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Contesting Tradition: The Deep Play and Protest of Pigeon Shoots

Author(s): Simon J. Bronner

Source: The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 118, No. 470 (Autumn, 2005), pp. 409-452
Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of American Folklore Society
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ContestingTradition:The Deep Play and

Protestof Pigeon Shoots

Pigeon shoots are examples of "contestedtraditions"that invite comparison with

other controversialspectaclesof killing animals, such as cockfightsand dogfights.
In the United States during the late twentieth century,massprotests of America's
largestpublic pigeon shoot occurredin Hegins, Pennsylvania. This article offersa
folkloristic perspective on the contested tradition by analyzing how the protest
rhetoricallyservedtopresenttraditionas a "problem"in the ethical modernization
of society. The clash between animal rightsprotestorsand supportersof the shoot
becamea moral drama basedon a clash of rural and cosmopolitanvalues in mod-
ernAmerica that derivesfrom fundamentally differentviews of human dominion
over the land and its creatures.The interpretationof the event hinges on a semi-
otic layering that takes into ethnographicconsiderationthe differentmeanings of
symbolsfor variousparticipants in the event. Compromisebecame impossiblein
controversiesoverpigeon shoots because the sidesperceivedsymbolsso differently.
For protestors,the shootersrepresentedpredatory,phallocentric rapists who pro-
moted violencefor its own sake, whereas,for supporters,they symbolizeda pioneer
and biblical heritagebased on human dominion over the bountiful land. Forpro-
testors,the processof the ritualized shoot perpetuated cyclesof abuse and patriar-
chy;for protestors,it acted to regeneratethe land, confirmingthe wholesomeness
of agrarianism. Thepigeons could be symbolized as profane, dirty pests or sacred
doves of peace. The widely publicized controversyimplied larger questions, and
fundamental conflictsin America, about the role of tradition in modernity.

At the end of the twentieth century,pigeon shoots, often described in media coverage
as a "folk tradition," made front-page news. Every Labor Day from 1987 to 1997,
protests by animal rights activists of a community-sponsored pigeon-shooting con-
test in the rural Pennsylvania-German hamlet of Hegins were the subject of a story
carriedon national wire services, mass-market magazines, radio talk shows, television
stations, and even the tabloid press.' The animal rights movement's major campaign
against the Hegins event was intended to protest live animal shoots nationally, but
organizations targeted Hegins because as a large public festival, the pigeon shoot
symbolized, for them, the excesses of animal abuse in traditional activities that could

SIMON J.BRONNER is Distinguished UniversityProfessorof American Studies and Folklore,

PennsylvaniaState University,Harrisburg.
Copyright@2005 by the Board of Trusteesof the Universityof Illinois

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410 JournalofAmericanFolklore118 (2005)

be illuminated for national media. Pennsylvania drew special attention from the
animal rights movement because the state is recognized as the national center of the
tradition, with shoots at private "rod and gun clubs" on almost any weekend of the
spring and fall. Also of concern to animal rights organizations, Pennsylvania is a
major hunting state, often being a national leader in the number of hunting licenses
issued. Heads of the major national animal rights organizations-People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA),the Fund for Animals, and Trans-Species Un-
limited (TSU)-believed that, if media attention could be brought to what they saw
as an obviously horrific event, the public would immediately apply pressure to ban
the shoots and turn against hunting. Implicit in their strategy as a social movement
calling for fundamental change was to erode what they viewed as America's irrational
attachment to "tradition."
Yettargeting central Pennsylvaniawas a risky move for most national animal rights
organizations because it was one of their first forays into folk practices of the rural
American heartland.2Previously, the movement had enjoyed successes exposing the
abuses of animals in medical and commercial research, appealing therefore to the
anticorporate and antiinstitutional sentiments of many Americans (Finsen and Fin-
sen 1994:108-52; Guither 1998:73-112). Further,the image of the common or street
pigeon used at the shoot was hardly as cuddly as the petlike animals in campaigns
against medical experimentation and the wearing of fur. The movement's leaders
realized they would have to transform the public's image of the bird from dirty urban
pest to tender dove of peace. Once committed to a mass protest and civil disobedience

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Figure1. Shooterreadyfor officialto pullstringsreleasingpigeonsfromtraps.Heginspigeon

shoot, LaborDay, 1990.Photo courtesyof DauphinCountyHistoricalSociety,Harrisburg,

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Bronner,ContestingTradition 411

in 1989,theyexpecteda shortsuccessfulmediablitzto exertpressureto endthe

Althoughtheyanticipated initialresistancebylocalresidents,theydidnot
predictthestaunchnationaldefenseof Hegins'scause,resultingin a longprotracted
struggleto shuttheshootdown.
Mypurposein this articleis to offera folkloristicperspective on the contested
traditionby analyzinghowthe protestrhetorically servedto presenttraditionas a
"problem" in the ethicalmodernization of society.Thebattlein Heginsbecamea
stagedmoraldramabasedon a clashof ruralandcosmopolitan valuesin modern
Americathatderivesfromfundamentally differentviewsof humandominionover
thelandandits creatures (seeKheel2003;Phelps2002;Scully2002;Swan1995).I
examinethewaytheanimalrightsmovementrhetorically shiftedthesymbolismof
shootingbirdsasplayandsport,withboysandfamiliesasessentialaccessories, in the
contextof a post-civilrightsconcernforprotecting victimsandachieving
a nonviolent,tolerantsociety.AndI analyzethereactionof Heginsshootsupporters
in assertingthevalueof traditionandcommunity theyviewaserodingasa resultof
cosmopolitanism representedbytheanimalrightsmovement. Considering thecam-
paignagainstHegins significant forcultural interpretationbecause of the broad
ethicalquestionsaboutthecharacter of tradition,theuseof thepastin therhetoric
of heritageandidentity,andthesocialconflictsthesenewformulations inAmerican
cultureunderscored. Fromaninterpretative viewpoint, thesechanging attitudes force


Figure2. Protestmarchon Heginsled by Trans-Species

Unlimited.Statementson signsinclude
"Stop Slaughter," "Murder Most Foul,""Shame on Hegins,""TeachYourChildrenthe
Valueof Life,Stopthe PigeonShoot,""Pennsylvania,the Blood State,"and "RealMen Shoot
ClayPigeons, Not Real Ones!"Hegins pigeon shoot, LaborDay, 1989. Photo courtesyof

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412 JournalofAmericanFolklore118 (2005)

us to reflectupon the waysthat symbolssuch as pigeons,guns, and shooterswere

portrayedandperceived.Compromisebecameimpossiblein controversies overpigeon
shoots,I find,becausethe sidesperceivedsymbolsso differently.

Tradition, Contest, and Play

The pigeon shoot drawsattentionto itself becauseit is a spectatorcontest,offering

prizesthat bestowhonor for skillsconsideredvaluablein Hegins'sculturalsetting
but reprehensiblein cosmopolitancontextswhereanimalsbecome a metaphorfor
innocentvictimsin need of protection.As a contest,it is a centraltext in this com-
munityor,usingCliffordGeertz'sterminology,"deepplay"or a "paradigmatic human
event."As "deepplay,"it is morethana ritualizedgame;it is a "metaphorical refocus-
ing" that clarifiesthe meaning of assorted experiencesof everydaylife (Geertz
1973:450).Geertz'sstudyis importantas a backgroundfor my studybecauseof the
frequentcategorizationby animalrightsactivistsof pigeon shoots with outlawed
"brutal"traditionsof cockfightsand dogfights.It is not coincidentalthatin Geertz's
studyof the cockfight,one of the most-citedmethodologicalguidesto the interpre-
tationof culture,the metaphorsthatbecomesignificantareaboutanimalsin violence.
Afterall,the processesthatrepresenteverydaylife and socialstructureareaboutmen
ritualizingtheirdominion overnature,as thesemetaphorsof genderand landscape
evincecontrolof a socialand physicalenvironment.The assumptionis that a sym-
bolic projectionoccursby which the attitudesof humanstowardanimalstranslate
into relationsof people to one another;for some animal rights activists,there is
anotherstep to the notion of animalsas "fellowcreatures,"therebyobliteratingthe
distinctionbetweenhumanbeingsand animals(see Cavalieri2003;Diamond2004;
Mechling1989;Rachels1990;Singer[1975] 1990).If that step is taken,animalsare
subjectsof rights,capableof feelingpain,desire,andunderstanding.In thisthinking,
humansas a dominatingspeciesneedto avoid"speciesism" thatcarriesthe injurious
ring of "racism" and it
"sexism"; holdsthat treatment
respectful of animalswillresult
in a civil,egalitariansociety(AdamsandDonovan1995;Dunayer2004;Epstein2004;
Jasperand Nelkin 1992;Midgley1983;Regan[1983]2001;Rollin1981;Ryder1989;
Singer[1975] 1990;Wolfe2003).
The animalrightsmovementliteratureconsistentlyincludesthe connotationthat
animalsare childlikeor feminizedvictims in need of protectionand advocacy(see
Adams [1990] 2000;Arlukeand Sanders1996;Brady1994:140-1;Donovan 2003;
Wise2000).The FundforAnimal'smotto,for example,is "WeSpeakfor ThoseWho
Can't."PETA'swebsite declares,"Animalsdeservebasic rights-consideration of
their best interests regardless of whether they are useful to humans. Like you, they
are capable of suffering and have interests in leading their own lives; therefore they
are not ours to use" (PETA 2005). Philosopher Tom Regan's The Case for Animal
Rights ([1983] 2001) greatly influenced this view of animals as victims with rights by
describing animals as "moral patients," giving the examples of human infants, young
children, and enfeebled humans as "paradigm cases of human moral patients"
(2004:17). Moral patients are not accountable for what they do, while moral agents,
such as adult humans, are accountable because they bring moral principles to bear

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Bronner, Tradition
Contesting 413

on whatoughtto be done.Animalsdeserverespectandprotectionnotjustbecause
theyarealive,butbecausetheyarethe "subject-of-alife,"thatis, theyhavebeliefs
memory,andinterests. Theyfeelpleasureandpainandpos-
welfare"in thesensethattheirexperiential
them (2004:20). This state separatesanimals from blades of grass, potatoes, or cancer
cells that can also be said to be alive. The state also gives them an "inherent value"
Regan argues that humans and animals having inherent value possess the fundamen-
tal rightto be treatedwith respectand to receivejusticebut realizesthatmanytradi-
tional moral systemsare obstaclesto these goals,especiallythe "conditional"view
thathumansaremorallyjustifiedin controllingandkillinganimalsif they areharm-
ful, dangerous,and diseased,or if they providebenefitsto humansas food or in ex-
perimentation. He observes that moral agents can do what is right or wrong in ways
that affect or involve moral patients, and animal rights activists take that pronounce-
mentto workto changeunjustmoralsystems(2004:18).
Changeis not possible,activistsoften explain,until "tradition"as a positivesocial
value is altered;as Mary Midgley states in Animals and Why They Matter (1983), the
animal rights goal is "removing barriers which our tradition has erected against
concern for animals" (1983:144). From this vantage point, tradition is a static instru-
ment of human dominion that people in culture mindlessly follow without regard
to harmful consequences to animals. Although most folklorists would argue for a
more dynamic definition of tradition, animal rights philosophers share with folklor-
ists the perspective that traditions often dismissed as play are crucial to challenge as
avenues for change of belief and moral systems (see Ben-Amos 1984; Bronner 1998).
Other philosophers argue, however, that inherent value derives from the capacity to
make moral judgments and have a consciousness of duties (Cohen 2003; Rickaby
1976; Ritchie 1976). In that sense, humans have rights that animals do not; humans
can be stewards for animals and, in most cases, humans imagine themselves as a
higher order over the lower order of animals. Presenting a symbolic contrast between
the respected human and the disrespected rat, for example, Carl Cohen states that,
"although both may have value as lives, only humans have inherent value in the sense
from which rights may be inferred" (2003:28).
A more positive view of tradition than in animal rights philosophy is implied in
the assignment of inherent value solely to humans. Because value is inherited, some
cultural transmission from one generation to another is assumed to distinguish the
experience of being human. Tradition expressing the development of community
bonds and continuity across generations rhetorically refersto a higher cultural order.
It gains prestige by giving identity not just to humanity, but also to a differentiation
by group or community set in place. Tradition-and therefore folklore-has an in-
trinsic value by representing the social basis or cultural root of identity. JayMechling
tests the boundaries implied in an anthrocentric view of tradition, however, in a study
of play traditions that humans form with their pets (1989). He recognizes that one
view of common traditions of "fetch"with dogs is that pet owners anthropomorphize
their animal companions; they attribute intentional consciousness, that is, human
qualities, to the animals (1989:315). Characteristic of folklore as a human tradition,

