An attacker aimed a shotgun in the face of a county sheriff but the officer deflected the weapon before it fired and was saved by his bulletproof vest, authorities said Tuesday.
No arrests had been made.
Graham County Sheriff Frank Hughes was shot in the chest late Monday after he stopped along a rural road north of Thatcher to help a driver whose vehicle was pulled over with either its trunk or hood open, said Tim Graver, a commander who works for the sheriff.
The sheriff had reached into his own vehicle, possibly to get a flashlight, when the motorist walked up behind him with a .410-gauge shotgun and pointed it at the sheriff's face.
They struggled and Hughes managed to pull the gun down toward his body before the gunman fired, Graver said.
The sheriff's bulletproof vest absorbed the brunt of the shotgun blast.
"He's doing fine," Graver said.
The sheriff was able to return fire but there was no indication if his attacker was hit.
Found by motorists
Two people driving down the road found the sheriff lying on the ground moments later.
Graver said there was no other traffic in the area in southeastern Arizona when the shooting occurred.
A spokeswoman for the sheriff's office in nearby Cochise County, Carol Capas in Bisbee, said police were on the lookout for a sedan occupied by a man and a woman.
Hughes, 53, was treated at Mount Graham Regional Medical Center and was expected to be released Tuesday.
"We're extremely grateful," said Terry Cooper, manager of the rural southeastern Arizona county, which has a population of about 35,000. "Sheriff Hughes is one of the good guys of the world. He cares deeply about our community."
Hughes has served 12 years as sheriff and will leave office in January after losing a bid for a fourth term in office last month.
"The last few months, he's been trying to spend a lot more time out with the troops," Cooper said. "That's why he was out last night."