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Pigeon Shoots in the Quaker State

Take a pigeon.

Now put that pigeon, along with thousands of others, into small coops that don’t give the bird much freedom to move.

Don’t worry about food or water. It won’t matter.

Take some of the pigeons—who are already disoriented from hours, maybe days, of confinement—and place a couple of them each into spring-loaded box traps on a field.

About 20 yards behind the traps have people with 12-gauge shotguns line up.
Release the pigeons and watch juveniles disguised in the bodies of adults shoot these non-threatening birds. Most of the birds will be shot five to ten feet from the traps; many, dazed and confused, are shot while standing on the ground or on the tops of cages. Each shooter will have the opportunity to shoot at 25 birds, five birds each in five separate rounds.

About a fourth of the birds will be killed outright. Most of the rest will be wounded. Teenagers will race onto the fields and grab most of the wounded birds. They will wring their necks or stuff them still alive into barrels to die from suffocation.

Some birds will be able to fly outside the killing field, only to die a slow and painful death in nearby yards, roofs, or rivers. A few will live.

Now, do it again. And again. And again. All day long. At the “state shoot” in Berks County, about 5,000 birds were launched from 27 boxes on three killing fields.

And, just to make sure that you’re a macho macho man, why not stuff a bird onto a plastic fork and parade around the grounds? How about wearing a T-shirt with language so nauseating that even Cable TV would have to blur the message.

By the way, make sure you collect your bets. Illegal gambling, along with excessive drinking, is also a part of this charade that poses as sport. The shooters don’t make much, but thousands of dollars will exchange hands.

These are the same psychopaths who probably twirled cats by their tails, and used birthday money to buy BB guns to pluck birds from fences and telephone wires. In their warped minds, they probably think they’re Rambo, their shotguns are M-16s, the cages are bunkers, and the cooing birds are agents of Kaos, Maxwell Smart’s long-time nemesis.

Thisis what the NRA is defending as Americans’ Second Amendment rights. And why the Pennsylvania legislature has been afraid to pass a bill prohibiting pigeon shoots.

For more than three decades, Pennsylvanians have tried to get this practice banned. For three decades, they have failed. And when it looked as if there was even a remote chance that a slim majority of legislators might support a bill banning pigeon shoots, the House and Senate leadership, most of them from rural Pennsylvania, figured out numerous ways to lock up the bills in committees or keep them from reaching the floor for a vote. In 1994, the House did vote, 99–93, to ban pigeon shoots. But 102 votes were needed.

But now a bill to ban this form of animal cruelty may be headed for a vote in the full legislature. SB626, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Browne (R-Allentown), forbids the “use of live animals or fowl for targets at trap shoots or block shoot” gatherings. It specifically allows fair-chase hunting and protects Second Amendment rights.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee finally got a spine, and voted 11–3 to send legislation to the full Senate to ban this practice. Six Republicans and five Democrats voted for the vote; all three negative votes were from Republicans, including the Senate’s president pro-tempore. Many of those voting for the ban are lifetime hunters; many are long-time NRA members. They all agree that this is not fair chase hunting but wanton animal cruelty.

But, the NRA, with its paranoid personality that believes banning animal cruelty would lead to banning guns, fired back. In a vicious letter to its members and the media, the NRA stated that national animal rights extremists, whom they have also called radicals, are trying to ban what they call a “longstanding traditional shooting sport.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) disagree. In 1900, the IOC banned pigeon shoots as cruelty to animals and ruled it was not a sport. The PGC says that pigeon shoots “are not what we would classify as fair-chase hunting.” Also opposed to pigeon shoots are dozens of apparently other radical extremists—like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. “Each pigeon shoot teaches children that violence and animal cruelty are acceptable practices,” says Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president for the HSUS.

The vote will be close in both chambers, mostly because of the financial power the NRA wields in the rural parts of Pennsylvania, and the NRA’s fingernails-on-the-blackboard screeches to its members. On his blog, Sen. Daylin Leach (D-King of Prussia), a member of the Judiciary committee, wrote that when he supported a ban on pigeon shoots in previous Legislative sessions, he “got more hate mail on this than any other issue I’ve been involved with.” He stated he “got e-mails from all over the state telling me that I obviously hated America and that God, who wanted the pigeons he created to be slaughtered as quickly as possible, was very disappointed in me.”

Failure to pass this bill into law will continue to make Pennsylvania, with a long-established hunting culture, the only state where pigeon shoots openly occur, and where animal cruelty is accepted.

WALTER BRASCH is an award-winning reporter who attended several pigeon shoots. His next book is Before the First Snow, a look at America’s counter-culture and the nation’s conflicts between oil-based and “clean” nuclear energy. He can be reached at: walterbrasch@gmail.com.

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Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an analysis of the history, economics, and politics of fracking, as well as its environmental and health effects.

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