Unlike former South Carolina Governor, now Congressman Mark Sanford, the mourning dove is known for not leaving its mate. While many remember that Sanford left his gubernatorial duties in 2009 to “hike the Appalachian Trail ” in the arms of his Buenos Aires consort, few remember that part of the official delegation was dove hunting in Cordoba, Argentina.
Dove hunting is big in Argentina. “It is normal to shoot between 1,000 to 1,500 shells per hunter per day,” say promoters of the sport. “Hunters regularly use two guns and a reloader to prevent barrel overheating, as they may go through 1,000 (a thousand) rounds in a morning.”
Exultations from volume killers are not hard to find. At daybreak, “the birds started flying, and it was non stop until we quit shooting at 11:30 or around 5 pm. Notice I said we quit shooting. The doves were still flying when we left as we were completely worn out from shooting,” writes Mike Bland of Houston, TX about the dove killing. “I have never seen so many dove [sic] and have never [sic] a more fulfilling hunt in my life,” wrote William Holliday of New York.
“Both of my boys became members of the Club 1000 for shooting more than 1000 birds in a single day–a proud papa moment,” wrote a beaming John Horton of Austin, TX.
The bloodthirsty remarks and photos of grinning he-men with mountains of deceased doves are especially ironic this year, the centennial of the death of the last passenger pigeon. The gentle passenger pigeons were hunted into extinction by spree killers like the Argentina dove enthusiasts–people who like to kill “until they drop.”
The light gray-brown mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) with its iridescent neck patches and long, tapered tail (“macroura” means large” and “tail”) is the closest relative to the passenger pigeon which went extinct in 1914. A cherished songbird and symbol of peace, it is not guilty of overpopulating or eating crops or ornamental plants.
When the US public, sickened by the massacre of peaceful doves, managed to get bans of dove hunting on some state ballots in the 2000s, the National Rifle Association said the bans put “hunters up against the ropes.” Hunters oppressed because they can’t kill doves?
News reports did not give the name of the dove hunting operation in Argentina where Sanford and his state’s trade delegation planned to blast away doves. Instead, reports focused on Sanford romantic and financial deceptions. “He connived a way to use the taxpayers’ money to get to see his ‘soul mate,’ as he calls her,” said State Sen. John M. “Jake” Knotts Jr. (R). “There was no reason to go to Argentina except to waste the taxpayers’ money, and use a deal about a hunting trip,” added Knotts, terming the trip to Argentina “totally uncalled for.”
Never questioned was why a politician, entrusted with upholding ethics and moral standards for his constituency, enjoys shooting and killing doves. A bird of peace presenting no threat, danger or harm to anyone. A hundred years after the passenger pigeon was driven off the face of this earth, the appalling, banal bloodlust continues.
Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).