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Deer hunter Gary Harpole, who has 100 kills under his belt, with a large buck at the Heartland Lodge in Nebo, Ill. Though Harpole understands remote-control hunting may benefit the disabled, he feels the practice takes away what he says hunting is all about, getting outdoors and experiencing nature.
AP photo by Seth Perlman
Deer hunter Gary Harpole, who has 100 kills under his belt, with a large buck at the Heartland Lodge in Nebo, Ill. Though Harpole understands remote-control hunting may benefit the disabled, he feels the practice takes away what he says hunting is all about, getting outdoors and experiencing nature.

Cyber deer slayers
Lawmakers target remote-
control hunting

By Jim Suhr
Associated Press Writer

Slouched at a computer, the "hunter" perks up as a 12-point buck eases into view on his screen. Maneuvering his mouse, he swivels the rifle and focuses the cross hairs. With a click of the mouse, the rifle fires a bullet, mortally wounding the animal.

Call it hunting by remote-control. And though still more concept than trend, lawmakers in several states have set their sights on stopping the practice in its tracks.

Illinois state Rep. Dan Reitz has proposed banning such hunting in Illinois, saying such "ready, aim, click" kills, or the prospect of them, push the ethical envelope and violate the spirit of "fair chase" hunts.

"I just think it's wrong," Reitz said, adding that use of such technology — which features a webcam and a .22-caliber rifle atop a remote-controlled rig — would "give all sportsmen a black eye."

Hunters, lawmakers alarmed

Technology that enables people to stalk online and kill real prey has alarmed hunters and lawmakers intent on preemptively blocking the practice. About two dozen states already have outlawed the method, which the Humane Society of the United States calls pay-per-view slaughter.

"The animal has no chance. There's no challenge for you — except knowing how to use a computer and push a button," Arkansas state Sen. Ruth Whitaker said earlier this year while introducing a measure that calls for banning potential cyber hunting in her state. "You never left your tufted sofa. What's sportsmanlike about that?"

Web site set up in 2005

The issue emerged in early 2005, when Texas entrepreneur John Lockwood set up a Web site that allowed subscribing hunters with a high-speed connection to shoot antelope, wild pigs and other game on his 220-acre San Antonio spread via remote control — from anywhere. Lockwood offered to send the animals' heads to subscribers.

During a demonstration, a friend of Lockwood used a computer 45 miles away to shoot a wild hog as it fed at his ranch. But, according to news reports, he only wounded the animal. Lockwood, who was on site, finished the kill.

Lockwood's venture barely got started before Texas lawmakers swooped in and shot it down. Since then, other states have hustled to get something on their books barring the practice.

No fair chase?

Even die-hard hunters are opposed, saying that shooting an animal via computer isn't sporting and doesn't require the element of fair chase in conventional hunting through forest, field or marsh. Some states have posed similar objections to "canned" hunting, during which big game is hunted in captivity as trophies.

"We believe sick ideas have a bad way of spreading, so want to make sure we nip this in the bud and ban it in all 50 states," Michael Markarian, executive vice president of the Humane Society, said of cyber hunting. The group also is pressing for a federal ban.

Pro-hunting groups including Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association also oppose remote-control hunting.

Gary Harpole, an Illinois hunter who figures he's killed 100 deer, most with a bow, said such a practice "takes away from what hunting really is all about: getting outdoors, experiencing nature."

"To me, 90 percent of hunting is the experience, 10 percent is the harvest," said Harpole, who runs a hunter's lodge at his rural home. Bagging a buck by computer, he said, "is a lazy way of hunting."

But Lockwood has said the technology could help people with disabilities or perhaps servicemen oversees shoot game. And an attendant in the blind with the remote-control rifle can override any unsafe or unethical shots.

Lockwood could not be reached for this story, but told The Associated Press last year that legislatures barring the practice "have no clue what they're passing laws against."

"Ever since we stopped running after our prey and killing with our hands, we've evolved by distancing ourselves further and further from the game and making it more and more efficient for whatever reason we want to take it," he said.

Reitz isn't swayed by such arguments.

"There's a lot of opportunities out there for people with disabilities," he said. "I just think this is a bad way to do it."

His bill, which was referred to an Illinois House rules committee on Feb. 22, would amend the state's wildlife code to bar a person from operating, providing, selling, using or offering "any computer software or service that allows a person not physically present at the hunt site to remotely control a weapon that could be used to take wildlife by remote operation."

Use of such equipment would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and $1,500 in fines. Those who provided the software or services could face a misdemeanor carrying a possible 364 days in jail and $2,500 in fines.

Missouri already has such a ban on the books, last year adopting an administrative rule specifying that "wildlife may be taken only in the immediate physical presence of the taker and may not be taken by use of computer-assisted remote hunting devices."

Bill Heatherly, the Missouri Department of Conservation's wildlife programs supervisor, said he never imagined the need for such a measure despite the sport's astounding technological leaps since man first chucked rocks to kill dinner.

"I've been telling people I'm starting to understand how my father must have felt in his later years," he said. "Certainly, I didn't imagine this."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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