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Ban on shooting live pigeons as targets advances in Pa. House for first time since 2011

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Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
April 29, 2024

Pennsylvania is the only state where live pigeons are regularly used for target shooting, animal rights advocates say, and legislation that passed a state House committee Monday could put an end to the centuries-old practice. 

House Bill 2139, sponsored by Rep. Perry Warren (D-Bucks), passed with a 16-8 vote in the House Judiciary Committee to the cheers of dozens of Humane Society of the United States members gathered for the organization’s lobbying event.

Although activists were successful more than a quarter century ago in shutting down what had been billed as the world’s largest pigeon shoot each Labor Day in Hegins, Schuylkill County, pigeon shoots still happen in at least one location in Pennsylvania, state Rep. Melissa Schusterman (D-Chester) said.

“What we see in public polls is overwhelmingly that Pennsylvanians, like those here in this room, support ending live pigeon shoots,” Schusterman, chairperson of the Legislature’s bicameral Animal Protection Caucus, said during Monday’s Judiciary Committee meeting. 

“They are a misrepresentation of the long tradition of hunting in this Commonwealth,” Schusterman said. “True hunters know that pigeon shoots have nothing to do with hunting and damage the reputation of the sport of hunting.”

State Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin) said he could not support the bill out of concern that it could be a slippery slope that could affect the rights of sportsmen. Eight Republican members of the committee followed Kauffman’s lead in opposing the bill. Reps. Jim Rigby (R-Cambria) and Stephenie Scialabba (R-Butler) voted in favor of the bill while Rep. Tim Bonner (R-Mercer) did not vote.

The Philadelphia Gun Club in Bensalem, Bucks County, holds about a dozen live pigeon shoots each year, Humane Society Senior Vice President Heidi Prescott said. Before the pandemic, several organizations around the state held similar events using live pigeons as targets and the Humane Society hopes to prevent a resurgence, Prescott said. 

“More and more hunters are willing to speak out against it because of the image it gives hunting,” Prescott said.

In a live pigeon shoot, specially bred pigeons are released from boxes or launched by hand for shooters who try to down the birds with shotguns. Those who oppose the practice say the birds that aren’t killed immediately are often left to succumb to their injuries, to predators or to infection, dehydration or starvation.

Using live pigeons for shoots is legal in Pennsylvania, although it is illegal to kill or trap homing pigeons. 

Under the legislation, which now goes to the full House for a vote, it would be a summary offense for a person to organize or permit a premises to be used for a contest in which live pigeons are used as targets for amusement or a test of marksmanship.

The bill would not prevent “fair chase” hunting or the training of dogs for hunting and does not affect 2nd Amendment rights, an analysis of the bill prepared by judiciary committee staff found. 

Lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation to ban live pigeon shoots since 1987, Prescott said. A Senate bill introduced by former Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2011, but never received a vote in the full Senate.

Fifteen states have laws that specifically prohibit keeping live birds to be used as targets or prohibit killing a bird. Courts or a state attorney general have held that pigeon shooting is illegal under existing anti-cruelty laws and 22 states have anti-cruelty laws that would bar pigeon shooting but have never been tested in court according to the Humane Society. 

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This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.