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414 JournalofAmericanFolklore118 (2005)

humansintentionallycreatea repetitivecommunal,informal,and aestheticconnec-

tion with animalsas if they wereotherhumans.Whenconsideredas an interactive
routineforminga culturalsystembetweenhumanand non-humananimalsrather
than an extensionof the autonomoushuman self onto animals,however,tradition
canbe aboutrelationshipsthat arenot necessarilyhuman.3Challengingto scholarly
conventionas Mechling'sstudyis, it also underscoresthe entrenchmentof the pop-
ularview that traditionand folklorerhetoricallyemphasizehuman dominion and
priorityas well as the importanceof historicaland culturalprecedentin establishing
an identityfor humancommunity.
In Geertz'sanalysis,playandtraditionarehumancreationsthatrevealsocialstruc-
tureand,therefore,humanneedsanddesires.Leadersof animalrightsorganizations
wouldextendGeertz'sconclusionthatdeepplayinvolvinganimals,suchasthe cock-
fight,uncoversa situatedsocialstructureby exposingsocialdominanceand exploi-
tation, indeed encouragementor desire for physicalabuse and victimization of
people.Theirdetractorsoften arguefor playwith animalsmorebenignlyas fantasy
that distorts,indeed inverts,realityfor the purpose of emotional or spiritualre-
A critical,if rarelyasked,questionneedingto be addressedafterreadingGeertz's
influentialguideto deepplayis whycockfights,and not some otherfolk expression,
representthe social structure.One can hypothesizethat human organizationsof
contestsaffirmthe corevaluesof a societyby ritualcombatswith animalsandthere-
fore providecentrallysignificantsymbols.I test this idea of significanceby finding
the reasonsthatsome symbolsin an eventsuchas the pigeonshoot werepressedinto
servicein a highlypublicizedculturaldash, reasonsthatareoften outsidethe aware-
ness of participants.This queryforcesa revisionof "deepplay"as a closereadingof
a culturaltext for its reflectionof social structureto explanationof the processof
symbolization.Guidingthis revisionis AlanDundes'sfolkloristiccallto understand
the unconscioussymbolicdimensionsof humanbehavior(1994:275).Dundesco-
gentlycriticizesGeertz'sideaof deepplayas "shallowplay"becauseit reducestradi-
tionaleventsto reflectionsof socialstructureratherthanexplainingwhytheseevents
needto be symbolizedin the firstplace.Dundes'sperspectiveviewsthe feminization
of opponentsin male ritualcombats,a folk root, for the socialpredilectionfor war
I elaboratehis symbolistapproach,however,by suggestinga semioticlayeringand
representationalsignificanceplacedon historicalprecedent,especiallyin contested
traditionswhereconflictarisesoverthe symbolicmeaningsperceivedin, and com-
municatedthrough,intensifiedfolk events (see Ardener1980;Cohen 1980;Foster
1980). The idea of layering suggests that a cluster of meanings, such as the pigeon as
pest and the pigeon as reference to pioneer life, can exist together and, indeed, work
together to offer significance to the shoot as ritual play representing community
values. To interpret this layering ethnographically is to consider for whom symbols
carry meaning in an event, as well as to consider their historical sources.
If the frame of the contestprovides a source for the intensified attention that the
tradition draws to itself for a community, then it follows that contestingthe pigeon
shoots in the form of disruptive protests draws attention externally to the relation of

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Bronner,ContestingTradition 415

sucheventsto thevaluesandmoralsof a dominantmassor alternative society.The

focusoftenshiftsin the stagingof theeventfromthe actionin the separate "ring,"
"field,"or "pit"to the openconfrontation betweensides,oftenreferred to by par-
ticipantsin therhetoricof combatas"thetussle."Whenthetraditionbecomescon-
tested,the resultingdramaoff the mainstageforcesjustifications fromtradition
bearersfortheirbehavior;the clashoftenresultsin intenseargumentsaboutthe
functionof a traditionfora communityandsociety.TheNationalDirectorof the
FundforAnimalsexplained to me,forexample, herreasonforpullingbackthepro-
testsof theshootin 1997bysaying,"thefocuswason ourbattlewithHeginsrather
thanon theplightof thebirds."In anappealto pragmatism, arguments againstthe
traditionentailthepractice's instrumental functionin thecurrentdayandthekinds
of consequences it engenders. Theburdenis to rationalize the tradition,as animal
rightsprotestors sound the progressive chord that,because the shootingeventsand
hunting are no longernecessary for food provision or environmental control,they
do not serveanypurposebesidespromotingkillingas fun.Forthe protestors, the
pointisthatitsresultandoverwhelming messageis oneof promoting "violence" and
"brutality";forsupporters, it is thatit fostersa neededsenseof culturalidentityand
community bybuilding thelegacyof thepast.
Thecontestation putsadditionalpressureto resolveconflictsbetweengroupsby
changingtraditions. WhywouldHeginsnotsubstituteclaytargetsforlivepigeons,
forinstance,if thatallowedthemto keeptheireventgoing?In the contest,we may
learnwhatthetraditionis andin its contestation, we learnwhatit is not.Thecon-
testationfrequently resultsin anillumination, andindeedpolarization, of symbols-
suchas betweenpigeonsas sacreddovesof peaceor profaneratsof evil-even if
previously thetargetsheldsomesymbolicambiguity. Protesting eventssuchascock-
fights pigeon shoots is a not
challenge just to the activitiesof thetradition, but
alsoto theveryideaof traditionasa socialforceandmoralsystem.
Theevidencefromexamining theprocessof contestingaddresses thequestionof
whycockfighting would be singled out for protestwhen other supposedlybrutal
sports such as foxhunting remain legal(Dundes1994:245-6; Fukuda 1997;Howe
1981;Hufford1992;Newall1983).Dundessuggestsoneanswer, thatthecockfightis
objectionable to moralistsbecauseit providesthe offensiveimageof "grownmen
playingwiththeircocksinpublic"anditssymbolism of masturbation. Thisbehavior
is deemedinappropriate in feminized"polite"societyandimplies,in fact,thatthe
moralistsactingon behalfof animalsfeelthreatened themselvesby the actionsof
masculine domination in thering.Theviolenceof theritualized combat,in Dundes's
view, is a demonstration of masculinityby feminizing a male opponentandnot
necessarily an affirmation of status hierarchy,as Geertz maintained.
The pigeon shoot provides an added comparative perspective on what is objection-
able to some as cruel while emotionally and culturally fulfilling to others. The poten-
tial for contradictory perceptions of the pigeon's symbolism and the process of the
contest contributed to the protest of pigeon shoots from their inception. In the dis-
course of this contestation we learn what, in folk parlance, "thewhole shooting match
was about." The folk phrase indeed suggests that the intensity of a shooting match,
particularly one with animals, signifies the whole of an idea. In representing pursuit

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416 JournalofAmericanFolklore118 (2005)

in the wild,the shoot mythologizesthe processof the eventandoutcomeof a winner

as somethingcentralto the formationof values,even sacredness,or what Mircea
Eliadecallsthe "symbolismof the centre."The centeris outlinedand made sacred
by establishingandrituallyeliminatingwhatis uncleanor profane(1991:41-7,[1959]
1987).As I will show,the Heginspigeonshoot rituallyconstructeda narrativeof the
valuesof the community,evenif its membersdid not participatein the shooting,and
it mythologizedhow the communitycameinto being.Theprotestsservedto disrupt
the practiceand malignthe communityas a wayto showthe need for a new univer-
sal moralitygrantinganimalsjustice.

The Shootas Processand Precedent

The processof the pigeon shoot is a metaphorfor pursuitof prey,withoutthe real-

ity of movementin the wild.At the Heginspigeon shoot,approximately 250 contes-
tants,predominantlymen, step up with shotgunson six fieldslaid out on the grass
in the town's only communitypark. In the fieldsare rowsof smallwooden boxes,
calledtraps.Stringsattachedto the trapsleadto an apparatuscontrolledby an official
sittingin an open wooden structure.The officialpullsthe stringsto releasepigeons
fromthe boxesand the contestantshootsat the birdstakingflight.The challengeto
the shooteris anticipatingthe box to be chosenby the pullerso asto predictthe bird's
flightfor the shot.Contestantsscorepoints for downingbirdswithinthe field.Typi-
cally,70 percentof the birds are killed.Afterall the pigeons are released,"trapper
boys,"usuallybetweenthe agesof ten and fourteen,run onto the fieldto gatherthe
fallenbirdsin sacks,bringingthem backto an areabehind the puller'sstationand
depositingthemin a metalbarrel.Theboyskillinjuredbirdson the groundby wring-
ing theirnecks.Formanyyears,the destroyedbirdswouldbe removedfor fertilizer,
but some old-timersrecountoccasionsduringthe Depressionyearswhenbirdswere
collectedby residentsto makea variationof a PennsylvaniaGerman"pot-pie"(see
Glassie1968:67-74;Weaver1993:34-5,1983:55-7).The fieldssurroundan interior
layout of dining pavilions,children'splaygrounds,and concessionstands.Beeris
openly consumed,suppliedby the YuenglingBreweryof Pottsville,Pennsylvania,a
family-runoperationin SchuylkillCountythatboastsof beingAmerica'soldestbrew-
ery (establishedin 1829)--yet anotherreminderof the importanceof traditionas a
referenceto culturalcontinuitywith the past.Toprotestors,however,the visibilityof
beer signalsa dangerouscombinationof guns and alcohol,especiallyin a socialen-
vironmentwith children.Chickensarebarbecuedon open pits and hamburgersare
grilled for attendees, with women volunteers doing most of the serving. Spectators
can watch the shooting from the bleachers, but most people gather in the interior to
socialize while the all-day event drags on. By the end of the day, around 7,000 birds
are shot and killed, and as many as 2,000 escape back into the wild.
The competition in Hegins is for "straightshooting," a nineteenth-century devel-
opment that emphasized the act of shooting over the training of the birds, probably
in imitation of shooting at massive flocks of birds in the wild. In straight shooting,
large quantities of untrained common or barn birds are brought in for the shoot and
arbitrarilyplaced in the traps. The likelihood is that participants will be successful,

