Virtual Hunting: Entertainment or Alternative Hunting Opportunity?

Recently, published a story examining an Internet phenomenon known as "virtual hunting", and noting that Ohio Division of Wildlife Officials would like to see Ohio join the 13 states, including Michigan, that have outlawed virtual hunting.

Two of Buckeye Firearms Association's resident experts on hunting have taken a look at some of the complex questions surrounding the practice of "virtual hunting", and their observations just might surprise you.

Buckeye Firearms Association's Larry S. Moore is an accomplished sportsman, a seasoned outdoors writer, and winner of the 2005 United States Sportsmen Association Patriot Award. When asked to prepare an analysis of the practice of "virtual hunting", Moore quickly realized that the question goes much deeper than one might think.

"Hunting is about a lot of things in my life," says Moore. "It is about a lot more than sitting in a blind or deer stand waiting for game to come into range. It does not matter if I am in the woods in the blind/stand or confined to a bed viewing the blind/stand through a camera and computer link. Hunting is about sighting in my archery equipment and firearms, about target shooting in preparation, scouting, spending time afield looking and listening, determining the location of the blind/stand, the day of the hunt, finally a successful hunt, taking care of the animal and meat immediately after the hunt, processing the meat, and the final tribute a fine meal with my family. It is a complete experience."

Moore continues. "Each day, season or trip will create memories. Each season will offer different memories and successes. Some will be based on trophies taken or the number of animals harvested. Others will be based on family success or the coming of age of the new dog. I measure my life in seasons more than calendar years. Hunting is a journey, not a destination."

Moore recognizes that not everyone is physically capable of getting in the field to partake in this experience, and that is where his thoughts on virtual hunting come into play.

"I recognize others may be faced with certain obstacles where they can not hunt in the manner they are accustomed but still have a strong desire for the hunting experience in their life," Moore observes. "I too may reach that point in the future. Is it for me to say they should be denied this type of hunting? If I could no longer do the preparations, do the scouting, or venture afield would I consider Internet remote hunting as an alternative hunting experience for me? If I do, will I find it as satisfying? Will the lack of sounds and smells of the outdoors detract from the experience? Only time will provide those answers."

One man who is already facing these types of obstacles is Buckeye Firearms Association volunteer Bob Harsanje, a physically challenged lifelong hunter who says his body and system is on a terminal course.

"Over the course of more than ten years of biopsy surgeries, an incessant litany of tests, over-extensive cancer treatment and subsequent debilitating consequence, I am merely one of perhaps millions of men & women nationwide who simply have had to change the way they hunt in response to the body's deterioration -- not to kill, but to enjoy the 'spiritual' experience Larry so aptly describes, from preparation to table, giving thanks for the journey," says Harsanje.

"There was a day when I was quietly opposed to compounds, crossbows, inline muzzleloaders and yes, even semi-auto shotguns with 5 shells in the magazine - I've never hunted with more than three, ever -- just personal principle. That was when I was younger, 6' 4" 225#, strapping strong and using a stick bow, a circa 1968 Remington 870 whose duck plug never left the gun, and a Hawkens .54 round ball fire stick."

But things change. And from Harsanje's perspective, "you can change with them, or sit around and mope and feel sorry for yourself."

"Post-radiation treatment introduced a huge DVT in the left leg that killed off many nerves, hence the introduction of a cane to walk. The lungs were first burned and scarred, then a disease sets in that eats away at the remaining good lung material and function. And so the list grows," says Harsanje of the many medical challenges that threatened his ability to enjoy hunting. "And then came a compound. God willing, I may be able to switch to a crossbow because radiation-induced rheumatoid Sir Arthur through the shoulders, neck, spine, breastbone, hips and left knee make it very difficult to draw and hold even a 47# bow with 85% letoff. Never, ever thought that would happen..."

Harsanje also speaks to concerns for a hunter who is no longer able to go afield.

"At first, I could hobble through the fields very very slowly with my sons and pals while the dog worked. They always patiently accomodated this inconvenience to them. Now I can no longer walk for any significant distance, hence the adaptation to a Gator, tagging slowly behind the guys & the dog, hopping off occasionally when the dog points and it's my turn to shoot. Never, ever thought that would happen either."

