By Aili McConnon
Ever since he was a boy, Dale Hagberg has loved hunting animals, everything from foxes to coyotes to black bear. But an accident in college left him a quadriplegic and bed bound.
So Hagberg was thrilled to discover live-shot.com, a Web site that allowed him to hunt game in real time over the Internet. With the click of a mouse, he could fire a real rifle at live animals on a Texas ranch.
After 17 hours of hunting over six sessions in the spring of 2005, Hagberg shot a Mouflon ram, an exotic curly-horned beast that originally hails from Greece and now roams the hills of Texas.
"My heart had been racing from the time the ram came into view, but after I shot, I felt almost electric with excitement," he wrote in an e-mail interview.
But on June 20, three days after Hagberg's kill, Texas banned online hunting. Now 11 states, including California, Tennessee and New York have banned such sites on the grounds that they do not reflect the true spirit of hunting. Similar legislation is pending in nearly a dozen more states, and Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., has introduced a bill that would ban the practice nationwide.
So in the latest incarnation of interactive, Web-based hobbies, entrepreneur John Lockwood has transformed online hunting into a game in which the prey are not animals but women in bikinis and actors in Michael Jackson costumes, and the ammunition is not the .22 caliber kind but 200-mph paint pellets.
"It's been a heck of a lot of fun developing the technology," said Lockwood, the creator of live-shot.com, which is now linked to his latest venture, live-paintball.com. Set on a hunting ranch near San Antonio, the site invites users to go paintball hunting from their homes.
Lockwood, a former body shop estimator, decided to create a hunting site in July 2004 after spotting a site that allowed users to watch wildlife in real time, similar to traffic and weather sites.
But the backlash against live-shot.com has been strong and quick. It has united groups traditionally at odds with each other, like the National Humane Society and the National Rifle Association.
"We can't condone pay-per-view slaughter," said Michael Markarian, the executive vice president of the National Humane Society. Pro-hunting groups like the NRA and Safari Club International argue that online hunting violates the spirit behind the sport.
For his part, Lockwood says his creation is unfairly judged.
"People didn't realize the animals have the exact same chance they have any other way we hunt," he said. "My site brought more people—people like Dale—into hunting."
Hagberg has hired a lawyer to try to make the Web site available exclusively to handicapped individuals.
Individuals from as far as Romania and New Zealand have contacted Lockwood about creating copycat sites. Online hunting may eventually move offshore, he said.
Meanwhile, people can still sign up to shoot at images of Osama bin Laden on Lockwood's target range or fire paint pellets at human targets.
Hagberg recently tired paintball and says he likes it. "It's more visual than shooting a rifle," he said. He expects more people will be interested in online paintball than animal hunting.
On the site's free trial video, a bikini-clad brunette in high-heeled boots taunts the viewer and ducks behind trees. As a pink paintball hits and explodes on her bottom, the roar of a wild animal is heard. It slowly changes into the sound of a woman yelping.
Members will be able to choose from existing scenarios, like Shoot Your Boss, or they can create their own scenarios.
But whether paintball enthusiasts will be attracted to the online version is still unknown.
Karla Mantilla, editor of the feminist journal Off Our Backs, says such online sites contribute to sexual aggression. "If you had white people hunting black people and vice versa, people would get how dangerous this is," she said.
Lockwood insists that the site is simply for entertainment.
"You have to try it to get it," said Lockwood, who dressed up in a Michael Jackson costume for one trial. "When you hear the pop, pop, pop of the gun and you see the target get all painted up. Well, it's a real blast."