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Bronner, Contesting Tradition 417

that is, chalk up a large number of hits. Winners are declared in different categories,
but the straight, or public, shoots are celebrations of shooters' efficiency. The priva-
tized form of the shoot, still practiced at numerous rod and gun clubs, is "trap and
handle" shooting or "match shoots," which are structurally similar to male ritual
combat in that an opponent is defeated (see Canfield 1992:14-9; Krider [1853]
1966:272-7; Song 2000a:176-85). The trap is located twenty-one yards from the
shooter, and the field's bounds are forty yards from the center of the trap. If a hit bird
lands beyond the forty-yard boundary, it is considered a missed bird (Canfield
1992:14). The birds in match shoots are "brushed,"that is, trained to fly in particu-
larly designed patterns unknown to the shooter. The trapper's training device is
typically a small wire five inches long with a small bell attached to the end. The "rig,"
as it is called, is tied to the middle feathers of the bird's tail with string and is ex-
tended to either side of the head or above the head (1992:15). Crepe paper may be
inserted into the bell so that it will flutter when the bird takes flight. The jingling of
the bell and fluttering of the paper, trappers say, scare the pigeon, prodding it to fly
more quickly out of the trap.
Shooter Patrick Canfield explains the trappers' techniques: "If the trappers want
the bird to fly to the right, the rig is placed on the left side of the bird's head, and vice
versa. If the bird is to fly low and straight, the rig is placed directly above its head.
However, the birds do not always adhere to the predicted flight pattern, and some
matches are won and lost because the pigeon does not perform as programmed"
(1992:15). Most trappers have as many as three or four hundred birds in their home
pens, selecting twenty or thirty pigeons for each match to be brushed (1992:15). Most
trappers learned the skills of training pigeons and building pigeon houses as boys
from fathers or older relatives,the techniques consistently passed down to the present
generation since the nineteenth century (see Allen [1959] 1975;American Boy'sBook
[1864] 2000:332-51). Trapperswho are usually experts in the craft of breeding and
training pigeons team up with a shooter, who must shoot the bird trapped by the
opponent's trapper. Gamblers bet on the overall outcome of the shoot and on par-
ticular traps.
Pigeon matches are typically between two teams. Each team member bets money
against the opposing team on a "winner-take-all"basis, the object being to eliminate
the opponent as well as the birds. Additional bets may be placed for each shot: Bettors
yell out "ten for a hit!" or "twenty for a miss" as the shooter squares to shoot. Dra-
matic tension rises, because the shooter could intentionally miss to make money on
side bets. In fact, one resident reminded me, "One must be very careful at a pigeon
match because people will take advantage of you any way they can" (Wiscount 1989).
The bettor wants to be sure he does not become, in the local lingo, a "pigeon mark."
An association is made between the gamble potentially humiliating, and therefore
feminizing, the duped loser, along with the targeted bird. Ritualized male combat is
evident in the match between the trapper and the shooter as well as between the two
shooters. In straight shooting, the skill of the marksman, rather than that of the trap-
per and trainer, is tested. Every contestant is out for her or himself as opposed to a
team seeking to reduce the opposing side to nothing. In direct shooting, the score is
valued, while in the match shoot, the objective is elimination.

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418 Journal of American Folklore 118 (2005)

Boththe matchshootsandstraightshootsattractedprotestsduringthe 1980sand

1990s,but the straightshoot on LaborDaybecamethe mainfocusof protestbecause
it wasa publiceventattendedby familiesandchildren.In addition,protestorsfocused
on the scaleof the slaughterat the Hegins Shoot;the largenumbersof birdskilled
drewcomparisonsfromprotestorsto a massacreand "birdHolocaust"(seePatterson
2002). The LaborDay straightshoot in Heginsis usuallyprecededby matchshoots
throughthe weekendat a privaterod and gun clubin ValleyView.5Besidesdecrying
the spectacleof killing the pigeons,protestorsalso objectedto the extended"pain
and suffering"of injuredbirds,thus usingthe legalrhetoricof humanvictimization
(seeSontag2003:40-58).Formanyshooterswhoalsoarehunters,however,the pigeon
shoot fits into the sportsman'sethic of the "quickkill" as well as the "fairchase"
becausethe apparatusof the trapshad springedwooden "launchers" with bellsen-
couraging the birdto takeflight (Dizard2003;Posewitz1994). Other shooters shift-
ed the ethicalargumentto one of humansupremacy,maintainingthatpigeonshoot-
ing providedthem enjoymentand that birdsweredispensablenaturaltargetsthere
for the sportsman'staking.6In libertarianrhetoric,such a motiveof basic freedom
shouldnot be subjectto interferencefromgovernmentregulationor outsidemoral-
izing. Still anotherrhetoricalresponsewas that participatingin traditionprovided
value because it benefited the community and evoked a foundationalAmerican
The firstpublicHeginsshootwasheld on LaborDay,1934,as partof the commu-
nity's homecomingcelebration.Into the twentiethcentury,LaborDay in this rural
centralPennsylvaniaregion was traditionallya time for familyreunions, and the
shoot was a festiveevent that drewmany returningresidentsto the communityas
wellas to theirfamilies.Theshoot honoredFredColeman,a world-championshoot-
er and local hero,who wasborn in 1874on a farmnearHegins.Beginningin 1890,
the PennsylvaniaStateSportsmen'sAssociationorganizedstatechampionshipswith
cash pursesfor live bird shooting,eventsthat had previouslytakenplacein private
clubs,huntinglodges,and informalsocialsettings.Colemanwon his firstof several
state championshipsin 1900,includingsix successivetitles from 1902 to 1908,and
on the basisof his notoriety,he made a tour of England,whichwas consideredthe
main sourceof the pigeon-shootingtraditionthat spreadthroughAmericaduring
the Colonialperiod.AlthoughColemanmovedto Maine,his legendas a greatinter-
nationallyknownsportsmancontinuedin centralPennsylvania.
The heydayof the region,basedon a coal and agricultureeconomy,had already
passed,andthe riseof homecomingcelebrationswasan indicationthatmanyyoung
people wereleavingthe areafor better opportunitiesin cities and factories.Many
factories offering employment were producing textiles and clothing, primarily hiring
women, in fact, which forced some questions about the "male provider" model for
the area'sfamilies (Marsh 1987; Song 2000). Adding a pigeon shoot contest honoring
a local hero drew upon memories of a better day for the region and emphasized
traditional gender roles. It encapsulated the pioneer cultural heritage of the region
symbolized by hunting and shooting-and associatedvalues of male-led families and
community bonding. Preparing for the shoot became a yearround community vol-
unteer effort organized by the Labor Day Committee. It was the major public festival

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Bronner,ContestingTradition 419

for the entire valley, exceeding other events such as the fireman's carnival and com-
munity agricultural fair.
By using Coleman's name, Hegins organizers hoped to put the small town on the
shooting world map, taking advantage of Pennsylvania's large population of hunters
interested in gun skills. Lodged between imposing mountains, Hegins was not easily
accessible, but also had a reputation for boasting prime hunting lands and it vied
with the western urban settings of Chicago and KansasCity for attracting champion-
level contestants. Hegins strategically added entertainment such as dancing girls and
musical bands, brought celebrities to host the event, and lured contestants from the
state championships held around the same time. The first few shoots featured both
clay and live bird contests, but, as the town sought to distinguish the event by linking
it with a sense of pioneer heritage and differentiating it from the official trapshooting
world that had exclusively adopted day targets, it promoted the live bird games as a
festive tradition.
Whereas the renowned Grand American Trapshooting Tournament had dropped
its pigeon shoot competition in 1903 to modernize its image, Hegins retained its live
bird shoot intentionally because it was associated with the past (Trapshooting Hall
of Fame 2004). Begun with seventy-three entries in 1934, the Hegins shoot allocated
profits from the event toward the maintenance and expansion of the community
park. The shoot attracted a high of 380 entries in 1946, leveled off to around 100
during the 1960s, and grew again during the 1980s, including a figure of 335 entries
in 1983. Some of the growth during the 1980s could be attributed to an increased
number of contestants from outside the state, especially in light of the fact that live
bird shooting had been outlawed by most state legislatures. In 1984 an animal-loving
couple in the Schuylkill County seat of Pottsville alerted Trans-SpeciesUnlimited, an
animal rights organization based in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, of their objection
to the event. In ensuing years, a handful of protestors from the area demonstrated at
the Hegins shoot but attracted minimal media attention. The organization stepped
up its efforts by inviting national animal rights organizations with abolitionist zeal
such as PETAand the Fund for Animals to intervene. What was at first a loose series
of protests became highly organized, led by the Fund in 1989; many busloads of
protestors descended upon Hegins, whereas attendance from supporters of the shoot
inside the park increased dramatically into the thousands. The height of the protest
was in 1991 and 1992, when hundreds of protestors were arrested for running onto
the fields to rescue birds from their traps.
When the buses of protestors unloaded, their urban sources immediately con-
trasted with the attendees of the shoot from rural central Pennsylvania. Another
contrast frequently mentioned on both sides was the one between the predominance
of women among the protesters and that of men among the supporters. In 1991, I
estimated that 75 percent of the protestorswere women whereas more than 60 percent
of supporters inside the park were men. Major animal rights organizations repre-
sented at the shoot were led by women, and the main spokesman for the Hegins Shoot
Committee was a man. Although the supporters were not overwhelmingly male, men
were especially conspicuous and dominant as shooters, trapper boys, officials, cooks,
and vendors. The percentage of women in the protests was consistent with compos-

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420 Journal ofAmerican Folklore118 (2005)

ite profilesof animalrightsactivists,whichplacedfemaleparticipationbetween68.4

and 78.3 percentin the early 1990s (Guither 1998:71).In addition, accordingto
HaroldD. Guither,the majorityof activistswereurban (73.4-85 percent),profes-
sional or executive(44-46 percent), college educated (40.2-48.4 percent),white
(92.9-96.9 percent),and between30 and 49 yearsold (48-56.6 percent) (1998:71).
I observeda youngercohortatthe Heginsprotest,andsomewomenbroughtchildren
with them,althoughmorechildrenwerepresentinsidethe park,amongthe support-
ers. Activistshave also been reportedto be unaffiliatedwith officialreligionsand
predominantlyvegetarianand feminist(1998:67-72).Seekingto find activists'atti-
tudes towardoccupationalgroups,an OregonStateUniversitystudyscoredanimal
rightsadvocates'views of farmers,businesspeople,and scientistsas extremelynega-
tive (Guither1998:69).Insidethe park,supportersdescribedthemselvesto me posi-
tivelyas the descendantsof farmers,if not engageddirectlyin farming;further,they
made frequentreferenceto being familyoriented,huntersor sportsmen,and reli-
giouslyaffiliated.Supportersand protestorsshareda belief that theirliveswerede-
voted to sustainingthe environmentand a distrustof governmentand politicians.
Whenprotestorssuggestedthatthe Heginsshootreplacelivebirdswithday targets,
they were rebuffedwith the declarationthat the unpredictableflightsof live birds
madethe eventmore sporting.As an eventthathad less of an officialorganizational
connectionthan clayshooting,live bird shootingalso had appealto the LaborDay
Committeebecauseit appearedto be unofficial,a community-orientedtradition.
The FundforAnimalsofferedto paythe LaborDayCommitteethe amountof mon-
ey raisedfor the parkif the shoot was cancelled,but the committeeinsistedthatthe
livebirdshootingtraditionshouldcontinueas an affirmationof Hegins'sdistinctive
sense of familyand community.In additionto havingthe taint of a "payoff,"the
offeralso negatedthe referenceto huntingand human dominion in the stagedlive
bird events.
Theprotestsat Heginshaveprecedentsin campaignsagainstlargelyurbanpigeon
shoots in the nineteenthcenturyfollowingsuccessfuleffortsby animalwelfareorga-
nizationsto ban cockfightsand dogfights,associatedwith seedypartsof the cities.
Thesefightsto the deathwerenot a quickkill;participantsexpectedthe animalsto
sufferinjuriesand createa bloody mess in doing so. The New YorkTimesin 1873
joined the HumaneSocietyin calling dogfightsa "nationaldisgrace,"citing their
audiencesof "thieves,""brawlers," The "hideousdetails"of the "sav-
and "ruffians."
age cruelties"inflicted by the dogs on each other were matchedby fighting and
profanityin the crowd,leadingthe journalistto call the scene "theworst displayof
humanbrutalityin its most degradedform."Realizingthatthe participantsinvolved
ascribed manliness to involvement in the event, the Times closed with an appeal, "It
is time that the ruffians who do these things should be told that they are not to be
done, and that the fair fame of the nation is not to be sullied by men so infamous or
deeds so unmanly" ("National Disgrace" 1873:4). The Timesand the Humane Soci-
ety found legislative resistance to the linkage between dogfights and pigeon shoots,
at least in part because of differences in the class associations of pigeon shoots with
the club set. Arguments could even be heard for pigeon shoots as a "wholesome"
endeavor.For example, in a debate in the New Yorklegislature between Samuel Slater

