24 October 2013

Wild Pigeons as Targets at Shooting Tournaments

During 1881 to 1884, seemingly innumerable wild pigeons provided the targets for marksmen to prove their shooting prowess at competitive tournaments. Birds were captured beneath nets, placed within the confines of wooden crates and transported to the tourney locale. Upon sudden release from their confines, the man with a gun with the best target perception to accurately blast the greatest number won a prize of some sort, along with bragging rights.

Following the great Coney Island tournament, and the backlash from the deaths of so many wild pigeons, as well as a dearth of the wild pigeons, it became obvious to some that there was a need for a substitute sort of target. The effort made the news just a few weeks after the New Jersey event.

"As the difficulty of obtaining wild pigeons for the trap is increasing from year to year, Yankee inventiveness supplies the want with sundry substitutes, more or less practical in trap shooting. With clay pigeons, smoke target balls, gyro pigeons, detonating bats, sparrows, blackbirds and other live proxies, it would seem that the average shooter could find ample use for the gun without using pigeons for his sport." — August, 1881

The following are some examples of known instances when wild pigeons were still being used as targets at tournaments at various cities in the United States. There may have been additional examples in the newspapers of the era, but the report may have only referred to pigeons, which may have referred to the tame rock pigeon, so only those pertinent to the wild pigeon, i.e., Passenger Pigeon, are conveyed in this sample of reports.


Chicago, August 7. — The tournament of the Illinois state sportsmens' association closed yesterday after a fine day's shoot. The free-for-all four teams shoot was won by the Rock City gun club, of Tennessee, by a score of 39 out of a possible 40. Eight thousand wild pigeons were killed during the tournament. — August
Five hundred wild pigeons were shipped by express a few days ago from St. Louis to Canton, Ohio, where a shooting match is to be held this week. In shipping them the birds were packed so closely that they could hardly move, and they had neither food nor water on the way. When they reached Canton 225 dead birds were taken out of the boxes, and the rest, gasping for water, were too weak to stand. They were, however removed to coops in order to be prepared for the match. And big, double fisted men, with alleged souls in their bodies, call this "Sport." — August


The next year started out with an article indicting another option for shootists.

Whether for humanity's sake or for private gain, we are unable to say which, some inventive mind has recently put upon the market a small piece of earthen ware calculated to take the place of live pigeons at shooting matches. It is round, about 12 inches in circumference concave, and is shaped that when thrown into the air from a "trap" it will sail off 50 or 60 yards as gracefully as a bird, its zig-zag motion making it quite difficult to "draw a bead" upon; it is very light and brittle and when hit will fly into fragments. The more humane "shootists" all over the country, are adopting these "clay pigeons," and we trust the day is not far distant when the cruel practice of shooting birds from traps will be discontinued by all sportsmen. The inventor of the "clay pigeons" should have a national medal. — January

They were readily accepted for use, with many reports indicating the soon came into common use. The use of wild pigeons did, however, continue.

Some of the members of the Council Bluffs Sportsman's Gun Club has a little pigeon shooting Saturday afternoon. Some fine wild pigeons had been procured for the event and an interesting time was had. ... — June
The twenty-fourth annual convention of the New York State Association for the Protection of Fish and Game will be held at Niagara Falls this year, beginning June 12, and continuing through the week. Numerous contests for prizes in pigeon-shooting, rifle practice and fly casting have been arranged. This extensive tournament will be held under the auspices of the Niagara Falls Shooting Club upon grounds on the margin of the river, in view of the rapids and the islands. The president announces that 15,000 wild pigeons, the best he has ever seen at a meeting of the association, are now on the grounds. — June


Opposition to the use of live birds as targets continued to increase. In the spring, news came that proactive efforts were underway to address the problem by some people concerned with the practice. There was also political intrigue involved.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals, of Cincinnati, recently caused the arrest of Charles Eckert, a member of the club, for shooting live pigeons from the trap. A great interest has been felt in the result of the trial, as the sportsmen of that city had decided to give a grand tournament there as soon as the birds could be procured. Considerable indignation is felt by the sportsmen of Cincinnati and Covington, Ky., against the Ligowsky Clay Pigeon Company, which, it is claimed, is using all its influence, and money as well, towards prosecuting trap shooters, and the breaking up of all shooting of live pigeons from traps. All sorts of threats are made. One is the effect that they will all sign a petition requesting sportsmen not to use the clay pigeon, and an agreement not to shoot them themselves, nor allow them to be shot on the club grounds. They also claim that the Ligowsky Company is entirely too much of a monopoly, and ask too much for their clay imitations. the inventor of the clay pigeon and trap says, however, that the company has nothing to do with the prosecution of pigeon shooting in England or this country. The attorneys for the defense filed a demurrer to the information, alleging that the acts charged, if committed, constituted no offense against the statute of Ohio. This demurrer was argued and submitted to Judge Warren Higley, before whom the case comes for trial. The demurrer was overruled, and a trial will soon be had upon the merits of the case. The result will be looked for by all sportsmen with great interest. — April
The final arrangements for the fourth annual tournament of the Kansas Sportsmen's Association have been completed. It will be held at Forest Park, Ottawa, May 29th to June 3d, under the auspices of the Ottawa Gun club. Five thousand wild pigeons will be furnished by W.W. Judy, of St. Louis. The tournament is open to the world. Large purses for prizes are being offered and negotiations are now pending for a great match between Bogardus and Erb to take place at this tournament. — May

From Paola, Kan., according to a news report, once the Kansas Sportsmen's association at Ottawa elected new officers, their next matter of business was to arrange a shooting contest.

