June 9, 2012

The Pennsylvania Pigeon Shoot Controversy

There was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday about a somewhat controversial Pennsylvania "tradition"...The Pigeon Shoot.

No, it's not a fishing thing, but it's outdoorsy, and has some parallels to an annual fishing "Rite of Spring" so I thought I might be worth posting.

It comes up in local press every few years.  Basically the deal is that rather than shooting clays or stationary targets, the Philadelphia Gun Club (and a few other clubs in the State), round up pigeons and systematically release them to let club members have at them as target practice.  It's kind of like opening day of trout season, when hundreds of stockies are thrown in a 10 by 20 foot hole to be removed one after another.  Like the trout that doesn't care for Powerbait, many pigeons get/fly away to "safety," but the ones that don't...well...don't.

Other than shooting a bunch of what some might think are nuisance birds...
what's the issue might you ask?  

First off, pigeon shoots are perfectly legal in Pennsylvania.  But since we're talking shotguns, a good portion of the birds don't die right away upon getting hit...rather they're knocked out of the sky by the gunshot and fall to the ground with crippling injuries, blows that most times will prove fatal later.  Do the birds suffer in that time between flight and expiration?  I suppose so.  But then again, so do those opening day trout latched on to stringers bound for the dinner plate.  Animal cruelty groups definitely think the pigeons are getting a raw deal, and have been trying to shut these shoots down for years.

What I find most interesting is the latest tact taken in the war against pigeon shoots.  Since the Philadelphia Gun Club property resides on the banks of the Delaware River, it is now being sued by said environmental groups for violating the Clean Water Act...or in other words, polluting the river with a bunch of dead birds and spent shotgun shot without permit.

To quote the Inquirer article:
"The shoots are a violation of the Clean Water Act because of shot and carcasses falling into the river," van Rossum said. "They can't have a discharge into the water without a permit."
Federal and state agencies have failed to enforce the Clean Water Act, van Rossum said. So she and her nonprofit group, which has more than 7,700 members, filed suit in federal court in Philadelphia on March 30. 
In addition to the pigeon carcasses, gunshot containing lead, bismuth, tungsten, copper, steel, and other metals are polluting the river, according to the suit."

Hmmm...that's an interesting angle.  Does it carry any real weight?  Probably not, especially considering the fact that pretty much every waterfoul hunter could be considered guilty of the same "crime" if precedent is set.

Something tells me pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania aren't going anywhere anytime soon, but what are your thoughts; environmental and/or moral?  I'm especially curious considering parallels to fishing, and the strong "catch & release" ethic that is prevalent in such circles.

As always, comments are welcomed below...


  1. I think it's a shame to kill the birds for no reason(i.e. not for eating), especially since alternate options for the shoot are available. But if you're going to sue over "dumping" dead birds into the Delaware, better add God to the suit.

  2. I don't have time to write my thoughts on this right now (kid's birthday today), but I'm glad you put it up. It seems to me that there's an unwritten (but stupid, in my opinion) rule that if you're a hunter or fisherman, you aren't to speak of things that might be ethically "fuzzy". I get run off of almost every forum I join because I can't seem to follow that rule.

  3. Hopefully when they are "rounding up" the pigeons, they are getting the ones that poop all over Philly and every other city. Wonder if those said environmental groups like cleaning pigeon poop off their cars or their shoes? Nothing like a good blob of pigeon poop on your shoulder to change your tune.


  4. Interesting for sure. I'm no fan of pigeons but on the other hand it does seem that there might be something less likely to draw the ire of the animal huggers.

  5. If they will do Canadian geese next year I'd pony up a cash prize...

  6. I ate pigeon last week, and it ain't too bad.

  7. For waterfowl we (nationally) are not allowed to use toxic (read: copper, lead) shot. For doves and pigeon hunting on some state lands that are full of wetlands, streams, etc., nontoxic shot is also required.

    Killing is killing, unless it involves unnecessarily prolonged suffering. From many, many days of dove hunting over the years (pigeons are often casualties because they feed in the same fields and roost in the barns) that birds of that small size are most often dead before they hit the ground. In many other cases, the fall/impact kills the bird, not the ammo. Rarely (with a small bird) do you have a flapping cripple ambling about on the ground, in which case the bird is probably dispatched by a dog in the 30-60 seconds after the bird was shot.

    Compare that to a trout that lays "almost" dead in someone's creel bag all day (or saltwater fish in the live well).

    Our species' existence on earth, and our place in the food web, requires killing. Even if someone is a vegetarian, habitat must be destroyed and pests (deer, geese, doves, rabbits, groundhogs) must be killed to grow all those soybeans for all that tofu. It's an ugly world full of death and guess what, we're part of it.

    That's my seven pence.

  8. And BTW, in the USA, only one case like this was ever pursued successfully, and it was settled out of court (for the reasons such things are often settled out of court). One of the trap shooting clubs outside of Washington DC had several ranges set up across several headwaters to a public drinking water reservoir. DNR had warned them for 10 years + that the lead levels were off the charts, but they kept up business as usual. Finally, somebody sued, and at the last second, the DNR or the County suddenly bought the property and the shooting club was allowed to move somewhere nearby with compatible zoning and (apparently) no stream/wetland complex running through the middle of it...

    That was a direct cause/effect - and it settled out of court. In other words, I highly doubt that anything will come of this suit in PA unless they have real water quality monitoring data (and metals are very expensive to test for) for the areas where they shoots are done. I highly doubt that.

    In all likelihood, the activists are just trying to use the Clean Water Act as a tool (Damn, I sound like someone else) to get anti-hunting legislation passed. How/why? CWA provides the ability for citizen lawsuits against EPA, to guard against EPA over/under regulating water. Very few other federal laws give citizens "automatic standing" to sue.

    Can't imagine this won't go away.

  9. My thoughts are that you can't sanitize hunting. Nor should you. As for the Clean Water stuff...I suppose I should just say "no comment."

  10. River Mud nailed it, with respect to waterfowl hunters and shot-related water quality issues. In fact, waterfowlers were either limited to far less effective steel shot or highly expensive copper/bismuth/tin/tungsten/etc shot, so if their lead shot is ending up in the water, then yes, they should have to use waterfowl-approved shot. Otherwise, who knows?

    Personally, I'm holding out for depleted uranium shot.