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Bronner,ContestingTradition 421

of NewYorkCity,whosponsored ananti-pigeonshootingbill,andHoraceWhiteof
Syracuse, White argued,"I don'tbelieve SenatorSlaterhaseverbeenatapigeonshoot.
Hemayhavebeenat a dogfight,butnot at a well-regulated pigeonshoot.I haveat-
tendedthem.Thebirdsarefedandstrengthened to givethemgreaterflyingpower.
Shootsarewellconductedandwoundedbirdsretrievedat once.Menstandat the
extremelimitof thekillingpowerof theirguns.I believeit is a goodsport.I believe
in all suchAmericansports,footballespecially. It is wholesomefortheAmerican
Theriseof pigeonshootsas a sportis notedin the mid-nineteenth centuryby
Philadelphia gunmaker JohnKrider. Inhiswidelycirculating chronicle
of fieldsports
of 1853,he discussed theuseof thenowextinctpassenger pigeonsfortrapshooting,
possiblya clueto theemergence of thecompetitive targetshoot.Theseshootsprob-
ablygrewout of pioneerhuntsof passenger pigeons,so abundantin thewildthat
oraltraditionreferred to thewaythey"darkened thesky"(French1919:17-22,229;
Leffingwell [1895]1967:129-46; Schorger[1955]1973:129-98). Thepigeonshoots
of thenineteenth centurydemonstrated in a moreregulated waythehunters'shoot-
ing skillsandprovidedan occasionfor gambling,or the passengerpigeonswere
considered easymarksin thewild.Thecenterof thetraditionin theMiddleAtlantic
statesmaybe explainedby the factthatpigeonswereespeciallyabundantin the
"hardwood belt"spreading westward fromtheMiddleAtlanticintotheMidwestand
Upland South (French 1919:11-4).
Thecolonialheritageof shootingpassenger pigeonswasamongthefirstprotested
huntingactivities,asindicatedin JamesFenimoreCooper'scelebrated textThePio-
neersby the disgruntlement of NattyBumppo(knownas Leatherstocking) witha
massslaughterof pigeons,whichhe calls"harmless as a gartersnake,"in Upstate
NewYork.An"uneasyspectator," Leatherstocking protests,"Thiscomesof settling
a country!HerehaveI knownthe pigeonsto flyforfortylongyears,and,till you
madeyourclearings, therewasnobodyto skearorto hurtthem"([1823]1964:235).
"Sportsman" BillyKirbyhumiliatesLeatherstocking forhis protestby feminizing
himasweak,impotent,andsentimental, callinghim an "oldcornstalk," "oldfool,"
and"sapless stub."Inlanguageechoingsomeof theHeginssupporters' resentment
of theoutsiderwhois unawareof thepigeon'seffectasa peston crops,Cooperde-
scribesKirby's responseto Leatherstocking's sympathy forthepigeons:"What!Old
Leatherstocking,"cried,"grumbling atthe loss of a few pigeons!Ifyouhadto sow
yourwheattwice,andthreetimes,as I havedone,you wouldn'tbe so mass-fully
feelingtowardsthedivils.Hurrah,boys!Scatterthefeathers!" ([1823]1964:235-6).
Thepilesof birdsthatresultedfromtheshootingassertedthepowerof thesettler
in the new land to reap benefits from the lush environment. Leatherstocking leaves,
saddened by the "destruction," carefully respectful of life by avoiding stepping on
the birds. The sheriff has a different take on the event, seeing play and pragmatic
consequence for what has transpired,exclaiming "Sport! ... it is princely sport! There
are some thousands of the blue-coated boys on the ground, so that every old woman
in the village may have a potpie for the asking" ([1823] 1964:239). In his plaint, the
old Leatherstocking remembers the days before the expansive new civilization dom-
inated the wild and defiled the virgin land, while the sportsmen and sheriff optimis-

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422 JournalofAmericanFolklore118 (2005)

ticallysee in the hunt the promiseof a new land of plentymeantfor humanexploi-

tation.The "clearing"of the pigeonsto the sportsmenis a metaphorforthe opening
of the westernfrontierand the risingnationaloptimismgrowingout of a pioneer
heritageandviolent eradicationof natives(see Slotkin[1973]2000:466-516;Smith
1970:59-70).Accordingto RichardSlotkin,Cooper'sscenesunderscoredhowsettlers
consideredviolenceto nativesand naturenecessaryto mythologicallydo awaywith
the old and regeneratea sacredsense of a new people and place.A bit of historical
evidencesupportingthis view is the traditionemergingin the nineteenthcentury
thatequatesthe celebrationsof Americanabundanceandits foundingatThanksgiv-
ing and IndependenceDay with the stagingof pigeon shoots ("Plansof the Trap
During the 1870s,the youthful optimism of the rising cities enactedin pigeon
shoots was publiclydebatedin New YorkCity.Unlikethe cockfightsand dogfights
associatedwith the lowerclass,pigeonshootingwasbeingtakenup, accordingto the
Times,by eliteyounggentlemen"whocourtthe reputationof 'sporting'characters"
("PigeonShooting"1872).It wasindeedcommonforbachelorsof the upperclassto
engagein sportsperceivedas "manly"duringthe periodto compensatefor the en-
ervatingandemasculatingeffectsof cosmopolitanlife (seeChudacoff1999:217-50).
Pigeon shooting gainedsome legitimacyin this classbecauseit did not appearas
bloody as cockfightsand dogfightsand it was stagedat privateclubs.It couldbe ra-
tionalizedas beingaboutkeepingindividualscoresratherthanmetaphoricallymur-
deringanopponent.ButJohnEmory,writingto the Timeson April4, 1901,questioned
the differentiation:"Asa matterof public policy and for the promotion of sound
morals,would it not be desirableto treatpigeon-shootingcontestsas we havetreat-
ed cockfights,dog fights,andotherbrutalsports?It willbe no answerforthe offend-
ersto saythatthe birdswouldbe killedanyway.Killingforthe sheersportof the thing
is out of joint with the best ideals of the day.Evenfrom the point of view of the
sportsman,who fightsfair,so to speak,and seekshis quarryin its nativehaunts,the
'pigeonshoot,' as describedin your paperto-day,would appearto be as mean as it
is cold-blooded"(1901:6).
Whereascockfightsand dogfightswereoutlawedbecausethey encouragedcrime
in the slumsas well as animalcruelty,the pigeon shootspersisted,much to the cha-
grin of animalwelfareorganizationsand urbanreformers.Callingthe pigeon the
"emblemof peace,"theNew YorkTimesin 1872editorialized,"Ina countrylikeours,
whererecreationbearsso smalla proportionto hardworkit would ill becomeus to
do anythingto abridgeyouthfultendenciesto healthyexercise;but thispigeonshoot-
ing not only includesthe eminentdisadvantageof uselesscruelty,but alsooffersno
proper and adequate field for manly endeavor" ("Pigeon Shooting"1872). Sounding
the progressive cant of cosmopolitan modernism and cultural evolutionary doctrine,
the Times blasted pigeon shoots in an unsigned editorial on February 28, 1881: "It
seems as though our stage of civilization was sufficiently far advanced to enable us
to do away with the barbarous so-called sport known as pigeon shooting.... Pigeon
shooting is mere slaughter,and it is not true sport." The editorials resulted in defen-
sive letters such as one on June 29, 1881, "The sentimentalists pretend that it is an act
of cruelty to shoot pigeons from a trap merely as a sport. They allege that no good

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Bronner, Tradition
Contesting 423

purposewhatever is servedbythewholesale butcheryof twentythousandbirds,and

thatit is demoralizingnotonlyto thebutchers butto thecommunity whichtolerates
them.Of course,thisis a narrow-minded andsuperficialviewof thesubject,andit
needsverylittleargument to convinceanyfair-minded manthatpigeon-shooting is,
perhaps, thenoblestoccupation in which a man can a
engage." great dealof argu-
mentisgivenforthevirtueof pigeonshoots:eradicating pests,honingshootingskills
thatcouldbeusedin defenseof thecountry,andimproving theeconomiccondition
of the community. A petitioncarrying20,000signatures callingforpreserving the
pigeon shoot traditionwas presentedto the as
legislature it debatedan anti-pigeon
shootbillin 1901.Afterconsiderable debate,thebillprohibiting pigeonshootingin
New Yorkpassed into law in 1902, and the governor's pen signing the legislation was
handedoverto the presidentof the New YorkSocietyfor the Preventionof Cruelty
to Animals.
In my survey of the 238 articles in the New YorkTimes regarding pigeon shoots
from the mid-nineteenthcenturyto 2004, the clearpatternis that, as a matterof
public debate, media attention to the shoots was concentrated in the late nineteenth
centuryand the end of the twentiethcentury.During the late nineteenthcentury,
controversyrevolvedaroundNewYorkCityshoots,whereasduringthe latetwentieth
century,the focus was on the animalrightscampaignagainstHegins.As a resultof
publicityfor Hegins,wireservicesduringthe 1990sreportedothercontestedpigeon
shoot traditionsin California,Nevada,Arizona,Texas,Florida,North Carolina,and
Wyoming. Both fin-de-siecle eras were notable for rapid transformations of society
as a result of industrialization and urbanization for the nineteenth century and com-
puterization and suburbanization for the twentieth. As fin-de-sikcle periods, they
engendered reflection and heated public debate on society's future directions, as well
as on the status of traditions threatened by what was widely perceived as an acceler-
ating rate of change, especially as the new millennium approached (Bronner 2002).
During the 1990s, publicity was given to "culture wars" as skirmishes over the pres-
ervation of traditional values and maintenance of the traditional family structure in
a sexually permissive and increasingly individualistic society (see Bronner 2000;
Foley 1995; Goodheart 1997; Hunter 1991; Ravitch 2002). In both eras, there was
concern for a crisis of masculinity in which men questioned their feminized domes-
tication in a modernizing society (see Bronner 2005:31-41; Douglas 1977; Kimmel
1996; Rotundo 1993). In the nineteenth century, the culprit was the first wave of the
women's movement and the emasculating character of industrial work, and in the
twentieth century, accusative fingers were pointed at the feminist movement as well
as modernization.
At the end of both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, reform movements
aroused sympathy for social victims to advocate for new public policy. The animal
rights movement had emerged in the late twentieth century following causes for
civil rights and women's rights. According to Lawrence and Susan Finsen's chronicle
of the animal rights movement, human rights issues in the air during the 1960s cre-
ated an intellectualclimate conducive to the challenge of"morality as usual" (1994:55).
Especially provocative for animal rights activists was the comparison between per-
secution of animals and blacks in America. For many activists, the most influential