The club expects to give a pigeon tournament, open to the gunners of Kansas and Missouri, about the 4th of July. It will be under the management of L.J. Perry, the secretary of the State association. A general invitation is extended to all who enjoy trap shooting to be present. Three thousand wild pigeons will be provided and the prizes will be liberal, and there will be no rebate. — June

Despite the litigation in the local court of Cincinnatti, pigeon shooting continued unabated in the vicinity.

A national pigeon shooting contest commences to-day at Cincinnati, and 5,000 wild pigeons are cooped for the event, which is to last four days. The champion shooting clubs of Illinois and Tennessee are on hand. — June

A Texas match was using a variety of targets.

A grand shooting tournament will be given by Major Wheadon, proprietor of the Park hotel, at Lampasas, Texas, commencing July 17, and lasting five days. Four thousand wild pigeons, together with clay pigeons and glass balls, will make this the finest tournament ever held in Texas. All lovers of the sport are cordially invited to be present. The mammoth hotel being just completed, the genial proprietor can furnish full accommodations for all who attend the tournament. — July

A second report mentioned when the shipment of birds was underway.

Hearne, July 13. — Mr. Otto Erichson passed through this place this morning with fifty-four coops of wild pigeons for the shooting tournament at Lampasas on the 17th of this month. the birds were shipped from Missouri.

Though they came from Missouri, it is not clear whether they originated within the state, though they may have come from the known roost in Oregon county.

Chicago, July 13. — The annual meeting and pigeon tournament of the Illinois State Sportsmen's association will be held here from July 24 to 28. There are 11,000 wild pigeons on hand, and $5,000 in prizes will be contended for. The chief events to be contested for are a $1,000 diamond badge representing the individual championship of the state and a club championship for teams of four.


A lack of wild pigeons was first reported in the spring within a region where uncountable numbers had once been present, and provided a easily available source for taking what was needed.

Buffalo, April 27. — The prospect for securing live pigeons by the thousand for the state shoot are not so promising as they were a few weeks ago. In the hope that birds would fly further east the Audubon club's agent left them on the Wisconsin border. Now they have flown away, to where no one knows. Though trappers have looked for them for a week or more they have so far failed to find any pigeons.

The following report was from Washington, D.C., and indicates that a clay-pigeons as targets were being prominently used at some of the national tournaments.

Mr. Edward L. Mills, president of the Capital City Gun Club, and Mr. Wm. Wagner, leave this afternoon for Knoxville, Tenn. to participate in the five days' clay-pigeon shooting tournament to be held in that city May 20th to 25th inclusive. Thence they go to Chicago to meet Messrs. McKelden, Smith and Bailey, the other three members of the team to represent the club in the international clay-pigeon shooting tournament to be held in that city May 26th to 31st inclusive. From there, Messrs. Mills and Wagner go to Louisville, Ky., to compete in the match at wild live pigeons for the championship of America and purse of $5,000. Mr. Mills has been selected to represent the club as a delegate to the convention to be held at Chicago for the formation of a national association of sportsmen. — May

Fewer birds were being used as it was obviously problematic to find a sufficient number for a match, ranging from a few hundred to thousands, as indicated by this report from the west coast.

The trap-shooters of California have found much difficulty in procuring pigeons for their matches and often have envied their friends in the East, who were able at certain seasons to obtain an apparently unlimited supply of wild birds for trap purposes. It would seem from the following remarks of the American Field that the Eastern sportsmen are also in trouble: "We publish a communication from D.G. Cunningham, the Secretary of the Illinois State Sportsmen's Association, stating that it has been decided to postpone the convention and tournament of the association, in consequence of the impossibility of procuring birds. For the same reason, the Missouri State Sportsman's Association has postponed its convention and tournament. We are almost daily in receipt of letters asking where wild pigeons can be obtained, which we are not able to answer, as we do not know of any which can be bought. About two thousand birds altogether have come into the Chicago market, in parcels of from two to six dozen at a time, and were immediately bought up for the use of the local clubs. The dealers in pigeons seem to be in entire ignorance of where the wild birds will nest, and the outlook therefore is anything but promising. — May

Some tournament planners had no difficulties, however, in procuring live targets which included included pigeons, along with an alternative. Blackbirds were indicated as an alternative for the Texas tournament, to be held at Fort Worth.

The state shoot which will commence in this city on the 24th of June promises to be the great sporting event of the season, and will attract many visitors to the city. The Fort Worth gun club is sparing no trouble or expense to make the shoot the most successful one ever held in the Southwest. They have four men procuring pigeons and trapping blackbirds. Several thousand birds are already in the city and as many more are yet to come. — May

A final report from this year is from Oklahoma, and indicates that the birds were spending the winter season in nearby Arkansas.

The Vinita Gun Club have secured 3000 wild pigeons and will have a grand shoot on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of December. Being brought from Arkansas, only about forty miles distant, the birds will be stronger flyers than are usually provided and some excellent sport is assured.

Necessity would require that tournament planners find suitable alternatives to wild pigeons. These birds were becoming harder to procure in the numbers necessary for a particular time and place associated with a planned event. Shootists were among the first to deal with the changes wrought by endless eras of pigeon trapping and shooting. Others would also eventually realize obvious changes in the situation(s) associated with the Passenger Pigeon.

In subsequent years, there would be an increased used of clay pigeons, though live pigeons were still used, especially at tournaments in Texas and California.