November 2, 2009
Pennsylvania Pigeon Shoots
Pennsylvania is the only state known to host multiple pigeon shoots, most of them at private rod and gun clubs.
A look at the parking lots of these clubs during a shoot reveals a mix of local vehicles and luxury cars from as far away as New York, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. The fancy cars testify to pigeon shooting's origins as a "gentleman's pastime," indulged in by the privileged classes of Europe and North America around the beginning of the twentieth century. The 1900 Summer Olympics even included live pigeon shooting as a demonstration event, although due to public outrage at the cruelty it was never granted official status.
Conduct Unbecoming Ladies and Gentlemen
In 1921, live pigeon shoots were banned in Great Britain, and with the growth of the humane movement in the U.S., they were outlawed in a growing number of states. Today, they are held openly only in Pennsylvania.
The best known pigeon shoot in America was the notorious Labor Day shoot held in Hegins, Pennsylvania every year from 1934 through 1998. For the last dozen years that it took place, humane groups held demonstrations, rescued wounded birds and documented the cruelty.
"Cruel and Moronic"
Using this documentation, which included video of wounded birds left to suffer, registered Pennsylvania humane agent Clayton Hulsheiser filed charges against the operators of the Hegins shoot under Pennsylvania's general animal cruelty laws. The trial court dismissed them, ruling that the statutes did not apply to pigeons. On appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling that called pigeon shoots "cruel and moronic," and held that the cruelty statutes did indeed apply. The justices sent the case back to the trial court, but seeing the handwriting on the wall, the sponsors settled the charges against them by agreeing to close down the shoot permanently.
What You Can Do
If you live in Pennsylvania, tell your legislators that pigeon shoots don't belong in modern Pennsylvania.