Sliding his computer mouse around until he locates a moving target, the hunter sets the animal in his sites and pulls the rifle’s trigger with a click of his finger. Down goes a wild boar. Another trophy bagged.
Yet in this case it’s not a video game. It’s a new kind of hunting experience in which people anywhere in the world can sit at home and target real game by controlling a gun in a remote location.
To supporters, it’s a way to allow the disabled, among others, to enjoy the thrill of hunting. But critics see it as a form of video slaughter.
Indeed, the concept of live-action hunting – done over the Internet – is raising the hackles of everyone from animal-rights activists to hunting groups to gun advocates. As a result, lawmakers in 14 states are now trying to ban the practice, including Texas, where the only such online hunting facility exists.
The first paid hunt is scheduled to occur on April 9 on a ranch outside San Antonio, and many are racing to stop the practice before it gets started. The dispute is raising new ethical questions over what is an appropriate form of hunting, and represents another example of the unlimited possibilities of the Internet and the sometimes public pressure to limit it.
Even the developer of the new online hunting website, Live-Shot.com, says the system is not for everyone. John Lockwood envisions it being used by those who love hunting but are unable to get out into the woods, such as the wheelchair-bound. “The idea of hunting this way doesn’t appeal to me,” says Mr. Lockwood. “Most of us love getting into the field. But there are many that cannot.”
Under the system, a person can control a camera and a firearm, shooting at real targets in real time, from a computer anywhere. For an additional fee, the meat or head can be shipped to the hunter.
Lockwood says the idea evolved out of knowing and working with disabled hunters as a young man. The first person to sign up to hunt through his website is Dale Hagberg, a paraplegic from Ligonier, Ind. Mr. Hagberg says he broke his neck in an accident almost 18 years ago and has only been able to watch hunting on TV.
“I was an avid hunter before I became hurt, and I’ve missed it ever since,” he says through his nurse. Hagberg is excited – and nervous – about his impending April 9 hunt. “I’m sure when I see the animal walk in my view, my heart will start beating as fast as it used to,” he says.
In addition to disabled hunters, Lockwood says he has heard from a soldier in Spain who wants to send the meat to his family and a soldier in Iraq who doesn’t know when he will hunt again. In all, Lockwood has about 25 people who are seriously interested in online hunting so far.
In a rare alliance, the Humane Society of the United States and Safari Club International, the world’s leading trophy-hunting organization, are both supporting legislation banning the practice. “This is not hunting,” says Safari Club president John Monson.
“It’s pay-per-view slaughter,” adds Michael Markarian of the Humane Society.