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424 JournalofAmericanFolklore118 (2005)

text was Peter Singer'sAnimal Liberation,which opened with the declaration that the
struggle against the tyranny of human over nonhuman animals was "causing an
amount of pain and suffering that can only be compared with that which resulted
from the centuries of tyranny by white humans over black humans" ([ 1975] 1990:i).
He went on to proclaim that the animal rights campaign is as important as "any of
the moral and social issues that have been fought over in recent years" ([1975] 1990:
i).7 In keeping with the struggle against human tyranny as a form of slavery and
discrimination, many animal rights activists distinguished their movement from that
of animal welfare with the rhetoric of "abolition" (Spiegel [1988] 1996). Other ani-
mal rights activists referredto genocide, the Holocaust, and male exploitation, imply-
ing that the cruel treatment of animals predisposed humans to creating destructive
social inequalities (Adams [1990] 2000; Patterson 2002). Although some observers
viewed animal rights as tangential to the struggle for human rights and social reform,
animal rights advocates insisted that its movement reached the root cause of injustice.
Josephine Donovan, writing on animal rights and feminist theory, for example, pro-
nounced that "the domination of nature, rooted in postmedieval, Western, male
psychology, is the underlying cause of the mistreatment of animals as well as of the
exploitation of women and the environment" (2003:47; emphasis added).
Calling for abolition of human exploitation of animals, the animal rights move-
ment supplanted the protectionist animal welfare organizations of the nineteenth
century, its leaders coming largely from domestic abuse and feminist ideological
backgrounds (Adams 1995; Guither 1998:35-72; Mackinnon 2004). The outrage of
violence in animal rights abuse, the national director of the Fund for Animals told
me, came directly from her experience in organizations fighting spousal battery,child
abuse, and rape. Much of the rhetoric of protest and defense of pigeon shoots was
the same in both periods, with some notable differences.During the protest of Hegins,
more of the issues raised were about the exposure of children to violence and the
moral significance of tradition in maintaining community. Fueling the heated ex-
change between opposing sides in Hegins was frightening news of serial killing. One
was the shock of JeffreyDahmer's serial killing and butchery of young boys, with the
animal rights movement playing upon reports that he and other publicized predators
allegedly abused animals as children (Clifton 1994; De Angelis 1998; Morella 1998).
In a letter from the national director of the Fund for Animals to a high school con-
sidering excusing students for working as "trapperboys" at a pigeon shoot, the argu-
ment went,

This is not only an issue of legality.It is also a questionof ethics,compassionand

core valueswe want to teach our children.Thereis ample scientificevidencethat
allowingyoungpeopleto treatanimalsinhumanelycandesensitizethemto violence
and can eventuallylead to violent acts towardpeople. Recentstudies show that
sevenout of ten peoplewho arecruelto animalseventuallycommitcrimesagainst
other people, about half of which are violent crimes.We are not suggestingthat
everychildwho abusesan animalgrowsup to be TedBundyor the Son of Sam,but
we areraisingthe questionof whetherwe wantto promoteviolenceor compassion
as a core valuein our young people.In light of the recentshootingtragedyin an

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Bronner,ContestingTradition 425

if i


; ..:,b
RErPE, Y S " "


av 1
? t

Figure3. Protestorcarriessignconnectingthe pigeonshootwith the developmentof violence

in children.To right,a protestorcarriessign stating"ManyThingsare'Pests':Strays,Home-
less."Thesignis in answerto defenseof the shoot aseradicationof pests.Heginspigeonshoot,
LaborDay,1991.Photoby SimonJ.Bronner.

Arkansasmiddle school last week,we shouldbe especiallycautiousof any activity

that potentiallycould give young people the impressionthat violence is not only
acceptable,but also a good excuseto skipschool. (Prescott1998)

For Hegins supporters, though, the news of serial killing, alien to the region, was
affirmation of the depravity of the cities and family values gone wrong (often associ-
ated, they said, with acceptance of homosexuality, abortion, and radical feminism).
Hegins was, supporters repeatedly told journalists, a peaceful, sociable place rooted
in the land where everyone knew each other-a rarity in urbanizing, modernizing
America. Animal rights organizations decried the pigeon shoot as extreme violence
because of the extent of the killing. In a post-Holocaust concern for social genocide
and urban decay causing fear of the rampant "random"violence propagatedby roam-
ing youth gangs, the animal rights organizations repeatedly hammered away at the
Hegins bird "holocaust," "massacre,"."slaughter,"and "murder."
Despite the growth of American folklore studies out of the concern for threatened
traditions and cultures through both fin-de-siecle periods, pigeon shoots, and shoot-
ing and general hunting practices, rarely attracted folkloristic notice before the pro-
tests, despite being widely recognized in the media as being among America's most
enduring, if privatized, folk traditions (see Bronner 1998:417-34). What made the
Hegins pigeon shoot newsworthy was the protest of animal rights activists against a

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426 JournalofAmericanFolklore118 (2005)

WOOE iit t


Figure4. Womancarryingsign drawingattentionto shooters'guns as compensationsfor

phallicinsecurity.Heginspigeonshoot, LaborDay,1991.Photoby SimonJ.Bronner.

public practice they called "barbaric"and "cruel."It was also picture-worthy, as the
media often sought to find "shocking" images of a bizarre anachronistic ritual to
present for public consumption. It turned out not to be the bloodbath that animal
rights protestors predicted, although activists pointed cameras to boys wringing the
necks of the birds and the massive accumulation of dead birds in barrels.
Inevitably, the question of the tradition's meaning for communities, as well as
shooters, in a modern age came to the fore. Was it sport? Was it slaughter? Was it
festival?Wasit sickness?Wasit heritage?Journalistscould easily solicit positive answers
to all of the above questions from various sides, often attributing difference of opin-
ions to culture wars in America between the traditional values of heartland America
and the moral imperatives of cosmopolitan culture. Yetalso evident in the reporting
was a skepticism that all the fuss over pigeons was reallymerited. I stood, for instance,
with shocked wire-service reporters as protestors risked their lives running out into
the field of fire to rescue pigeons and hundreds of individuals were arrested over the
course of the protest.
Structurally,the protests featured civil disobedience characteristicof human rights
movements' struggles for racial and gender equality. The "rescues"represented the
seriousness of the issue and signified the idea that the animals had individual "lives"
worth saving. But what occurred was that the rural residents of Hegins aroused
sympathy in the court of public opinion because they appeared unfairly victimized
by animal rights protestors. They also appeared an underdog in the fight because they
claimed that they were the ones marginalized by modernizing society and that their

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Bronner, Tradition
Contesting 427

senseof valuesandcommunity, ratherthanthebirds,neededprotection.

repeatedlymoved the from
exchange to
cruelty the birdsin a "backward" sliceof
Americana to thethreatbyanimalrightsto mainstream culturalfeaturesof leather
andmeatconsumption.In the mid-1990s,afterfailedattemptsby animalrights
organizations to lobby the legislature to pass anti-pigeon shooting bills, Hegins sup-
porters felt confident they would be able to continue the public shoot without inter-
Where the animal rights organizations ultimately triumphed, ironically,was in an
alliance with the moderate animal welfare organization the American Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to gain court rulings to enforce animal cruelty
statutes. It was not the media or public opinion that ended the Hegins shoot in 1999,
but rather court judges. The fact that a Supreme Court decided against the commu-
nity's preference for the community only served to fuel broader suspicions of distant
legal authority blamed for undermining the coal industry through environmental
regulation and subverting the freedom to hunt in the wild. For Hegins supporters, it
was an event signaling the decline of tradition and liberty in America. They antici-
pated a domino effect dooming other venerated customs in the area such as hunting,
trapping, and fishing. When the Hegins shoot was canceled in 1999 as a result of the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, the headline in the local newspaper blared
"Court's Decision Doomed Tradition," offering the representative statement, "it's
part of our Schuylkill County heritage to shoot pigeons" (Edmondson and Hess-
inger 1999). "Many people consider the shoot a Hegins Valley tradition," journalist
Vicki Terwilliger wrote, "noting many boys in the area grew up with the event and
later took their own children and grandchildren to see the marksmen perform"
Takingthe rhetorical stance of victim, shooter Carl Specht told a reporter,"I don't
think we (hunters/gun owners) have any rights anymore," and others referred to a
betrayal of an American sense of freedom (Terwilliger 1999a). The larger questions
related to the shoot came to mind: "I don't believe it's just about pigeons. It's going
to come down to the confiscation of guns," and others predicted an assault on hunt-
ing and meat consumption (1999a). But the unclean status of the birds was fre-
quently mentioned in the shoot's aftermath: "Pigeons are such dirty birds. I think
they should catch all the pigeons and put them in the living rooms or in the cars of
those people who are opposed to this" and "They poison the pigeons in the city, yet
complain when we shoot them here. We didn't turn out to be murderers"(Terwilliger
1999b). The Fund for Animals meanwhile issued a statement focusing on the event
rather than the people of Hegins and recognizing the importance of the cancellation
in the animal rights movement: "The Hegins pigeon shoot has often been called the
world's cruelest event. It is a hallmark for the humane movement to put an end to
this annual atrocity and save thousands of animals from suffering" (Edmondson and
Hessinger 1999).
The Hegins decision was invoked in campaigns against pigeon shoots elsewhere
as a new millennium approached. The Fund for Animals teamed with Sacramento-
based United Animal Nations (UAN) to lobby for cancellation of the Champion
FlyersPigeon Shoot in SierraCounty, California,in 1998. The director of UAN issued

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428 JournalofAmericanFolklore118 (2005)

a statementechoing the argumentsagainstHegins:"Weare appalledthat pigeon

shootscouldbe consideredsportby anyone;as Californians,we don'twantthis type
of barbaricmassacre-particularlyone which involveschildrenin the killingof in-
nocentanimals-taking placein our state"(Fundfor Animals1998).Failingto shut
down the shoot with pressureon the promoters,the animal rights organizations
succeededin acquiringan opinionin 2000fromthe attorneygeneralthatthe pigeon
shoot violatedthe state'sanimalcrueltylawsbecause"disorientedand defenseless"
pigeonsare"releasedfromtheircagesforpurposesof beingshot"(FundforAnimals
2000).Animalrightsgroupsaroundthe sametime appliedsimilartacticsin protests
of shoots at gun clubsoutsideof Dallas,Texas,Sarasota,Florida,and Phoenix,Ari-
zona (Bensman1998;Johnson1997;Plank1995).Meanwhile,backin Pennsylvania,
the Fundcontinuedto litigateto ban pigeonshoots at rod and gun clubsin a major
test of the powerof governmentto regulateprivateactivities.In 2004,the Fundsuf-
fereda setbackwhenthe PennsylvaniaSupremeCourtuphelda lowercourtdecision
thatthe shootsdid not violatethe state'scrueltystatuteaslong as "reasonable
are made to minimizethe numberof animalstreatedcruelly.The Fund'snational
directorresponded,"Wewere able to stop this barbaricand inhumanepracticein
Hegins and it should be stoppedthroughoutPennsylvania"(AnimalNews Center

The Shootas Symboland Metaphor

shoots,cockfights,anddogfightsbecauseof theirlabelingasbarbaric"bloodsports,"
some notabledifferencesexist.As "fantasyplay,"Dundesobserves,the cockfightand
dogfightareritualizedcombatbetweenmaleanimalsand extendsymbolicallyto the
fightingof men to the death.He placesthemin a patternof manymalecombatgames
by whichmenhavea needto repeatedlydemonstratetheirvirilityor manliness(1987,
1997).Thetrainersareusuallymen,andthe fight'smostlymalespectatorsareengaged
in the sport by gambling,which Dundes also arguesis symbolicallyrelatedto the
masturbatoryevents of handlingexcitedcocks in the pit or ring. Dundes finds it
ironic that in demonstratingvirility,male combatantsengagein a form of homo-
sexualattackthat feminizesthe opponent.Supportersof the pigeon shoot do not
categorizepublic pigeon shoots as a "fight,"but ratheras a trapshootingor target
sport.The shooteris human,usuallymale,armedwith a potent shotgun.
Thenwhatdoes the act of shootingrepresent? A commonFreudianinterpretation
of the male attractionto shooting is the phallic extensionof the gun and thereby
feminist outcry against gun ownership is, at least in part, a symbolic castration of
male power (Freud 1995:339;Luke 1998; Stange 1999). That being the case, shooting
the gun is ejaculation and folk speech for climax, such as "shooting a wad" or "shoot-
ing white," support this interpretation. In this perspective, virility is gained from
shooting a gun at a live targetbecause of the penetration achieved and demonstration
of potency; in fact, a "shooter"is sometimes cited as derisive street slang for a would-
be "tough," and "shooting the agate" is pursuing a woman for sexual intercourse
(Partridge 1961:621;Wentworth and Flexner 1967:470). In relation to hunting, shoot-

