Blagojevich bans remote-control hunting

By Jim Suhr

The prospect of hunting live game over cyberspace is dead in Illinois.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a new law Monday banning so-called remote-control hunting, in which a computer user maneuvers a camera-equipped rifle, tracks an animal on-screen, and fires the weapon with the click of a mouse.

The ban, which takes effect immediately, makes Illinois one of more than 30 states that have outlawed the practice, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

“The main purpose of this (measure) is gamesmanship and maintaining hunting for what it is,” Gerardo Cardenas, a Blagojevich spokesman, said Tuesday. “Remote-control hunting – people sitting in their living rooms, basements and bedrooms controlling weapons and firing at animals from their computer – does not seem to fit into what the sport of hunting is about.”

Still more concept than trend, such “ready, aim, click” kills – or the prospect of them – push the ethical envelope and violate the spirit of “fair chase” hunts, opponents say.

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“Traditional hunters know there’s no sport in shooting an animal remotely while lying in bed and wearing camouflage pajamas,” Michael Markarian, the national Humane Society’s executive vice president, said in a statement Tuesday lauding the Illinois ban.

That measure – steered by state Rep. Dan Reitz, a Steelville Democrat, and passed by the General Assembly in May – amends 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 in Illinois 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.

The issue emerged in early 2005, when Texas entrepreneur John Lockwood set up a Web site that allowed subscribing hunters with a high-speed Web 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.

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