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Internet uproar: Shooting at live targets?

On Nov. 18, the same day Parliament outlawed fox hunting in England and Wales, John Underwood of San Antonio appeared on the popular "Today Show" to talk about his Web site that offers remote-controlled shooting and "hunting" at his private ranch in Texas.

Underwood is selling memberships via the Internet that enable people to log on to his site and use their keyboard and mouse to remotely aim and fire a rifle physically located at his ranch.

He currently has a .22-caliber rifle hooked up and ready to fire at shooting targets.

But he said plans also call for the option of shooting a live animal an exotic species of sheep, wild boar, blackbuck, axis and fallow deer or red stag.

Each remote "hunter" will pay $150 for a "guide fee" to have a person present on-site, plus a harvest fee. If an Internet user downs an animal and wishes to have it dressed and shipped, that service along with taxidermy is available for an additional fee.

Remote hunters also can opt to have the meat from the animal shot donated to Hunters for the Hungry, according to Underwood's site.

According to Reuters article on the issue, Underwood stated that Internet hunting could be used by disabled people. I thought about it for awhile, trying to be open-minded.

If he was offering this as a humanitarian gesture to military people wounded in combat and stuck in a hospital, I would not say anything, even though I believe that what he is offering is not hunting.

However, Underwood is asking people to pay for this, regardless of their physical condition.

That makes it open season for Internet "hunting."

"It's an abomination!" declares Gray Thornton, executive director of the Dallas Safari Club.

"The essence of hunting is in the experience of the outdoors and ethical pursuit of noble game on its terms, not reduced to a video game. That is an abomination of hunting."

I spoke with leaders of several other national hunting organizations whose comments about the proposed practice included "sick," "insane" and "a blow to ethical hunters all around the world."

I don't know about you, but when I go hunting, I assume there is no guarantee I get anything or even see anything. The act of hunting is more important than the kill.

"In the act of hunting, a man becomes, however briefly, part of nature again," the noted psychologist Erik Fromm eloquently wrote.

"He returns to the natural state, becomes one with the animal, and is freed of the existential split: to be part of nature and to transcend it by his consciousness."

As a psychologist myself, I cannot see where any of these feelings can translate to hunting remotely over the Internet. Where there are no feelings, ethics are hard to grow.

The Spanish philosopher y Gasset Ortega, writing in his classic "Meditations On Hunting," agrees with Fromm and goes on to say, "Every good hunter is uneasy in the depths of his conscience when faced with the death he is about to inflict on the enchanting animal."

The emotional feeling of hunting is a combination of excitement and nourishment, as well as what African big-game hunter Robin Hurt describes as a mixture of "sadness and elation" at the prospect of killing an animal.

Hunting makes man honest, because it forces him to get his hands dirty and bloody and take responsibility for the simple fact of life that "flesh eats flesh," as mythologist Joseph Campbell bluntly put it.

The realization of the need to kill and the desire to seek some reconciliation within oneself, as well as with the animals hunted, is the reason why all great religions of the world offer ethical guidance on proper ways to hunt, as well as ceremonies to perform to honor the animals killed.

Unless you get a paper cut, you ain't gonna get your hands bloody hunting via the Internet.

There are plenty of ways disabled hunters can now hunt. State and Federal refuges have special blinds that are wheelchair accessible.

Disabled Hunters of North America, The NRA's Challenged Sportsmen program, Buckmasters, The National Wild Turkey Federation's Wheelin' Sportsman program and host of other hunting organizations and state governments offer a wide variety services to help disabled hunters get out and hunt for little or no cost.

There is a device called an SR-77 Gunmount that allows a disabled hunter to aim a gun mounted to his wheelchair with a joy stick.

There is another device for quadriplegics to fire a mounted firearm by blowing on pneumatic tube.

If a person can get outside, they can hunt and it is much better for them to be outside.

In view of all the existing resources for disabled hunters, it seems unlikely that many will use Underwood's Web site. Should anyone else engage in Internet "hunting?" Look in the mirror.

David Sinclair in the Texas Department of Wildlife and Parks said that right now remote hunting for native species is illegal.

But this does not presently cover exotic big-game animals, as the state does not have the authority to manage exotic big game hunting, other than to require a hunting license.

There are some other legal issues, however, that may present a problem for Underwood.

To hunt an exotic animal on private or public land in Texas, you have to have a hunting license, which includes passing a hunter-education course if you were born after Sept. 2, 1971

Sinclair said that there is no way to check on the validity of hunting license numbers that people might send to Underwood over the Internet, as that information is not publicly available.

There also is the problem that you cannot tell who is clicking on the mouse to fire the shot.

Every legal hunter must have passed a hunter-education class and, presumably, will know where to make a legal shot.

But what about the responsibility for wounding an animal and tracking it?

If a hunter shoots at an animal and does not kill it, he or she is responsible, ethically and legally, for making every effort to recover the animal and dispatch it as quickly as possible.

Can you count on your remote guide to do this?

Presently, Texas has specific statutes to cover introduced species like pheasants and chukar partridge.

Sinclair said that the Law Enforcement Division is currently working on proposed legislation to prohibit remote-controlled "hunting" and require a person to be physically present to hunt exotics.

That proposal will be posted on the www.tpwd.state.tx.us Web site the first week in February, where anyone can make public comment. There also will be a hearing on April 7, 2005, about this proposal.

In California, anti-hunters argued that some outfitters would run a cougar with hounds and when they treed it, they would call the "hunter" who would fly or drive out to the spot and shoot the treed cat.

That argument was a primary reason why mountain lion hunting was banned in the Golden State.

This fall, initiative challenges to prohibit hunting bears over bait were defeated in two states, but the price tag was over $2 million. Animal rights groups are looking for any aspects of hunting they can easily smear (bowhunting is next), regardless if it's ethical or not, to draw hunters into controversies that will drain their financial resources, like a prize fighter wearing down the opponent for the knockout punch.

Let's face it folks, if you let this one go unchallenged, you are essentially giving a Christmas present to the anti-hunters.

Just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should.

James Swan who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click here to purchase a copy.

To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.