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Bronner,ContestingTradition 429

ing is about pursuit of prey, and many songs and jokes refer to hunting for sexual
conquest (see "Hunting Jokes"2004; Randolph 1992:42-3). In his analytical survey
of Anglo-American traditional erotica, FrankHoffmann lists several under narratives
of seduction, particularly symbolizing female animals as targets (X724.1.4.1 Hunter
seduces girl by telling her he is hunting bonny black hare, and asking if she knows
where it is; X724. Seduction by showing girl how gun is shot; X724.1.7.1 Man
seduces girl by showing her how to play game called "shoot the cat"; Hoffmann
1973:260-1; see also Randolph 1992:42-3). Conversely, an "unloaded gun" in folk
narrative is coding for impotence (X735.9.1; Hoffmann 1973:275). In American
popular culture, Hank Williams, Jr.,had a major hit on the country charts in 1983
with the song "Gonna Go Huntin' Tonight," with lyrics about pursuing women as
"wild game": "Don't fire on the first one, Don't waste your bullets on a little bitty
baby, Get yourself a grown woman." Because the gun provides lethal power, and the
connotation of male power,the implication is that the pursuit is predatory.The action
shows complete dominance, often resulting in the elimination of an opponent, as
indicated by the folk speech of feeling "shot down." In cards, "shooting the moon"
leaves all the other players with nothing, and "shooting the works" means betting
It is important to point out that, as an example of semiotic layering in an event
such as the pigeon shoot, shooting guns at animals carries significance for residents
as provision of sustenance and independent self-sufficiency. In its imagery of the
settler drawing food and clothing from adventure in the wild, shooting guns evokes
the sense of hunting as human dominion over the land. The land, especially in pioneer
American mythology, is bountiful and capable of providing all the settlers' needs; the
city is seen as contrary to a hunting ethos of being in touch with the natural cycle of
life. Russell Nye calls this American belief the myth of superabundance, which is
related to Dundes's referenceto the American folk idea of unlimited good (Nye 1966;
Dundes 1972). The historical gun is therefore a referent to tradition; it is the tool for
control of the land, the sign of provision and independent self-sufficiency for one's
family and, in the process of clearing with other hunting settlers, the formation of
social bonds characteristic of community. Dundes adds the crucial point that the
belief in abundance breeds optimism for the future as well as social self-confidence,
but there is the risk in this worldview that change can undermine the perception of
the bounty's source (1972:98). At Hegins, there was a perception, for example, that
government regulation and cosmopolitan interference threatened the cultural insu-
lation, as well as natural bounty and socioeconomic independence, residents could
enjoy.Particularlyin the historical context of the region's economic decline, the pigeon
shoot annually provided a ritual reaffirmation of a regional worldview based on a
pioneer hunting legacy. The sense of provision and clearing is a connotation of the
pigeon shoot expressed often by hunters and a reason they do not relate the pigeon
shoot to the central image of the savage combat of cockfights and dogfights.
The phallic symbolism of the gun becomes important to consider because an-
other differencebetween cockfights and pigeon shoots is that, in the shoot, the animal
is symbolically feminine. In folk speech, a pigeon refers to a girl or young woman,
and a dove is frequently a term of endearment for a child or attractive woman (Wen-

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430 Journalof AmericanFolklore118 (2005)

tworthand Flexner1967:389).The folk speechof pigeon,however,carriesthe pejo-

rativeconnotationof the womanbeingavailablefor sex or being an objectof sexual
conquest.Forexample,the rapband SportyThievzhit the pop chartsin 1999with
the song"NoPigeons,"whichopenedwiththe lines"APigeonis a girlwhobe walkin'
by,Myrimmedup bluebrandnew sparklin'five,Herfeethurt,so you knowshewant
a ride."'
The dove arguablyhas a more genteelimage.In the HebrewBible'sSongof Solo-
mon, the romanticmalesingerseductivelycroons,"0 my dove ... Letme hearyour
voice;Foryourvoiceis sweet,Andyourfaceis comely"(2:14).Thesymboliccontrast
is then madebetweenthe doveandthe predatorymalefox (seeHufford1987).In the
"Agesof Man and Woman,"one of the most popularbroadsidesof the eighteenth
and nineteenthcenturiesin Europeand America,the genderedsymboliccontrast
betweenthe feminineyouthof dovesandthe predatoryfox is extended(seeBring6us

The ape,the lion, the fox andthe ass,

Resemblethe ageof a man in the glass.
Bolderthanlionstillfortyis gone,
Then,stupidasasses,they'recalledno moremen.
Resembletheageof a womanalso.
Hatchinglikehenstillfortyis come,
Likecrowsin theautumnfarewell to allmen.(Steinn.d.:45;Smith1935:14)

Thecharacteristic "cooing,"gentledisposition,domestication, andsmoothfacial

featuresof thepigeonareoftengivenasfemininetraits.Likethefolkterm"chick,"
describing a youngwoman,the pigeonis associated witha pronounced breastand
tailportionsuggesting sexuallydesirable
parts of thebody forthe man. Thename
"pigeon" comesfromtheLatinpipiremeaningto "peep" andrefersto thesoftcooing
of thebirds(Martin1993:143). Whereas"peep"is oftenassociated withthe short,
high-pitched sounds of a babybird the
(hence infantilizing admonition of "Idon't
wantto heara peepoutof you!"),cooing,definedbydictionaries asa vocalcharac-
teristicof pigeons,is perceivedto be anamorousor gentlemurmur.
Thepigeon'ssoundingsandphysicalfeaturesprobably contributeto thefrequent
representationof the white dove as a sacredsymbol.The doverepeatedlyappearsin
the HebrewBible as an emblem of peace, purity,tenderness,and affection (Levi
1957:4).Dovesandpigeonsalso areheldto be sacredin Islam,probablybasedon the
legendthatGodspoketo Mohammedthrougha dovehe haddomesticated(Ingersoll
1923:135).Recountingthe folkloreof pigeons,ErnestIngersollquotesan Algerian
sourcefor dovesbeing calledimams(leadersof prayerin the mosques)becausethey
"prostratethemselves by inclining their necks in devotions to the Creator"(1923:136).
Many sources claim that Muslims in Asia indeed hold doves and pigeons in much

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Bronner, Tradition
Contesting 431

Christians. givenexampleof this
split is a riot of 1921 in Bombay that erupted after two European boys killed pigeons
in the street.Accordingto Ingersoll,"thestockexchangeand other generalmarkets
were closed, and a wide-spreadstrikeof workmenin India was threatened,as an
evidence of the deep feeling aroused by the boys' sacrilegious act" (1923:136-7).
Oneexplanationfor pigeonsbeingtargetedfor killing,despitetheirsymbolic
spiritualconnections,is theirhistoricalroleas a prime sacrificialanimalin purifica-
tion rites.The HebrewBiblegivesdetailson the purificationritewith pigeons:

If his offeringto the LORD is a burntofferingof birds,he shall choose his offering
fromturtledovesor pigeons.The priestshallbringit to the altar,pinch off its head,
and turn it into smokeon the altar;and its blood shallbe drainedout againstthe
side of the altar.He shallremoveits cropwith its feathers,and castit into the place
of the ashes,at the east side of the altar.The priest shall tear it open by its wings,
without severingit, and turn it into smokeon the altar,upon the wood that is on
the fire.It is a burntoffering,an offeringby fire,of pleasingodor to the LORD.(Le-
viticus 1:14-7)

The sacrifice of the pigeon for purity is especially imperative for a woman upon the
birth of a child and is distinguished from the lamb because the killing of the pigeon
is redemption for sin (Leviticus 12:6). This association suggests a spiritual cleansing
and regeneration after destroying the unclean bird. Wendell Levi connects this sac-
rifice to veneration of mother-goddess Astarte, the Sumerian goddess of war who is
symbolized by the dove (1957:3). Killing the dove mythologically allowed for trans-
formation from war to peace and from unclean to clean, and this imagery of the dove
as a sign of resurrection or regeneration is still evident in contemporary Easter cel-
Ingersoll further reports beliefs in several cultures that touching a dove would leave
a person "unclean"throughout the day (1923:129). The association of pigeons as an
omen of death and the regenerative sacrifice of pigeons for curing life-threatening
fevers are reported widely in British-American tradition (see Opie and Tatem
1989:308-9). The idea of sacrificing pigeons for regenerative human cures attracted
religious commentary when Anglican bishop Jeremy Taylor in Rule of Conscience
(1660) pronounced in favor of the idea of human dominion, "Cruelty to beasts is
innocent when it is charity to men; and therefore though we do not eat them, yet we
cut living pigeons in halfs and apply them to the feet of men in fevers" (quoted in
Opie and Tatem 1989:308). In this belief, men live, indeed come back from near death,
because pigeons die.
This ancient folk root for the symbolism of the pigeon may seem a long way from
contemporary images of the pigeon at shoots, but it is related because of the clash
over conflicting modern categorizations of the bird as symbol of both sacredness and
profanity. Indeed, the connection of the Bible as a source for opposing sides in the
pigeon shoot controversy at Hegins was explicit in protestors' appeal to protect a
sacred dove of peace, while supporters often cited the opening passages of Genesis
dictating that humans rule, master, or have dominion-depending on the transla-

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432 JournalofAmericanFolklore118 (2005)

tion-over the "birdsof the sky,and all the livingthingsthat creepon earth"(Gen-
esis 1:28).The dominion idea was invokedin the firstmajorcourt caseon whether
pigeonshootsviolatedanimalcrueltystatutes,Commonwealth vs.A. N. Lewisin 1891.
In maintainingthe legality of pigeon shoots, PennsylvaniaSupremeCourt Chief
JusticePaxsondeclared,"Isthe birdin the cageanybetter,or hasit anyhigherrights,
than the birdin the woods?BothwereplacedherebytheAlmighty,for the useof man
(140 Pa.261,21 A. 396, February23, 1891;emphasisadded).Animalrightsactivists
often arguedthat, definedbiblicallyas "livingsouls,"animalsdeservedprotection
andkindnessfromhumans;dominioncouldbe reinterpreted as a callto humanlove
and mercyfor animalsand vegetarianism(Fuchs2003; Linzey2003;Phelps2002;
Scully2002). Counteringthis view is frequentanthrocentricreferenceto Genesis9:
"GodblessedNoah and his sons, and said to them, 'Be fertileand increase,and fill
the earth.The fearand the dreadof you shallbe upon all the beastsof the earth,and
uponeverybirdof theair,upon everythingthat creepson the groundand all the fish
of the sea;into yourhandtheyaredelivered.Everymovingthing [creature]thatlives
shall be food for you; and as I gaveyou the green plants, I give you everything"'
(Genesis9:1-3;emphasisadded).' Withthisrhetoricalconflictin mind,someanimal
rights activistswent to churchservicesin Hegins to challengeresidents'religious
views about dominion. Indeed,an influentialanimalrightstractwrittenby Norm
PhelpscalledDominionof Love:AnimalRightsAccordingto theBible(2002) has em-
blazonedon the dedicationpage,"Forthe pigeonswho died at Hegins."
The symbolicbehaviorsof creepingor crawlingin Genesisis significantbecause
of the idea that "lowly"creaturesconnectedto the groundareunclean.The charac-
teristic"prostration"of the pigeon on the groundthat is a sourceof sacrednessin
Islamis one of profanityin Christianity.The common descriptionof the pigeonas
a "ratwith wings"is symbolicallyimportant,in fact,becauseof the profaneconnec-
tion of pigsandmice (Isaiah66:17).AnimalrightsactivistIngridNewkirkunderstood
this cognitivecategoryin her oft-quotedstatement,"aratis a pig is a dog is a boy,"
and the comparisoncame up repeatedlyin responseto pigeon-shoot supporters,
assertionsthata pigeonwas a "flyingrat"(quotedin McCabe1986:115).In fact,the
addition of the dog is importantbecauseof the symbolicreplacementof hunting
dogs in the pigeonshoot with "trapperboys";besidessuggestingequalityof species,
the analogycould also signifythat violenceto ratswas also a violationof children.
With her provocativeanalogy,Newkirktried to subvertthe traditionaldistinction
between "lowly"or dirty animals and clean humans by pointing out their emo-
tional equation.Aftershe gavethe statementto a reporter,she explained,"Theyare
all mammals.Theyall feelpain"(1986:115).In his studyof Sabbathtaboos,Dundes
interprets the predominant association of pigs and mice in the profane sphere as a
shared proclivity for eating feces (2002:117). The taboo is therefore based on the idea
that eating feces "is considered the ultimate despicable, disgusting act, which is why
God reserves it as a punishment for those who disrespect him" (117). Indeed, one of
the complaints of animal rights activists was that pigeons were kept in cages filled
with their own feces; on the other side of the debate, pigeons were associated with
polluting barns and people with droppings. Killing the pigeon as one would kill a
mouse or a rat offers sacred human redemption, because the bird is associated with

