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  • Writer's pictureDavid Stalling

Killing Live Pigeons (for "Sport")

by Ted Williams

I’m an upland bird hunter. I keep in practice by shooting pigeons. My son

tosses them into the air for me. I miss some of the ones that fly directly over my head. But when I center them with my 12-gauge Ithaca, it feels great to blow them apart. These are clay pigeons -- AKA “skeet.” For target practice, clay pigeons have lots of advantages over live ones. You don’t have to catch, raise, or feed them. You don’t have to transport them long distances. And you don’t have to become a pariah for engaging in animal cruelty.

Live pigeon shoots are an old sporting tradition. After one was included in the games of the 1900 Paris Olympics the negative publicity so astonished and chagrined the Olympic Committee that it hasn’t scheduled another. England banned live pigeon shoots in 1921, Monaco in 1966, Italy in 1970, Portugal in 2021, and Spain in 2023. But they’re ongoing in the U.S.

As recently as Feb. 24-26, 2024, 15,000 pigeons, transported from Texas, became targets at Quail Creek Sporting Ranch in Okeechobee, Florida. The event was hosted by Jack Link’s Meat Snacks. Pigeons weren’t among the snacks.

The Delaware River Keeper Network unsuccessfully sued the Philadelphia Gun Club for repeated Clean Water Act violations in which it polluted the river with lead shot, plastic shell waddings, and pigeon carcasses. “I’ve had the pellets rain down on me and my volunteers,” says Delaware River Keeper Maya van Rossum. In Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe raised campaign funds with live pigeon shoots. Eventually, SHARK got these changed to fair-chase dove hunts.

How many states permit live pigeon shoots? “No telling,” explains Steve Hindi, President of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK), “because even in states that specifically outlaw them they happen secretly and with impunity.” When possible, SHARK records the shooting with drones legally flown under Federal Aviation Administration certification (Google the videos). SHARK drones are routinely blasted out of the sky by pigeon shooters who bring rifles specifically for that purpose because the drones fly above shotgun range. A $15,000 drone was shot down at one Pennsylvania event. “We had three shot down in one day at the Broxton Bridge Plantation in South Carolina,” says Hindi.

Lead is a neurotoxin. Only two ingested shotgun pellets can fatally poison a hawk, eagle, or vulture. Lead pellets also poison foxes, coyotes, fishers, bobcats, cougars, badgers, raccoons, and opossums. Many wounded pigeons fly too far for workers to collect. Any bird flapping on the ground is a dinner invitation for predators. Raptors and vultures poisoned by consuming lead pellets droop their heads, struggle to breathe, and convulse.

I’m not a feral pigeon advocate. These invasive aliens from Europe, North Africa, and southwestern Asia disrupt native ecosystems. But I hate watching anything suffer. At live pigeon shoots workers (often kids) pick up wounded birds, make no effort to dispatch them, then throw them into garbage cans where they take hours or days to die.

Some fair-chase hunters legally shoot and eat feral pigeons. I’m not one of them. I don’t object. I’m just spooked by the diseases and ectoparasites pigeons carry and spread to humans and wildlife -- Bird Flu, Psittacosis, Histoplasmosis, Cryptococcosis, E. coli, Salmonellosis, bedbugs, pigeon ticks, and red mites, to mention a few.

I was taught that you eat what you kill. A neighbor kid shot a skunk, and his dad made him eat it -- a valuable lesson. If you can push past the pathogen/parasite issue, pigeons make fine table fare. But pigeons shot at live pigeon shoots rot in garbage cans or get consumed by avian and mammalian scavengers. I object to live pigeon shoots for what they do to wild birds, wild mammals, and pigeons. I also object to them for what they do to hunters. My fellow hunters tend to be their own worst enemies.

As a lifelong hunter, it grieves me that the only objections to live pigeon shoots I hear issue from the animal rights/wellness community -- not a peep from groups that defend and promote fair-chase hunting.

Ted Williams, a lifelong hunter, writes about fish and wildlife. He is a former

information officer of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. He serves on the Advisory Board of Hunters and Anglers for Wildlife Management Reform.

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