Both hunters turn to the question of virtual hunting with an eye on personal choice.

"I still have the old 870, still have the Hawkens and my viewpoint hasn't really changed regarding their use. But I do not make personal judgments about other hunters' choices of gear. It truly is a matter of personal preference," says Harsanje. "A time will come when I can no longer use a cane and must return to a walker, then probably a wheel chair after that. For me, as long as I can still get through a pheasant field slowly or even ride a 'Gator, or climb up to a treestand, this type of hunting is not for me. But it's the only opportunity for some people. No one really knows what they will do until they face the situation up-close and personal."

Moore agrees.

"I view the decision to participate in this type of hunting as a personal and ethical decision - not one the state should make on my behalf. Should I say that 4-wheelers can not be used? Or perhaps that wheel chairs are not allowed? Should I say that crossbows should not be used? I love to hunt rabbits using my beagles. I would not venture afield rabbit hunting without these cherished partners. Yet there are those who would outlaw the use of dogs in hunting and deny me the enjoyment of the beagles. They would also be denying the beagles their enjoyment also. What about other electronic gadgets such as game calls, GPS, walkie-talkies and cell phones? What role, if any, should these have in hunting?"

"Is it ethical for a busy executive to use Internet hunting as a means to take a trophy animal?" Moore wonders. "I would not want that animal on the wall of my home or office because that does not met my current definition of fair chase in the hunt. But, again, do I have the right to define the ethics and rules of fair chase for others? Certainly, I have a need to have seasons regulated for conservation of the species and safety of the hunters. But beyond that, should I define or deny an Internet hunting experience for others?"

Bob Harsanje notes that there are "other outdoor, real-life opportunities available to handicapped hunters. For example, there is Physically Challenged Bowhunters," says Harsanje. "I am working with an attorney and my doctor-turned-friend-turned- hunting pal to establish a foundation whose mission will be to provide hunting opportunities for the physically handicapped. Though we're wading through the preliminary stages of filings, etc. at this time, the number of well-known groups and outfitters expressing interest has been very encouraging."

"Anyone wanting to read a book about fair chase and ethics in hunting, I strongly recommend Beyond Fair Chase by Jim Posewitz," says Moore. "I believe this book is still available through bookstores or Internet sales such as Amazon. Posewitz was a Montana game commission officer with a long career. This book examines what is fair chase in hunting and how that applies to laws, conservation, sportsmanship, etc. One chapter deals with Posewitz searching for an elk that he was sure he had shot. He does not find that elk, dead, for several days. He submits his elk tag and claims the animal even though the meat is now spoiled. It is a powerful point in his life."

"My son voluntarily did the same last year with a gut shot doe," Moore continued. "We lost the blood trail after dark about 6:00 PM during the deer gun season. We knew he had hit the deer. It was a shot that he or I would take again, 80 yards on a walking doe about 75% broadside. Most hunters will take that shot. Unfortunately, he was a little off in his aim. We went back on the Saturday of deer gun season, checked with the neighboring farmer, and after about 3 hours found the deer. It was dead, gut shot, and the coyote or opossums had found the deer overnight. The meat was no good. Later I learned that my son mailed his tag to the Ohio Division of Wildlife with a letter and report about the deer. He knew he killed that doe, he was responsible for the death and felt the doe should be counted. He did not ask me or tell me about his decision. I learned of it when the Division of Wildlife called me."

"That is ethics. How many other deer hunters would have found that doe, shrugged their shoulders, and went off to fill the tag? My son was 23 years old at that time. I did not make his ethical decision of him. I would not have faulted him if he had not turned his tag in for that doe. What are your ethics? Everyone must be able to look in the mirror and answer that question to their self-satisfaction."

The subject of virtual hunting is a complex issue that stimulates different responses, and regardless of one's personal opinion, it will be the subject of continuing controversy and will stimulate much debate between hunters, animal "rights" extremists and legislators.

Buckeye Firearms Association will continue to monitor and study the subject carefully and take action as appropriate if and when the issue is exploited by extremists willing to seize any opportunity to chip away and hunter's rights.

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