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Bronner, Tradition
Contesting 433

an uncleanstate.Killingthemrituallyestablishes the "symbolism of the centre"by

emphasizing elimination
sacrificial of allthatis thus
unclean, offeringspiritualpu-
Severalcontemporary examplesof folklorecanbe citedto showtheassociation of
pigeonswith fecesand vermin,especiallyamong male groups.Manyjokescirculating
inAmerica commentontheabundance of fecesproduced bypigeons:"Itseemsthere
werethesetwo statuesandtheywerea couplehundredyearsold. Oneday,a fairy
flewoverthemandtappedtheirheadswithherwand.'Youhave24 hoursto do
WHATEVER YOU WANT,' she said to the statues. Fast-forward 23 hours, 57 minutes
later ...The male statue says to the female statue, 'Why don't we do it again?' The
female statue says, 'We don't have enough time!' The male statue says, 'Sure we do!
just ONEMORETIME,please?' Whereupon the female statue says, 'Oh, all right! but
this time You hold the pigeon and I'LLcrap on it!'" (collected February 2004). On
this theme, also connecting pigeons with urban filth and defiling status and wealth,
are variations of a riddle-joke: "What'sthe difference between a bankrupt lawyer (or
stockbroker)and a pigeon?A pigeon can still leave a deposit on a Mercedes (or BMW)"
(collected February2004). Besides being resented for their droppings on public plac-
es and monuments, pigeons are considered unclean because they scavenge for food
in garbage and on the ground. In addition, there is the idea that the birds are expend-
able because they are said to carry diseases, have an ordinary look (dull gray feathers),
are stupid (e.g., folk speech of "bird-brained"and Aesop's fable of the thirsty pigeon
who flies into a picture of a water goblet), are found in overwhelmingly abundant
numbers, undoubtedly because of their reproductive prowess, and are indiscernible
from one another, thus preventing sympathy for their individuality (see Hodge 1985;
Johnston and Janiga 1995:257-80; Lawrence 1997:97-8; Schwartz 1989:34). As the
cocks that Dundes found were connected to the shady (or masturbatory) practice of
gambling, so too are pigeons. The idea of gambling as a kind of ruse or wile is sig-
nificant, casting an image of falseness or incredulity upon the participants' objects,
thus making them expendable (Partridge 1961:692).
The contemporary pigeon shoots held at rod and gun clubs are gambling activities,
often between two sides. The association with gambling is ancient in origin, as indi-
cated by the prohibition of "those who race pigeons" from being witnesses or judg-
es (Sanhedrin 3:3). They are disqualified because they are gamblers and are therefore
implicated as liars or thieves (Levi 1957:4). This tradition may be the source for
modern folk speech equating a "pigeoner" with a gambler and swindler (Partridge
1961:511-2; Wentworth and Flexner 1967:389). "Pigeon numbers" were false num-
bers used by managers of illegal gambling lottery games called "policy" (Partridge
1961:512).Gambling continues in contemporary urban folklife in pigeon flying fights,
structurally more consistent than pigeon shoots with ritual male combats; the fights
are referred to in many Brooklyn neighborhoods as la guerra, or "the war" (Kliger-
man 1978; Schwartz 1989). Flyers use a special breed of domesticated pigeon and
referpejoratively to common street pigeons as socially undesirable and unclean with
the term "rats"(Schwartz 1989:34). Pigeons (or "stool pigeons") are also called rats
when they are police informers, at least by criminals (Partridge 1961:692).
Probablybecause of their symbolically unclean status, pigeons have an association

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434 JournalofAmericanFolklore118 (2005)

with beingvictimsand dupes.In Americanfolk speech,a pigeonis an unsuspecting

targetof criminalviolenceor fleecing(Partridge1961:511;Wentworthand Flexner
1967:389).Fromthe shooters'viewpoint,this associationwith weaknessand naivete
furtherreducesthe possibilityof sympathyfor them,but the animalrightsprotestors
used this veryimageto declaretheirneed of protection,much as socialmovements
in the post-civil rightsera arguedfor legalassistanceand socialsympathyfor "vic-
timized"groups.Raisingconnectionsbetweenchildand spousalabuseandthe plight
of pigeons,animalrightsprotestorsdeclaredthe "innocence"of the birdsup against
sociallypredatorymen and set up first-aidstationsnearthe shoot to carefor injured
birdswho managedto escapethe killingfields.The stationsreinforcedthe view of
the birds as moralpatients.Protestorsalso visualizedthe symbolicequivalenceof
birdsand childrenby paradingyouth holding largebloody targetsigns in front of
Animalrightsadvocatesvocallycomplainedthatthe purposeandconsequenceof
the pigeon shoot wereviolence,for it lackedanypragmaticrationale,such as provi-
sion of food. The protestorsrepresentedthemselvesas modernand progressiveand
thereforenot bound to constraining,and irrationalif not immoral,tradition.They
advocatedan end to culturallyingrainedviolenceand suggestedthat an end to ani-
mal-abusetraditionswould resultin an end to war;supportingthis view was the
distributionto protestorsby animal rights organizationsof blackarmbandswith
images of a white dove with an olive branchin its beakbelow a messageof "Give
Peacea Chance."
Proponentsof the shoot labeledthe protestorsspoiled or whackyurbanitesand
feminists,even homosexuals,who shouldbe advocatingfor more importantissues
suchas curbingabortionanddrugsor at leastpayingattentionto theirown problems
in the cities. In short, supporterswanted to be left alone to decide their cultural
characterand retaliatedagainstwhatthey perceivedas the cosmopolitan"attack"of
outsiderssubvertingthebasisof theirheritage.Resentingthe hootsof "countrybump-
kins,""barbarians," and "murderers" againstthem,manysupportersin showdowns
of the early1990syelledbackat the protestorsnamessuchas "faggots,""bunny-hug-
gers,"and "druggies"-therebyemphasizingthe supposed depravity,ratherthan
progressivism,of the protestors.Whileprotestorscarriedplacardspointing out the
brutalityand horrorof the shoot and the "shame"and backwardnessof Hegins,
supportersexpressedthe themesof freedomand dominionwith sayingsand prover-
bial expressionson t-shirts such as "LetFeathersFly and FreedomRing,""Shoot
Pigeons,Not Drugs,""If It Flies,It Dies,"and "Killat Will."Humorat the expense
of the protestorsemerged,too, in phrasessuchas "Savea Pigeon,Shoota Protestor"
and "WeRecycle"(withan imageof deadpigeons).Formanysupporters,comingto
the shoot wasmetaphoricallycomingto battle,for it was commonto see men wear-
ing militarycamouflageclothing.The prevailingmotto for supporters,emblazoned
on shirtsand hats everyyearof the protest,was "TheTraditionContinues."
Whataboutthe role and symbolof the shooter?Most shooterswerenot fromthe
community,or even from the state.But that did not matterto residentsconceiving
of the Heginsshoot as a communityevent.Forthe supporters,the shooterembodied
the pioneerhunter,becausepigeon shootingwas consideredan antiquatedkind of

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Bronner,ContestingTradition 435





Figure5. Supporterof pigeon
P~ ":x'rl
--? r X;r
~d:( shoot carryingsign stating
"PigeonsareRatswith Wings,
Shoot 'Em!"and holding
artificialratfittedwith bird
feathers.His t-shirtand hat are
?:? ?.i emblazonedwith "The
organizationlaunchedin 1993
whose statedmissionis to
'i "advanceand promote
., traditionalAmericanvalues."
Heginspigeon shoot, Labor
Day, 1994. Photo by Simon J.
,a~--w~ -~5;*~~?cB~:~,:??~._?~ Bronner.

pursuit. The shooter served to eliminate the unclean from the land and thereby con-
secrate it. The result is socially regenerative. Several editorials set up the defense of
the pigeon shoot as a last stand for hunting, interpretedas a primal impulse of humans
in touch with nature, which would fall at the hands of the scourge of animal rights
protestors (Angst 1999; Slinsky 1999). I conclude from my conversations and obser-
vations at the shoot that supporters were not so much defending the shoot as they
were their agrarian tradition revolving around the idea of dominion of humans act-
ing as a community over animals and land (Berry 2003; Telleen 2003). Residents near
the park resented the mess of dead birds in their yards every Labor Day, but the shoot
gained importance as a symbol of the community's longing for ascendancy, an an-
nual ritual of regeneratingits lost glory of the past in the face of modernization. There
were times in the shoot's history when its effectiveness as a community ritual came
into question. I heard many remarks that, by the 1980s, the pigeon shoot was not so
appealing in the region as a homecoming celebration; yet, when protestors from the
cities came, they felt obliged to defend the shoot as a metaphor for the self-determi-
nation by "traditional"communities.
Huntingand ownershipof guns werepopularactivitiesin the area,and residents
wereawarethatboth werethreatenedby whatthey perceivedas urbanmoralistsig-
norantof agrarianism.The ironyis thatthe originalprotestsof the eventwereinsti-

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436 JournalofAmericanFolklore118 (2005)


Figure6. "Trapperboys"collectingshot birdsfrom aroundtraps.They arewearingt-shirts

stating"ShootPigeons,Not Drugs."Heginspigeonshoot, LaborDay,1990.Photo courtesy
of DauphinCountyHistoricalSociety,Harrisburg,Pennsylvania.

gated by a resident of the region, but the supporters viewed the intervention of "out-
side" organizations such as PETA and the Fund for Animals from the nation's
capital as the enemy. To be sure, shooting pigeons and hunting could appear substan-
tially different because, on its surface, pigeon shoots do not engage the shooter in
pursuit of animals in the wild and some detractors say, further, that it is not a chal-
lenging "fairfight" that is part of the hunters' ethic (Eveland 1992). Nevertheless, the
shoot simulates the pursuit of prey and refersto a mythology of the virgin land when
birds were abundant and untamed. The shoot hones the skills of the hunter, many
say, because it involves guns aimed at the unpredictable target, and the shoot is a
prelude to the major fowl and deer hunting seasons of the fall. The choice of pigeons
allows for the illusion of abundant wildlife availableto the shooter and the imminent
success of the hunter in the upcoming seasons. Arguably it was not a fair or difficult
fight, but as the warmup for the fall hunting seasons it was not supposed to be. In
folk speech, there is a symbolic equivalence of the "pigeon mark" and the "easy
Especiallysignificant in the rhetoric describing the shoot and hunting is a reference
to family tradition. In a mass society where popular novelty is privileged and family
values are crumbling, many residents told me, hunting is a heritage associated with
family activities, transmitted as local knowledge from one generation to another. The
shoot built on this association by being promoted as a "familyevent"and "homecom-
ing," with children playing in a playground within the park where the shoot was held.

