By Wayne Pacelle
More than two decades ago, when I first became active in animal protection, I went to protest what was then the nation’s largest pigeon shoot — in Hegins, Pennsylvania.
The organizers trapped thousands of live pigeons from cities and other areas where the birds lived and then trucked them back to Hegins. There, they released them from boxes just yards away from a line of waiting shooters, who maimed and killed the birds as a target shooting exercise — and as a horrible excuse for a fundraiser for the local fire department.
It was a sickening spectacle, and I write about the issue in detail in my forthcoming book, The Bond (Harper Collins/William Morrow, April 5). The ugly and painful experience changed me forever, and revealed to me the lengths that some people go to rationalize their cruelty — even something so indefensible as live pigeon shooting.
Witnessing the cruelty of pigeon shoots also changed the life of HSUS’s current senior vice president of campaigns, Heidi Prescott. At the time, she was a volunteer and a wildlife rehabilitator. At her first shoot, it didn’t take her long to come across a wounded bird who had been suffering for hours and was gasping for breath. The bird’s injuries were so severe that she helped to humanely euthanize the animal. She says that after this experience, she made a pledge to campaign against pigeon shoots until they were ended for good. Unfortunately, the practice continues in Pennsylvania — one of the last states where these terrible shoots are openly staged. Fortunately for the birds, Heidi hasn’t given up and she’s still lobbying in the halls of the state capitol in Harrisburg to end this cruelty.
The NRA is the impediment to progress. The fact is, though, that so many rank-and-file NRA members don’t support this cruelty. NRA member W. Scott Yoder grew up serving as a trapper boy in Pennsylvania pigeon shoots. He was assigned to shoot the half-dead pigeons who weren’t killed outright by the first barrage of bullets. He recalls that even as a child, he knew on some level that these events were wrong. He saw wounded birds flop around helplessly and saw other boys throwing dead pigeons into a dumpster.
He writes: “...I spent many sleepless nights mulling this over in my brain. The final straw for me was going for Sunday breakfast at one of these clubs, the day after the shoot, and watching the wounded birds from the day before hopping pathetically around the parking lot, and looking up to the roof of the Gun Club, where many half-dead birds were perched waiting for certain death, or if they were lucky, to get picked off by a passing hawk.”
Today, Yoder is a board member of the Humane Society of Berks County in Pennsylvania and speaks out passionately against pigeon shoots.
Over the years, The HSUS and The Fund for Animals have helped to end many shoots, including the infamous Hegins event. Yet it’s not enough to stop some shoots; all of these shoots must be forbidden by law. Just last week, a new bill was introduced in Pennsylvania to finally bring an end to these events. With the publication of my book, I hope we’ll shine a new spotlight on this abuse, and see a permanent end to such a barbaric and despicable and unnecessary practice.