A paintball manufacturer and advocates for women are expressing outrage that a Las Vegas company claims to be charging men up to $10,000 to use the non-lethal but dangerous weapons to shoot naked women racing through the sagebrush. But a creator of the “Hunting for Bambi” game on Wednesday defended the enterprise as good, clean fun for “guys who thought they had done everything.”
Word of the company’s activities first surfaced last week, when a Las Vegas television station aired a report featuring footage from what it identified as one of the hunts and interviewed both a hunter and his prey, who admitted that she cried after being hit in the posterior by one of the paint-loaded pellets.
The KLAS-TV report attracted little attention until Tuesday, when paintball equipment manufacturer Brass Eagle Inc. issued a press release denouncing the concept and calling on local officials to investigate whether the hunts endanger the women’s health and welfare.
“We condemn this irresponsible activity and do not endorse or condone the use of paintball products for such activities,” said Lynn Scott, president of the Bentonville, Ark., firm.
Questions raised about claims
Questions were quickly raised about the veracity of the company’s claims. Snopes.com, which researches so-called urban legends, noted that the huntingforbambi.com Web site lacks proper contact information and stated that some readers who sent e-mail expressing interest in booking a hunt received no reply to their inquiries.
But David Krekelberg, who responded to an e-mail inquiry from MSNBC.com early Wednesday and said he was a spokesman for the company, insisted the enterprise is real.
He also said that he and the company’s “master hunter,” Michael Burdick, have taken steps to address safety concerns.
“At first we just told our hunters ‘Don’t shoot them in the head,’” he said. “Now the hunters are prohibited from raising the gun barrel above the waist level and if he does, it’s game over and there are no refunds.”
Krekelberg also said that the guns were modified to reduce the velocity of the paint-pellet guns, which can have a muzzle velocity of up to 200 mph, and that the women are now given the option of wearing goggles and helmets in addition to shoes.
Krekelberg said the year-old company, which originally was formed to market a hunting spoof videotape, has so far conducted about 20 of the “hunts,” most of them in the desert outside Las Vegas.
'Like a game show'
“It’s basically like a game show,” he said. “There’s a whistle, and maybe 20 minutes to an hour later, we have a girl with a big red welt on her butt, or maybe none.”
In addition to the thrill of the chase and the “kill,” the hunter gets a videotape of the hunt captured by a three-camera team, he said.
Krekelberg said the women — most of whom are showgirls — are paid inversely to the pain they experience — $1,000 if they get shot and $2,500 if they don’t — to give them added incentive to elude their armed pursuers.
But the deck is clearly stacked in favor of the hunter — only two of the 20 or so have gone home without hitting a target, Krekelberg said. “They weren’t unhappy,” he said. “They still had a great time and met some beautiful women.”
The KLAS piece on the hunts that aired last week included criticism from clinical psychologist Marv Glovinsky, who told the station that the game could be dangerous for men who can not distinguish fantasy from reality and could lead them to act out violence against women.
“If you’re blurring reality and fantasy and you can’t make the distinction, and your emotions overpower your intellect or your higher mental function, you’re going to get into trouble,” he told the station. “And if you have control problems to boot, that’s really going to cause problems.”
'Just fun guys'
Krekelberg said the company goes to great lengths to ensure that participants don’t have psychological problems by subjecting them to lengthy interviews.
“These are just fun guys who thought they had done everything, ridden everything and hunted everything,” he said of the company’s customers. “They come to Vegas to play golf and hang out in the nightclubs and suddenly they find out there is this other option out there.”
Krekelberg said that the TV piece also unleashed a torrent of criticism that he and his colleagues are degrading women, a charge he vigorously denied despite the inclusion on the company’s Web site of photos of nude women “mounted” on walls much as a deer would be after being killed.
“The women who think this is abusive and degrading need to put their attention where it should be, and I think that’s Afghanistan,” said Krekelberg. “We love our girls. Why do you think we pay them so much? There are desperate people in this town who could be taken advantage of. We choose not to do that.”