AUTHOR CLEVELAND AMORY, THE crusty president of the Fund for Animals, chose to spend his 74th birthday in Hegins, Pa. But he wasn't there to celebrate. Instead, Amory and about 1,000 animal-rights activists unfurled banners and roared through bullhorns in an attempt to disrupt the slaughter of pigeons at the annual Fred Coleman Memorial Shoot, held in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country every Labor Day since 1934.

They did not succeed. More than 5,000 birds were felled, and those not killed outright by shotgun blasts had their necks wrung in a coup de grace. "It's hard to watch a thing like this," Amory snapped. "It is a shameless, stupid, brutal massacre."

For the 11,000 area residents, the shoot was part of a cherished tradition that raised $10,000 for local charities and civic organizations. This year 250 shooters paid up to $450 each to compete in the spectacle, in which captured pigeons, sprung from traps, serve as live targets. Their remains are later converted to fertilizer. Protesting intruders were not welcomed. "A Dutchman doesn't like to be pushed around," said Herman Coleman, 85, a key organizer of the event named for his late uncle, a local marksman. "Who are they to tell us, 'You can't do that'?"

Many saw the conflict as a clash between urban and rural mentalities. Ed Shovlin, 42, a lab technician from nearby Nanticoke, asked, "Don't [the protesters] know that if you let pigeons overpopulate, they'll cause disease among farm animals?"

Protesters angrily noted that Pennsylvania remains one of the three states that still permit live-bird target shoots. "It's an island of cruelty," declared Wayne Pacelle, national director of the Fund for Animals. Despite scuffles between protesters and state troopers, the toll—at least among humans—was mercifully light: 85 protesters arrested and two slightly injured.

In the end few—if any—minds were changed on either side. Perhaps the only thing that protesters and locals might have agreed on was a glum observation by Amory. "It's a hell of a way to spend your birthday," he growled.

DANIEL CHU
TOM NUGENT in Hegins

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Nugent.