The Humane Society of the United States has long been involved in efforts to stop pigeon shoots, horrible spectacles that still happen in some states, where shooters gun down birds for no reason other than the fun of it. This week, we won a significant victory on pigeon shoots in Maryland, one of the states where shoots have occurred. On the blog today, I’ve invited Bernie Unti, senior policy advisor and special assistant to the president/CEO, to tell us about this important win.
Yesterday, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed a bill that deals one more blow to live pigeon shooting contests, a heartless and thoroughly discredited practice that persists in just a few states.
The bill, supported by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, passed on April 9.
When the DNR introduced legislation to add “pigeon” to the defined term of “unprotected bird” for the purposes of the wildlife and hunting laws of the state, we successfully pressed for the inclusion of language that prohibits a person from conducting or participating in an organized contest for which pigeons are launched as a target for contest participants.
The shooting of live pigeons for sport originated with late 18th century aristocrats, and peaked in 1900 at the Olympics in Paris. This marked the one and only time in Olympic history when animals were deliberately killed in athletic competition. To win top honors, the now forgotten Belgian shooter Leon de Lunden killed 21 of the 300 birds shot at the event (after the 1900 games, clay targets replaced pigeons).
Nearly 120 years later, there isn’t any doubt. Shooting pigeons pitched out of traps is really high on the list of the most shameful things a person can do with a shotgun — it might even be at the top. Pigeon shooting is not hunting. There’s no sport, no fair chase and most hunters disavow it. It’s just a massacre of animals tossed into the air for contest killing by shooters, and there’s a reason that it has sunk into virtual oblivion.
The passage and approval of Senate Bill 94 is especially important given Maryland’s proximity to Pennsylvania, another state that hosts such events. Despite an opinion issued by the Maryland attorney general’s office in May 2017, communicating its view that pigeon shoots were unlawful under existing statutes, shoot organizers from Pennsylvania were looking to move south with their pigeon shoots, into Maryland. This bill puts an end to that.
Some of my colleagues have been campaigning to end pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania since the 1980s. There, every Labor Day, humane advocates gathered in the town of Hegins, in Schuykill County, to protest, rescue wounded animals, and document cruelties for the legal case. Their work led to the end of the Fred Coleman Memorial Shoot, the world’s largest one-day pigeon shoot, in 1998, after 63 years.
Each year shooters would kill and wound thousands of birds released from boxes just 30 yards in front of them. When we first started campaigning against the shoots in Pennsylvania, we mistakenly thought it would be easy to end them, particularly when superior substitutes such as clay, skeet or trap shooting exist. However, although it is a cruel and degraded pastime, pigeon shooting has its defenders, some of them with powerful influence.
We’ve come close to abolishing the shoots several times in the Keystone State but the opposition has thus far prevailed. However, we have never given up. And we never will.
Live pigeon shoots are banned or covered under the cruelty laws of most American states. They are banned by statute in 14 states, and in nine others, including Maryland, courts or attorneys general have concluded that they violate the cruelty law or wildlife laws. In 23 states, pigeon shoots would be covered under the cruelty law, if they occurred at all.
For those who have worked in the field for a long time, and campaigned hard against pigeon shoots, this outcome in Maryland is a great encouragement. We are nearer to closing out an entire category of cruelty.
We’ve reached this threshold because of the hard work of many good people over many decades. We’re grateful to the many organizations and advocates, especially those in Pennsylvania and Maryland, whose determination to bring an end to these killing contests has never wavered. Teamwork, persistence and conviction have made all of the difference.