Legislation to end live pigeon shoots is poised for a critical vote in the state Senate tonight.
But expect a showdown ahead of the historic vote because the National Rifle Association has animal advocates - and their supporters in the legislature - in its sites.
The bill - which passed out of a Senate committee last week with GOP support - would make it illegal to stage pigeon shoots. During the events - still held at private gun clubs in Berks and Bucks counties - pigeons are launched one at a time from spring-loaded boxes or flushed en masse from free-standing boxes where they are shot at close range by shooters vying for cash and prizes.
The birds that die are collected and dumped in bins. Many wounded birds fly away to die a slow death. Others are picked up or kicked by "trapper boys" and, in some cases, thrown to the ground and stomped on.
The NRA has sent alerts to members for them to call their legislators and tell them that pigeon shoots are a "traditional shooting sport." The alerts claim that the anti-pigeon shoot campaign is being fueled by out of state "animal rights extremists."
In fact, the Humane Society of the United States, which has led the effort to stop the shoots in Pennsylvania for two decades, counts thousands of supporters in Pennsylvania and has conducted polls showing wide support statewide for a ban. A number of the license plates observed at pigeon shoots are from New Jersey and other states.
In one alert the NRA said halting pigeon shoots will create a "slippery slope" that one day would mean the end to all recreational hunting.
Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery), a supporter of the bill, called the slippery slope argument "the last refuge of someone with no better argument."
Other states that have banned shoots haven't banned other hunting," he said. "it's a desperate tactic to scare people which is all they are quipped to do."
The infamous Hegins pigeon shoot held annually for 65 years in Schuylkill County - where hundreds of birds were indiscriminately slaughtered over Labor Day weekend before large crowds - was shut down by a lawsuit in 1998.
Now private clubs, including the Philadelphia Gun Club in Bensalem, hold shoots for small groups of members out of public view.
The pigeon shoot ban language was attached to a bill (HB 1750) that would prohibit the sale and slaughter of dogs and cats for food which had passed the House unanimously.