Don’t shoot our pigeons!

Not only is shooting racing pigeons against the law, it’s an act of spite that has nothing to do with ‘real hunting’, says Thomas Smit.

Don’t shoot our pigeons!
Pigeons emerging from cages at the start of a race.
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Recently, a picture did the rounds on the internet showing a happy-looking hunter posing with his rifle over more than 180 dead racing pigeons in a field. Could this photograph have been taken in South Africa? The SA National Pigeon Organisation contacted the media and, a week later, the Volksblad confirmed that the picture had originated in the US.

READ:Cape Town pigeon fanciers 1st and 2nd place

On the website, “this American nincompoop”, as one SA pigeon fancier has dubbed him, shares his story: “One thing I fell in love with, during the last 15 years, is decoying pigeons. I wouldn’t give it up for a better day of goose hunting. You may think I am crazy, but if you haven’t tried it, you don’t know what you are missing.
“I’m talking bunches of five to a 105, at 10 yards (10m), in your face, plus banded birds… I do it all for the thrill. Finding that one field full of pigeons, there is nothing better.’’

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“I hope our American friends take note,” says another SA fancier. “He openly admits taking banded birds. He’s no hunter, but an unethical, spiteful shooter!” But are our pigeons safe? I felt better after hearing from lawyer Wim Conradie of Matatiele. Not only is he an accomplished pigeon racer, he’s a wing shooting expert and member of the KwaZulu-Natal Hunting and Conservation Association.

“Our gun and hunting laws are far stricter and better enforced than those in the US,” he explains. “Anybody who cannot distinguish a racing pigeon in flight from a Speckled pigeon, African olive-pigeon or Turtle dove is an idiot.’’ So the law is on our side, but that doesn’t mean racing pigeons are not being shot here. A champion pigeon fancier tells me he cut ties with a banker friend who’s also a top clay pigeon shooter after he openly joked about shooting banded racing pigeons.

Shot ‘on duty’
It gets worse. We’re beginning to see more and more instances of racing pigeons being wounded by gunshots. There’s the racing pigeon bred from prime quality stock, and owned by the partnership of Gigi Gaddin & Charl Stander, which returned badly wounded from a 170km road training flight, while seven racing pigeons belonging to Port Elizabeth fancier Frans Ferreira were reportedly shot during a race held from Warrenton.

Frans was phoned after a farmer traced him by means of the ID numbers on the dead birds’ legs. Bedfordview fancier Reinhold Brichta says a pigeon of his returned to the loft with a shot wound after a road training flight organised by the Gauteng Pigeon Combine from Koppies. It had a bleeding hole in its chest and was clearly in great pain. Dean Jooste and Josh Joubert of the Tshwane Partnership, who live in Kameeldrift East, say that two of their pigeons arrived back wounded after a training flight from a turnoff at Centurion City, a mere 26km from home.

Then there’s the champion racing pigeon owned by Edenvale fancier Raymond Gaddin that returned from a race starting in Bloemfontein with a gunshot wound above its sternum. Raymond says he has noticed that many of his experienced pigeons, as well as those belonging to his friends, fail to return from short races held from Winburg, Ventersburg and Bloemfontein. This suggests that more pigeons than we realise might be shot down in flight.

The professionals
Joe Viljoen, a pigeon fancier and professional hunter from Vredefort, and Klerksdorp champion fancier Hennie Swart, who has helped farmer friends shoot bosduiwe for more than 20 years, agree that there are notable differences between a bosduif and a racing pigeon in flight. A bosduif will roam, searching for a spot to land and eat. In contrast, racing pigeons fly home at top speed to reach the loft. This is why they don’t represent a threat to crops; they’re domestic animals, trained to fly back home for feed.

Joe and Hennie suspect that racing pigeons are shot shortly after release from the truck, when the birds are still flying together in large numbers. ‘Hunters’ position themselves on the flight path of the pigeons. According to Joe, a flock of pigeons in flight doesn’t stand a chance in this situation, especially if the shooter uses a 12-bore shotgun and No. 7 cartridge, which has more than a hundred lead balls in it. He adds that a shotgun licence authorises the shooting of game birds – and racing pigeons most definitely do not fall in this category.

Contact Thomas Smit on 011 680 4778 or at [email protected]. Please state ‘Pigeons’ in the subject line of your email.

If you witness anyone shooting a racing pigeon, please report the incident to Joe Viljoen on 082 3366 203 or Mark Kitchenbrand on 083 381 0212.

This article was originally published in the 28 June 2013 issue of Farmer’s Weekly.