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The grieving partner of a man shot by his friend during a deer-hunting trip near Rotorua is devastated at the loss of "the love of my life".
James Dodds' partner, Gabrielle Molloy, in an online tribute described the pain of losing her long-time love.
Mr Dodds was fatally wounded in remote bush in the Waikite Valley, about 30km south of the city, early yesterday morning.
Mr Dodds was shooting with Henry Worsp, an experienced hunter and fisherman with more than 10 years' experience managing outdoor safety.
Rotorua police commander Inspector Bruce Horne said last night 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 ridgeline more than 600m above sea level when Mr Dodds was shot, just before 8am. Minutes later, his hunting partner clambered, distressed and disorientated, 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.
Members of the armed offenders squad returning from an unrelated matter were diverted to help rescue staff find Mr Dodds' body.
They scoured an area below the Paeroa Ranges, about 12km up a rural road, as a helicopter containing his hunting partner 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 Kowalski said.
Mr Dodds 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 his body; wet, slippery conditions and the coming darkness made it unsafe to carry his body out.
It is the third hunting death this year.
Alexander Cameron McDonald (29) was shot dead by another hunter in an accidental shooting in Aorangi Forest Park, Wairarapa on April 7.
A few weeks earlier, Southland man Mark Richard Vanderley (26) was killed by another man in his hunting group while spotlighting for deer.
Of the 12 hunting-related deaths between 2002 and 2011, 10 were caused by someone in the same hunting party.
Mountain Safety Council firearms and safety manager Mike Spray said all were avoidable.
If every hunter followed the basic rules of firearm safety, the figure could be reduced to zero, Mr Spray said.
"Three deaths is a lot in context of other years ..."