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WILLIAMS: Live Pigeon Shoots Give Georgia Hunters a Bad Name
ted williams

I’m an upland bird hunter. I keep in practice by shooting pigeons. My son throws 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, I get a kick out of blowing 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 or face criminal charges for engaging in animal cruelty.

Live pigeon shoots are an old sporting tradition, banned in much of the civilized world. But they’re ongoing in the U.S.

Animal Wellness Action ( accurately describes them as follows: “Thousands of live pigeons are flung from box cages and then blasted by participants in high-dollar contest kills to see who can claim the most shot birds. While many of the birds are killed outright, others suffer on the ground... Still others, maimed, fly just out of range and are eaten alive by predators.”

As recently as early May, a major live pigeon shoot was hosted in Cataula, GA by orthopedic surgeon John Waldrop. A man not known for his compassionate treatment of animals, Dr. Waldrop is currently under federal indictment for smuggling endangered species. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in jail.

How many states permit live pigeon shoots? “No telling,” explains Steve Hindi, President of SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness --, “because even in states that specifically outlaw them, they happen secretly and with impunity.”

Lead is a neurotoxin. Only two ingested shotgun pellets can fatally poison a hawk, eagle, or vulture. A pigeon flapping on the ground is a dinner invitation for predators. Lead pellets also poison foxes, coyotes, fishers, bobcats, cougars, badgers, raccoons, and opossums.

In many live pigeon shoots workers (often children) don’t bother to put wounded birds out of their misery. They just throw them into garbage cans where they take hours or days to die. But the Cataula event was atypical -- child workers threw wounded birds into plastic bags.

SHARK records live pigeon shoots 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.

At the Cataula shoot, SHARK’s drone recorded the official pigeon thrower ripping feathers from birds to render their flight more erratic. Each time, he whirled around like a discus thrower.

Domestic pigeons kept in clean cages are relatively free of pathogens and parasites. Not so with feral pigeons collected for live pigeon shoots.

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 feral 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.

If you can push past the pathogen/parasite issue, feral pigeons make fine table fare. But pigeons killed at live pigeon shoots go to waste.

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 issue from the animal rights/wellness community -- not a peep from groups that defend and promote fair-chase hunting.

“This debasing activity bears no resemblance to hunting,” notes Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action who campaigns against live pigeon shoots wherever they occur. “Hunting involves obtaining a license, honoring ‘fair chase’ principles, and consuming the meat of the animals. If this isn’t staged animal cruelty, I don’t know what is. I am sickened by this orgy of killing for no good reason, and anyone with a conscience will have the same reaction.”

Ted Williams writes exclusively about fish and wildlife. He is a former information officer of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.