Pennsylvania is home to a tradition some animal activists are fighting to end — live pigeon shoots. Pigeons are launched into the air and participants compete to see who can shoot down the most birds.
Shooters describe it as a sporting competition. Opponents call it cruel.
Elissa Katz is part of the move to outlaw the tradition. She says she remembers feeling helpless at the site of a pigeon shoot — with feathers flying through the air and wounded birds falling to the ground.
Katz pulls up a Humane Society of the United States video on her computer to make her point. “They flutter up in the air as they are sprung from boxes,” she said. “Shooters have shotguns, they are at fairly close range, and they blast away at the birds.”
Katz has helped rescue wounded birds. And as president of the political action committee, Humane PA, she is hoping to do more by pushing Pennsylvania lawmakers to stop the shoots, which occur as close by as lower Bucks County.
In the other camp are pigeon shoot-supporters, including hunter Bob Tobash of Hegins, Pennsylvania. He helped run a Pennsylvania pigeon shoot that drew so much attention, it was shut down after opponents protested.
Tobash is quick to defend the shoots.
“You enjoy it — the same thing as hunting a rabbit or a pheasant. When you capture the game that you’re looking for, it’s just a good feeling, that you accomplish what you were trying to do,” he said.
Some hunters also object to pigeon shoots
Frank Nassetta of Bucks County calls participation in a shoot “one of the most dismal things I’d ever done.” Nassetta said he made up his mind against pigeon shoots after attending just one.
“I felt absolutely nothing sporting about it. It just seemed to be an obscene little adventure,” he said. “There was no challenge.”
But the pigeon shoots do draw participants.
People travel across state lines to shoot at Pennsylvania clubs, said Heidi Prescott of the Humane Society of the United States.
“Pennsylvania is unique in that it openly and regularly holds these shoots,” she said. “They’ve been outlawed since before the 1900s in states like New York and Colorado.”
Prescott says Pennsylvania needs to catch up with the rest of the country.
“Fourteen states have laws that make it explicitly illegal,” she said. “Eight states have either an attorney general opinion or a court opinion that pigeon shoots are illegal or violate the cruelty statute.” And another 22 states have cruelty codes the Humane Society believes prevent live pigeon shoots.
Slippery slope or long overdue legislation?
Because Pennsylvania’s pigeon shoot debate is playing out while gun laws are under discussion across the country, some fear the push to end pigeon shoots represents a slippery slope.
Jack Walters, the president of the Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League in the Pittsburgh area, calls the legislation a dangerous thing.
“If they say you can’t bring birds in to shoot, that’s a foot in the door,” Walters said. “As we all know, if government gets their foot in the door, they keep on moving in. It’s just a scary thing. Shouldn’t approve anything that will restrict the sportsmen’s rights.”
For decades, the Pennsylvania Legislature has failed to act on bills to stop the shoots. But pigeon shoot opponents say support is growing, with more co-sponsors being added every year.