Hunter becomes the hunted as Palin critics say she can't shoot

She no doubt expected a backlash from the lily-livered animal rights lobby, but when Sarah Palin bundled a TV crew into the back of a truck and ventured forth into the wilds of Alaska to shoot caribou, the very last people she expected to annoy were the members of America's hunting community.

That, however, is exactly what has come to pass after the self-styled "Mamma Grizzly" allowed her weekend-long trip to the Arctic tundra to be beamed into the nation's living rooms. Not only did this week's show portray field-sports in an ugly light, say critics; it also fuelled scepticism about whether she actually knows one end of a rifle from another.

Ms Palin took no fewer than five shots to hit the beast which wandered on to the hillside where she was eating blueberries with her 72-year-old father, Chuck Snr. However it was her lousy field-craft, rather than wonky shooting, which raised the most questions about whether she really ought to call herself a "lifelong hunter".

The Conservative blogosphere, usually a forum for cheerleading on behalf the Palin cause, was awash yesterday with suggestions that her outdoorsy image is an elaborate charade.

"I turned on Sarah Palin's Alaska and she just shot four maybe even five times at a caribou and missed," noted a typical comment on the Fox News host Sean Hannity's website. "Needless to say I'm not impressed with her ability to handle a firearm let alone aim it and hit."

Among the basic items of protocol blithely ignored by Palin as she set off into the wilderness in a Rambo-style headband was her failure to take practice shots, or check the sights of the rifle, which duly turned out to be off-kilter. She failed to carry her own weapon, relying on her elderly father and his companion, Steve, to lug it around. When a beast eventually wandered into range, Ms Palin left Chuck Snr to load the rifle, and discharge spent bullet casings.

"What a joke," wrote one viewer on Palin's Facebook page. "I was a fan before the show. No one who is a true hunter lets others carry their rifle or can't load their own shells. Sarah, you are a phony."

The Awl, a website which collated reactions to the episode, noted that, while being passed the firearm, Ms Palin immediately moved her finger inside its trigger guard, a breach of basic safety rules. After missing the caribou several times, she then appeared to panic and shot at the beast while it was still moving, a technique usually avoided by all but the very best marksmen.

On leaving her hunting camp one morning, Ms Palin pointed to the horizon and declared "Let's go west." There followed an awkward pause. "That's east," noted her father.

The cognoscenti was meanwhile perturbed that the fact that Palin seemed scared by her weapon, a small gun described by Chuck Snr as a "varmint rifle". Several times during the episode, she anxiously asked: "Does it kick?"

"What kind of a question is that?" wrote a fan called Brad Schegel on Palin's Facebook wall. "Doesn't matter if it kicks or not, you shoot it the same. That was a girly question, momma griz."

Even Chuck Snr's handling of his weapons drew criticism. "I was surprised to see him using the gun as a walking stick," noted one user on the Free Republic website.

"I do like the woman but think she needs some serious range time. I had the impression it was her first time firing a rifle."

Previous episodes of Sarah Palin's Alaska have already caused debate in sporting circles. On the first episode of the show, she went salmon fishing, but cynics noted that she handled a rod awkwardly and failed to catch a fish, despite being on a river chock full of them.

Of course, Palin wouldn’t be the only ambitious US politician to embellish their huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ credentials to appeal to both the heartland and the well-funded gun ownership lobby.

In the run up to the last election, Republican Mitt Romney faced criticism when - after claiming “I’ve been a hunter all my life” – it emerged that he had only ever been on a grand total of two shooting trips.

In 2004, Democratic candidate John Kerry meanwhile chose to go wildfolwing just a fortnight before polling day. He bagged a goose, but received criticism for failing to carry it back to his car, telling reporters: “I’m too lazy!”

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