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Consumer Reports

Point, click, shoot? Texas man envisions hunting via computer | (KRT) Video hunting games have been around for years, but a San Antonio, Texas, man hopes to market a new Internet wrinkle using real bullets and live animals.

The idea is causing consternation among the hunting public and has triggered a move by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to ban Internet hunting of native game animals.

The agency does not have regulatory authority over feral hogs and exotic species like axis deer or blackbuck antelope that are common to many Texas ranches. It would take legislative action to ban all Internet hunting, according to David Sinclair, TP&W's chief of wildlife enforcement.

John Lockwood, who works as a body shop estimator for a car dealership, got the idea for while watching a virtual hunting Web site in which Internet viewers "bagged" game with a camera. He spent about $20,000 to build a motorized platform capable of aiming and firing a rifle via computer.

At the current Web site, an Internet marksman can plink targets with a .22 rifle. It costs $14.95 for a membership and $5.95 to fire 10 shots. Lockwood wants to expand the idea by setting up a hunting rifle connected to a video camera at waterholes or wildlife feeders at his small ranch near Rocksprings, Texas. A "hunter" in the comfort of his office or home could watch a computer screen until a target animal is spotted, then use the computer to line up the rifle and fire the shot.

A ranch hand would retrieve the game and ship the meat and/or trophy to the cyberspace hunter. The on-site "guide" would sit in the hunting blind along with the remote rifle and camera. He would be able to override the shot if he saw a computer marksman sighting on the wrong target. Lockwood is not saying how much the Internet hunt would cost, but he has had about 10 requests for hunts.

He also has received an overwhelming number of e-mails, many from hunters who think this is a bad idea.

"It's not for everybody," he said. "I'm a hunter myself, and I'm not interested in doing it. I like to be out there in the field, freezing my butt off. There are people who would like to try hunting but cannot do it for a number of reasons.

"I respect the opinions of people who don't like this concept, but there are also people who don't like the idea of baiting game animals, hunting from a blind or restricting the movement of game with a high fence. That's all legal in Texas."

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Lockwood said he hopes to bring some semblance of the hunting experience to quadriplegics and others with physical problems. He also said the Internet hunt might appeal to stressed businessmen who do not have time to leave their offices and to people who live in places where hunting is banned or so exclusive they cannot participate.

"I know I'll get some hunters who just want a trophy head to hang on their wall and don't care how they get it," he said, "but that's not the hunter I'm trying to help."

Lockwood plans to upgrade his video equipment for faster response and beef up his remote shooting platform to handle a heavy-recoil rifle. He doesn't expect to sell hunts until mid-2005.

"Internet hunting is really a sick idea," said Gray Thornton, executive director of the Dallas Safari Club. "Shooting animals by remote control from a distant location has nothing to do with hunting. Hunting is about the overall experience. We don't condone Internet hunting or support it in any shape or form."

Thornton said there are several organizations that specialize in helping hunters with physical problems. Specialized equipment, he said, allows most problems to be overcome. Some quadriplegics can fire a specialized rifle by blowing in a straw.

Avid hunter David Sams, founder and CEO of Lone Star Outdoor News, said he might be interested in the target shooting aspect of the site.

Hunting real game via the Internet is another matter, he said.

"As far as doing that, it wouldn't do a whole lot for me," Sams said.

Perry Lowery of Dallas, a hunter for 35 years, said he doesn't see any sport in hunting animals via the Internet.

"I'm more into the sporting side of it," he said. "This is like a video game, and I don't see any sport in that. It's not really hunting."

Sinclair is drafting regulations that prohibit the remote firing of a gun to kill native game animals like white-tailed deer and wild turkeys. The regulations may also require that the hunter who pulls the trigger be present when the animal is killed.

Sinclair expects the regulations to be finalized by late January and previewed in statewide public meetings. The TP&W Commission, a nine-member commission appointed by the governor, votes on regulations in April. If approved, new regulations traditionally become effective Sept. 1.

"I never expected to be sitting around drafting regulations to control shooting animals with a computer," said Sinclair, a veteran game warden.

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© 2004, The Dallas Morning News Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services