Poll: Voters support PA pigeon shoot ban

Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly want to put a stop to live pigeon shoots in this state once and for all.

By a four-to-one margin voters surveyed in a first-of-its-kind poll strongly support legislation to make it illegal to launch pigeons from a stationary objects and shoot them at close range.

The poll, conducted by Washington D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, found that 75 percent of Pennsylvania voters favor a law that would ban live pigeon shoots, while only 16 percent oppose it.

Overwhelming majorities of men and women, as well as Democrats, Republicans and Independents, support a complete prohibition on live pigeon shoots.

“Pennsylvanians don’t approve of animal cruelty and want their legislators to adopt common-sense policies to protect animals,” said Heidi Prescott, senior vice president of campaigns at The Humane Society of the United States, who has been lobbying for an end to pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania since the early 1990s.

Legislation to ban the shoots has languished in the General Assembly for 26 years, even as public opposition has grown.

Sen. Pat Browne (R., Lehigh) introduced SB 510, a bill to end contests where live pigeons are launched into the air and shot.The bill which is currently in the Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery) has 22 co-sponsors in the 50-member state Senate.

The bill passed out of Greenleaf's committee last session (he is among the supporters) but has not yet been considered this session.

Pennsylvania generated national attention in the 1990s during the fight to ban the bacchanal that was the infamous Hegins shoot in Schuylkill County (run by current Rep. Mike Tobash's father).

During these Labor Day weekend shoot-a-thons, countless thousands of dead birds rained down on spectators that was finally ended in 1999 after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled pigeon shoot participants could be prosecuted for animal cruelty.

Gun clubs in Bucks County (Philadelphia Gun Club) and Berks County (Wing Pointe) and Dauphin County (Erdman) though continue to hold shoots despite efforts by animal welfare advocates to stop them. 

Prescott's group and others have filed suits in multiple counties arguing they constitute animal cruelty because wounded pigeons suffer and die slow deaths.  (Read my account of witnessing a pigeon shoot here.)

District attorneys - including John Adams in Berks County and David Heckler in Bucks County - have blocked efforts to file cruelty citations in their counties.

In recent years charges were filed in cases in Dauphin County and two judges deferred to the legislature in their rulings, saying it was up to lawmakers to make the practice illegal.

The Pennsylvania Flyers Association, the pigeon shooting lobby group, and the NRA, have fought efforts to stop the shoots, defending them as a part of a "proud hunting tradition."

Not so says the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which although it has not taken a position on the bills, told this reporter that pigeon shoots are not hunting.

Among poll respondents, who were asked if live pigeon shoots were a tradition that should be preserved, or an unnecessary form of animal cruelty, 83 percent of those interviewed said they were a form of animal cruelty.

While there have been attempts to amend the pigeon shooting ban to other bills over the years, the last time a free-standing pigeon shoot bill received a vote was in 1989.

And 86 percent of Pennsylvania voters say that lawmakers should take efforts to ensure the humane treatment of animals.

The record number of pro-animal bills before the legislature this session (21) suggests lawmakers are hearing that message.

The poll surveyed 625 registered Pennsylvania voters statewide from October 24 through October 26, 2013. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 4 percent.

Pigeon shooting facts:

 • Supporters of SB 510 include the Pennsylvania Bar Association, Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, the Pennsylvania Federation of Humane Societies and the ASPCA.

• A small circuit of pigeon shoots exists in Pennsylvania, attracting out-of-state shooters who cannot participate in the activity in their home states because it is considered cruel.

• Live pigeon shoots, are similar to clay shoots, except live birds are used, being launched one at a time from traps in front of shooters.

• Typically, 70 percent of the birds released in pigeon shoots are wounded rather than killed, with some wounded animals escaping into the area to suffer for hours or days before dying.

• Like dogfighting and cockfighting, the shoots are invitation-only events for participants.