Friday, May 12, 2006


Red-blooded shotgun action on the firing line
This blog has covered what the Hegins Pigeon Shoot was like from the entertainment side of the event. But it was also possible to interview someone who had been a local pigeon-shooter for years. I've said that gambling was a part of pigeon-shooting. There were other rationalizations, too, most of them pretty lame. Although the community outwardly relished confrontations with outsiders over the shoot, the public attention was beginning to erode their boilerplate.

The following originally appeared in September 1990, after the report from the shoot, and was composed from an interview conducted prior to it.

(September 1990) Dave X is in his mid-30's. He participates regularly in pigeon-shooting matches and has done so since the graduated from high school.

Dave's friends join him in matches. Another acquaintance, a teacher in the school where Dave works, shoots. Dave's summer boss in the construction company he moonlights for, shoots, too.

"Every town in the county, just about, has pigeon-shooting matches," he said in recent interview.

"That's why the fuss is so frightening."

Dave is referring to the storm of outrage surrounding the annual Labor Day Fred Coleman Memorial Pigeon Shoot in Hegins, an event which looked very ugly in the aftermath of spectacles like the brandishing of decapitated pigeons, dieing birds falling from the trees onto the backs of spectators, fisticuffs, arrests and general fear and loathing among patrons and protesters last Monday.

And he's asked to remain anonymous because pigeon-shooting is "like family, a close-knit group. They'd hang me around here if anyone found out who told you this."

"I liked it, I'm 100 percent for it," he continued. "But I don't have any answers why."

"I enjoy the matches for the camraderie, the good fellowship. When all is said and done at the shoots, everyone has a beer."

What does Dave think is one of the facets of the shoot that riles animal cruelty activists most?

"The shoots are ... Well, you have bird-catchers -- kids who retrieve the birds that are winged and they tear the heads off them. It's ... " his voice trailed off.

If public pressure continues, Dave said that pigeon-shooting would probably be outlawed. "But if that happens, I think there still will be shoots in the county. Know what I mean?"

"My friends and I are going to the Coleman shoot and try to have a good time. But it's become too sensitive. There's a guy [Steve Hindi] who wants to get in fistfights. [He did.] The understanding in the pigeon-shooting community is 'don't get belligerent.'" [They were.]

"But there will be people drinking and when you have that, anything can happen."

Dave started shooting pigeons in competition shortly after high school when he and a friend matched kills for a case of beer. "It was just a dumb -- kind of thing."

Six years ago he became very serious about "the sport."

He said one of his partners in pigeon-shooting purchased a shotgun which they modified so it was a better weapon for the shoots. "We altered it so the pattern spread out better," he said.

He also recieved a "trap" -- the small box from which the target pigeons are released -- from another pigeon-shooting friend. Sometimes he would see competitors using a long branch to agitate the birds in the boxes, "polishing" them so they would, theoretically -- be conditioned to burst into flight more rapidly once the trap was opened.

Dave began winning matches more frequently. At about the same time, animal rights activists were starting to media campaign to put pressure on the state to impose sanctions on the shooters.

Informal "lecturers" began giving talks at local rod and gun clubs, supplying their rationale for the shoots.

"I heard one guy give a talk on how the shoots were necessary because if the pigeons weren't used in this way, the flyers [those who fly and raise pigeons for racing and/or shooting matches] and breeders wouldn't be able to control the population and there would be an excess of pigeon s--- on roofs. That was neither here nor there."

The development of shooting skills, "an eye," Dave called it, as another justification is, for him, "secondary."

Competitors in pigeon shoots get very involved, said Dave. "There are the shooting clubs and the flyers. The flyers set up the matches between the clubs.

"I've seen some flyers who have a special pigeon. They'll put it in the trap and pass you and say, 'Well, you are going to miss him.'

"And then the bird is hit. I've seen some flyers cry when that happens, the bird meant that much to them."

Then why do it? Why kill a special bird?

"I don't know," said Dave.

[Actually, everyone did know. It was about gambling, financial gain and loss.]


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