Mouse Click Brings Home Thrill of the Hunt
Sunday, May 8, 2005
BULVERDE, Tex. -- On a tranquil Central Texas landscape, three fallow deer wandered through live oak and cedar as a rifle barrel poked out of a small shack nearby. With a metallic click, the Remington, clutched in a motorized steel cradle without a hunter at the trigger, swiveled to track them.
The gun's scope showed the cross hairs settle right behind a buck's shoulder and hold steady, a perfect aim that would kill the animal in one clean shot -- if the hunter wanted to fire the gun. More than 1,300 miles away in Indiana, looking at his computer screen, he decided to pass. This hunter wants to bag a blackbuck antelope, and he will wait to click the computer mouse that will send the electronic signal to shoot.
It is called hunting by remote control, the brainchild of Texas entrepreneur John Lockwood, whose Internet business advertises a "real time on-line hunting and shooting experience."
The business, Live-Shot, is open to everyone who registers and pays monthly $14.95 membership dues and a $1,000 deposit toward the cost of the animal. People using the service must have a valid Texas hunting license, which can be obtained online.
The Remington .30-06 rifle is mounted atop a homemade contraption of welded metal and a piece of butcher block, and is attached to a small motor, three video cameras (two linked to the Internet, including the one embedded in the gun scope) and a door lock actuator, like that used in a car. The actuator is attached to a wire that pulls the trigger at the click of the mouse. From virtually anywhere, someone with an Internet connection can fire the rifle.
If most hunters use blinds to conceal themselves from deer or other wildlife, "what is the difference in this and clicking a mouse?" asked Lockwood as he pulled the trigger of an unloaded Winchester Model 70 .30-06 that he uses for hunting. "Nothing. That is the same exact motion, and it takes the same amount of time."
Although the business, which apparently is the only one of its kind, has yet to turn into a bonanza, opposition to it has. Bills to ban the cyberspace activity are moving through at least 14 state legislatures from Hawaii to Maine, including hunter-friendly Texas. Virginia lawmakers passed prohibitions that take effect July 1. The California Fish and Game Commission ordered emergency regulations last week to bar hunters there from using the Internet to shoot animals, and last month, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department banned Internet hunting of native Texas game animals. A move to shut down the venture for good is percolating in Congress, where a bill to prohibit "computer-assisted remote hunting" was introduced recently.
In a rare alliance, hunters and the National Rifle Association have joined forces with their traditional foes, the animal welfare and Humane Society activists. And some scholars, not surprised to see violent computer games elevated to another level, are questioning the propriety of an enterprise that blurs the line between the reality of man-stalks-beast in the great outdoors to the virtual anonymity of shooter-pulls-trigger from thousands of miles away.
"The problem here is . . . the distance. It increases our sense that real killing is an anonymous activity," said Kirk O. Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in California. "You use something familiar, a mouse, to fire the weapon . . . much as computer games that involve shooting human or animal objects. Technically it's possible. But as a society, do we want to do this?"
Absolutely not, says U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who introduced a bill last month to make Internet hunting a crime punishable by as long as five years in prison. "If ever there was an issue for Congress to speak with some moral and ethical clarity, this is it," Davis said. "If you let this go on in society, what's next?"
For now, Lockwood's fledgling business continues to operate on a friend's ranch about 30 miles northwest of San Antonio. The Web site offers target shooting, but it is the exotic-game-hunting element of the business that has been condemned as a violent computer game gone awry or criticized as the equivalent of an online slaughter.
Lockwood, 40, a body shop estimator in San Antonio, said the real problem is that he and his enterprise are misunderstood. He said the Web hunt is most likely to appeal to the disabled who cannot leave their homes or to hunters outside of the United States. He said he has been contacted by disabled hunters in the United States and Europe and by troops stationed overseas who are interested in online hunting.