I am not anti-hunting. I won’t pick a fight with hunters, as long as they eat what they shoot and don’t use lead ammunition. However, I will pick a fight with the Rip Van Winkle Rod and Gun Club in Palenville, New York, which is sponsoring their fourth annual “Crow Down” March 29-30, 2014.

The “Crow Down” is a “hunting contest” where both adults and children slaughter as many crows as they possibly can in two days. Why do they do this? Look at the Maryland-based website Crow Busters, although I warn you you’ll need a strong stomach for the photographs. Here is a direct (and unedited) quote:

“… keep in mind the main reason why experienced crow hunters got into the sport in the first place, Fun. Plain old fashioned Fun.”

Some people think it’s just plain fun to kill enormous numbers of animals and pile up their bodies, and when there’s no “bag limit” it’s legal to do so. These people are overwhelmingly undereducated (and I don’t mean formal education) males, although occasionally you’ll find a comparable female going along for the ride (think Sarah Palin – no relation to Palenville, although for this particular event the nearly identical name is both handy and appropriate).

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A hero of the Rip Van Winkle Rod & Gun Club is – no doubt – Bob Aronsohn, who lives in Kansas and in December 2013 celebrated killing his 150,000th crow. On the website he reminisces fondly about his “best hunt,” where he killed 3,125 crows in 9 days, bringing to mind the days when people slaughtered seemingly endless  flocks of passenger pigeons and herds of buffalo.

Is this hunting, or is it simply a bloody massacre? How do you classify these contests? And what do you do about events like the one sponsored by the Rip van Winkle Rod and Gun Club, where participants bring their children, supply them with guns, and actually instruct them in the art of stack-the-corpses slaughter?

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The infamous Labor Day Pigeon Shoot was held in Hegins, Pennsylvania from 1921 until it was closed down in 1998. Live pigeons were trapped on city streets or bought at auction, held for days without food or water, then catapulted into the air as live skeet. Wounded birds were left to crawl away into the woods; sometimes, during breaks, children were encouraged to run across the field, scoop them up, and tear their heads off.

Eventually the operators of the shoot were sued, the case climbed through the courts, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled unanimously against it, calling it “cruel and moronic.” It was sent back to trial court, but by then the yearly event had become such a media circus – with live TV coverage and protesters taking down the license plates of shooters’ vehicles – that the sponsors ended it.

One hopes this is the direction in which all killing contests are headed.

“People say there are too many crows and they eat all the crops,” says Missy Runyan, director of the Friends of the Feathered and Furry Wildlife Center in nearby Hunter, NY. “This is baloney. There are as many crows as the land can support, and they gather because people leave their garbage all over the place.”

Runyan has no problem with hunting; she gives wildlife and gun safety presentations to Rod and Gun clubs across the state. She owns an arsenal of rifles, and has been licensed to carry a handgun for 17 years.

“What I want to know is: a hundred feet away, how can these people tell the difference between a crow and a raven, which is a protected species?” she asks. “And how do you keep the kids safe when you’ve got dozens of people in the woods, blasting away? You shoot a bullet up, sooner or later it has to come down. How do you know it’s not going to come down on some kid’s head?”

The Crow Down does not require non-toxic ammunition, either, which means soon the woods will be filled with lead.

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Outlawing these contests is within the purview of state government, not the Department of Environmental Conservation. New York Senators Jack Martins (R-Mineola) and Tony Avella (D-Queens) have co-sponsored a bill (#S.4074) which would make it unlawful for “any person to organize, conduct, promote or participate in any contest or competition where the objective of such contest or competition is to take the greatest number of wildlife.” I urge everyone concerned about the concept of mass slaughter in this day and age – especially when it’s being taught to children – to contact them and express support for this bill, which would protect not only crows, but all the unfairly maligned species that have been targeted for hundreds of years. Groups across the country, including Project Coyote in California, are fighting similar battles.

I have friends who hunt, and every one of them is disgusted by events like “Crow Down” and consider them bad publicity for true hunters. The poster for this event shows a dozen cartoon birds on their backs, feet in the air, and trumpets the headline, “Wanted: Dead or Alive.”

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Read your own headline, take a look at the buffalo skulls pictured at right, and wake up, Rip Van Winkle. It’s not the 1800s anymore.

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Written by Suzie
Suzie Gilbert is a licensed wild bird rehabilitator whose shameful secret is that on one occasion (well … maybe more than one) she has received a little brown job, or a fledgling whatever, and has been completely unable to ID it. Luckily, she has birder friends who will rush to her aid, although she must then suffer their mockery. She runs Flyaway, Inc. out of her home, and has been caring for injured and orphaned wild birds for 20 years. Why go birding when you can just stroll through the house? Honestly, though, she is wildly envious of birders and their trips to exotic locales. She is the author of Flyaway, her bird-rehabbing memoir, and Hawk Hill, a children's book, and is the sole parent of two teenagers. Never a dull moment.