“The images are stark: men and teenagers drop-kicking wounded pigeons like footballs, stomping on them, slamming them against their heels until they explode.”
That’s the lead to a story about a “hunting” event that, judging from the video clips, amounted to organized target practice for a group of suburbanites dressed for an afternoon at the state fair, not actual hunting for wildlife in the woods or brush. And the story appeared in the mainstream Philadelphia Inquirer’s online news site, not in some animal rights blog post.
The Illinois-based group SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) claimed that its video footage from a Berks County (Pennsylvania) pigeon shoot that took place last month at the Wing Pointe hunting resort near Harrisburg represents evidence that these events—the topic of often heated debate in the Pennsylvania state legislature—violate state animal cruelty laws.
“This is the worst cruelty I’ve seen in 20 years of doing this,” Stuart Chaifetz, a SHARK spokesman, told the newspaper.
The Wing Pointe club offers hunters lots of fence rows and open fields—many planted in sorghum—that provide ideal habitat for the pheasants, quail and chuckars its patrons come to hunt with shotguns and dogs. Its website paints a bucolic picture of rugged-looking guys in blaze orange vests, well-groomed retrievers at the point and even a couple photos of pheasants taking wing, moments before that well-dressed hunter standing 10 feet away opens up with a load of birdshot. As private property, Wing Pointe doesn’t even require its members and guests to buy hunting licenses, and they’re guaranteed to come away with a bag of birds.
But whatever your opinion of these private resorts that provide so-called canned hunts, what took place with the aforementioned pigeon shoot transcends anything remotely related to being what hunters like to be called, “sportsmen.”
Worse, the predictable outrage generated by gruesome videos showing captive pigeons getting released from wooden crates, attempting to fly away, only to get blasted within seconds by a shooter who’s apparently only a few yards away, reinforces both the ethical stance and the financial status of animal activists who want to ban not just canned hunting but much of animal agriculture.
Despite several attempts to pass legislation banning pigeon shoots, pressure—and cash—from the National Rifle Association has managed to derail the bills, arguing that the pigeon shoots represent a Pennsylvania “hunting tradition.” Of course, one of the reasons that SHARK has the leverage it does stems from a $1 million donation to the group from retired game-show host and animal lover Bob Barker back in 2010. SHARK has used the funding to file lawsuits, lobbied the legislature and, of course, sent operatives in to capture undercover video documenting the activities at the private clubs providing canned hunts.
Even more interesting, SHARK used some of Barker’s dough to purchase an Octocopter, a remote controlled mini-drone equipped with a high-powered videocam, which it used to capture much of the footage of the Wing Pointe pigeon shoot. Later, some of the group managed to sneak onto the property and videotape a stomach-turning pile of dead birds, many of the carcasses blasted apart by shotgun pellets or crushed to a pulp.
And you don’t have to be a bleeding heart animal lover to get turned off by the fact that among that pile of dozens of bird carcasses were several badly wounded pigeons struggling to stay alive.
Not a pretty sight.
Time to step up
Although a bill to ban pigeon shoots was passed by a Pennsylvania Senate committee this session, Republican Majority Leader Sen. Dominic Pileggi’s staff told The Inquirer that there are “no set plans” to bring the bill to a floor vote.
That leaves Wing Pointe in the crosshairs as sponsors of a questionable “hunting” event and the activist community with powerful recruiting and fundraising tools with which to attract support and contributions to the cause.
Unfortunately, some of those contributions won’t go to stopping canned hunting, which doesn’t affect anyone who doesn’t partake of such activities, they’ll get funneled in to stop factory farming initiatives that directly impact the livelihoods of producers, packers and processors involved in raising livestock and marketing meat and poultry products.
It’s time for those involved in the meat business, and those who care about responsible animal stewardship as ranchers, feeders and producers to step up and draw a line: Hunting is a fine and worthy pastime participated in, for the most part, by hunters who actually care about the wildlife they help pay to sustain.
Canned—no, let’s call them what they are: captive hunts—have no place in the larger realm of outdoor sporting events and recreation. Industry needs to say firmly that events such as the Wing Points pigeon shoot need to become a relic of the past.
Otherwise, the activists who oppose everything about animal agriculture win over even more converts to their cause.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.