trying to shoot and kill two buffalo that escaped while being loaded into a truck.
Pukekohe Senior Sergeant Rob Arnold said the out-of-control beasts had smashed through some fences since their escape on Monday and one ran on to the road yesterday morning, causing a minor car accident.
Worried the animals would cause more damage the men - believed to be farming neighbours and friends - went in search of them, and found them in a paddock at about 1pm.
Mr Arnold said two of the men got out of the ute and were standing next to it when they fired the first shot, which struck one of the buffalo but did not kill it.
A second shot appeared to have hit a tree in front of them and ricocheted back towards the ute, going through the roof.
The bullet struck a man sitting in the back seat behind the driver in the back of the head. The driver was also in the vehicle.
"They have fired at the water buffalo with the intention of destroying them and it appears that one of the shots has ricocheted back and hit one of the four," said Mr Arnold.
The wounded man, who is in his 60s, was taken by ambulance to Middlemore Hospital in a critical condition.
He was believed to be having surgery last night.
His friends gave statements to police, Mr Arnold said, but it was too early to say if any charges would be laid.
"They are obviously shocked and upset," he said. "It's the worst scenario for anyone, especially when it's your friend or neighbour who is accidentally shot."
Police have seized the hunting rifle that was used and the damaged ute, and are investigating the circumstances of the shooting.
But Mr Arnold said that, based on the initial information, it appeared to be a tragic freak accident.
"It's just a huge reminder about how careful you have got to be with firearms. It's one of those tragic things that have happened."
Mr Arnold said a police officer later killed the wounded buffalo.
"It took several shots to drop him - he's obviously got a hide on him like a rhino. They are a big beast."
The other buffalo ran off, and was still on the loose last night.
Federated Farmers vice-president Frank Brenmuhl said destroying animals was something that had to be done from time to time, and many farmers owned a firearm solely for that purpose.
While he did not know the detail of yesterday's accident, Mr Brenmuhl said, it was a timely reminder for anyone using firearms to always take extra care.
"This is something that's not necessarily applicable only to farmers," he said.
"It's anybody using a firearm, and they need to be aware that freak accidents can occur from time to time and so they need to be careful."