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Bronner,ContestingTradition 437

LaborDayweekend, infact,wasa commontimeto holdfamilyreunionsintheregion.

Anotherfamilyrelationship wasin the roleof "trapper boys"who camefromthe
community. Metaphorically, theytooktherolesof runningretriever dogsin thewild,
subordinate companions to theshooters,whowouldevolvefromenergeticanimals
to steady,maturemen.Therelationship ishierarchical, withmencommanding boys/
dogs, who in turn have dominion over the birdsas a metaphorfor nature.As an
intermediary betweentheanimalandhumanworld,theboys/dogsareableto touch
theuncleananimalin themetaphorical fieldof natureanddeliverit backto thehu-
Theincorporation of childrenattheshootinfuriated animalrightsactivistsallthe
more,becauseit symbolized thelinkageof animaldestruction withculturalcelebra-
tionandviolencewiththeupbringing of children. Supporters of theshootanswered
animalrightsprotestbyextollingthevirtueof theshootsaspartofAmerican "tradi-
tion"and,therefore, a contribution to threatened senseof Americanheritageand
familybasedon its agrarian founding.It wasnot justthatthe shoothadannually
beencelebrated forsixtyyears,butalsothatit referred to alegendary goldenagewhen
thevalley'sactivitiesweremorecentralto American mainstream culture.Ironically,
thestabilityof traditionalsoimpliedthefreedomassociated withpracticing a com-
munityritethatrancounterto massculturalvalues.Hence,it wascommonforshoot
supporters' rhetoricandvisualization of traditionon t-shirtsto accompany expres-
sionsof reverence forfreedomandflag.In retaliation, using a similar discourse of
heritage,animal rightsprotestors made comparisons of the event to violent"blood
sports"of cockfights anddogfights, widelymadeillegaldespitetheirholdon tradi-
tion.Theycomplained of the exposureto gunsandthe "desensitization" to abuse,
whilesupporters worriedaboutthechallenge to their"rightto beararms"(Fundfor
Animals1997).Tradition neededto be broken,protestors exclaimed, becauseof the
implication in theculturethatchildrenwouldinheritthevaluesengendered bythe
eventandassumetheywerenormative.Answering the claimthatthe childrenof
Heginsweremorelikelyto be violentasa resultof exposureto theshoot,theLabor
DayCommitteeproducedstatisticsshowinga low violentcrimerate.Supporters
answeredby linkingthe traditionto America'spioneerheritageof rurallife and
hunting,theculturally appropriate buildingof communityacrossgenerations, sup-
port forcharitable causes, and thewholesome ethicof competition resultingin excel-
Forallto see,thegunis an extensionof theshooter,andprotestors drewoutthe
phallicsymbolism of predatory, gun-totingmenin theirplacards. Thelarge-barreled
shotgunwasespeciallyimposingin the imageof the pigeonshooter.Manysigns
evident at the 1991 shoot ridiculed the phallic display of men with guns: "Hunters
Have Small Ones," "AllYouToms,Harrys,and Dicks, Doesn't It PrickYourConscience
to Use Your Gun in Such an Unmanly Way?"and "Big Macho Bird Killer."In 1992,
PETAreleased a flyer blaring "Women: Join in Solidarity to Expose PatriarchalVio-
lence." It included a photo of a hulky "typical pigeon shoot supporter" wearing an
Adolf Hitler shirt, sporting a rough beard, and adorned with a hunting cap and
military-styled glasses. Another photo showed gun-toting policemen leading away
an arrested woman. It also featured a quotation from Ms. magazine calling pigeon

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438 JournalofAmericanFolklore118 (2005)

shoots "one of the most bizarre forms of the violent male bonding ritual called sport
hunting." Its ultimate appeal was to "help stop the violence against women and
animals." The message was that the shoot was a metaphor for a predatory,patriarchal
society responsible for violence and social injustice.
Without directly stating so, probably because it was too disturbing to the female
protestors, the violence and injustice implied in the image of the shooter attacking
the feminine pigeon was rape. In this view, the pellets from the phallic gun penetrat-
ed the unsuspecting and unwilling bird, causing loss of feathers and blood. Several
incidents that protestors told me were especially horrifying involved male supporters
taunting them with a dead bird, as if they would meet a similar fate at the hands of
the men. Young men declared the bird to be a pernicious, profane "rat"with wings
aimed at women traditionally afraid of predatory vermin. Some even made jokes
about "flipping the bird" at the protestors, indicating the aggressive phallic gesture
of extending the middle finger and the masculinization of the pigeons. The discard-
ing of the birds, with the wringing-symbolic strangulation-after the shoots, thus
became especially disturbing as violation against women. The role of the trapperboys
in unfeelingly "bagging"the feminine birds and following the model of the potent,
predatory shooter, therefore, aroused heated emotions in many protestors, many of
whom came from backgrounds in domestic abuse counseling.
While shoot supporters found the idea of the first-aid station for birds absurd,
tearful protestors brought injured birds escaping the male onslaught to the station
for emergency treatment. Many brought feathers into the station as if they were torn
clothing. One can especially discern the metaphor of the abused woman at the hands
of men in the following reminiscence from a protestor of the 1996 pigeon shoot at

Lookinginto the eyesof a birdI rescuedaftersome men hadplayedhacky-sackwith

her undera tree,and knowing,althoughthe vets (hopingto saveme some agony)
told me otherwise,thatshewould die. Not of anywing damageor shock,but from
internalbleedingafterreceivingone kicktoo many.And hopingthat, if only for a
briefmoment,shefeltthe utterlove and respectI had for herwhen I held herin my
hands as shewas dying.I hope she felt those feelingsemanatingfrom the vets,the
technicians,the rescuers,and all the activistssurroundingher.(Morris1996;em-

As patient, the bird became anthropomorphized and individualized. Many women

empathized with the two-legged life franticallytaking flight to escape predatory men
shooting phallic guns.
There is mythological basis for the relation of hunting to rape in the figure of
Orion, a giant hunter in Greek mythology. In many narratives,he rapes Merope, and
the angry king exacts revenge by symbolically castrating him when he blinds Orion.
In some myths, he also tries to rape the Hyperborean maiden Opis. In stories of
Orion's death, his end comes because he tried to rape Artemis, and she sends a lethal
scorpion to sting him. In another case of feminine revenge against the predatory
hunter, sometimes the scorpion is sent by the goddess Gaia (earth) because Orion

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Bronner,ContestingTradition 439

has the hubris to declare that he could shoot all animals (March 2001:570-2).
For the shooter, easy sexual conquest is implicit in the shooting of the unsuspect-
ing or passive birds as a prelude to other hunting seasons, demonstrating virility
because of the risk and danger involved. In particular, the killing of pigeons, meant
to be efficient, increases manly self-confidence and validates male aggression for a
later time when the shooter engages a tougher, stronger, more elusive opponent-the
male buck. Buck season, after Thanksgiving, is usually considered the climax of the
hunting seasons; it certainly is the most popular hunting prey in Pennsylvania. At a
deer camp I attended, one member responded to sarcastic comments from other
hunters about his lack of success in "bagging a buck" with the declaration "I don't
have to prove my manhood by getting a buck every year." It was a reminder of the
virility gained from triumphing in ritual male combat against the large horny buck.
Although members of the camp hunt various animals, the heads that are mounted
as trophies on the walls are of horned bucks. The connection to symbolic castration
is evident in photographs of hunters with their fallen prey, not infrequently holding
the cut head in their groin area (Bronner 2004:38).
Some hunters find it offensive to shoot the feminine does, much as some sportsmen
consider the rapacious attack on pigeons to be somehow unsportsmanlike or "un-
manly." The "fairgame" for them that provides the challenge of combat is in meta-
phorically masculine animals, including bears and bucks. The folk saying of "shoot-
ing at a pigeon and killing a crow" to indicate a deliberate miss or bringing someone
lofty down to size through a strategic assault at an underling may be thus explained
as using the easy feminine "mark"to attacka masculine predator (Partridge1970:628).
The phrase sets up a symbolic shift from the light gentle pigeon to the evil dark crow,
from the passive to the aggressive, from the woman to the man. In contrast to the
humble cooing of the pigeon, crowing is associated with the boastful cock. One may
thus understand both the cognitive categorization of pigeon shoots with cockfights
as sexual conquest and the distancing of the pigeon shoots from cockfights because
of their lack of a male "fight."
The structure of the pigeon match shoot suggests more of a combat metaphor
between male opponents than the straight shoot, and the typical accompaniment of
gambling adds to the "action"of the match shoot, as participants like to say,therefore
connoting emotional or sexual excitement from taking aggressiverisks. From a social
structural perspective, the combat may suggest fatalism about one's status and the
future, as the goal of making money and producing thrills from the contest implies
that advancement needs the intervention of luck or chance for a context in which
wealth or "good" is limited (see Dundes 1972; Lears2003). In the system of the match
shoot, if one team advances, then the other must retreat.One does not get the impres-
sion given by Cooper in The Pioneers that the supply of value, as well as nature, is
endless. The importation of pigeons simulates a world in which the products of
nature are unlimited, but the wealth at risk with them is limited, especially in the
agrarian/mining environment of the Hegins Valley.Arguably,the fantasy of the match
shoot compensates for a loss of confidence in the future engendered by economic
decline and attendant loss of sociocultural status. One difficulty with the above social
structural interpretation is that it does not account for the historical role of gambling

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440 JournalofAmericanFolklore118 (2005)

in the valley'sprosperousheyday,unlessone wereto contendthatthe agrarian/min-

ing worldviewwas still of a "limitedgood"even though the outlook for the future
was optimistic.
The involvementof spectatorsat the matchshoots is moreengaged,indeedmore
aggressiveand risky,than at the straightshoots.One indicationof the ritualcombat
in the match shoots is the special breedingthat trappersengagedin to produce
"tougher"birds.JohnBergalis,for example,said,"Wecrossbredthe birdsuntil we
cameup with a breedthatwasfastand scary,hadbig wingsandsmallbodiesandwas
built for speed and stamina.Let me tell ya, they werethe greatestpigeonsthat ever
took flight!"(quotedin Canfield1992:27).Reexaminingthe structureof the Labor
Day weekendat Hegins in light of this evidence,one may observethat the private
club"warmup"meantas a manlyactivitypreparesshootersfortheirpresentationof
self beforefamilieswhen theirsenseof conquestmayappearmore muted.In struc-
turing the ethos of "everyman for himself"in the event, organizersof the shoot
suggesta survivalistimagethat invokesa pioneerheritageof makinga "clearing."
Theregenerative qualityof eradicatinguncleanpestsin the publicshoot is heightened
becauseit is in frontof, and on behalfof, the community.Thejustificationof using
proceedsto expandthe park-a clean,cleared,greenwholesomeenvironmentfor
children-is the regenerativeresult.The regenerativeshoot can be conceivedas a
kindof purificatorytransformationusingthe pigeonas a sin offeringforturningwar
into peace,profaneinto sacred,and old into new.
Becausepigeonsin the Heginsregioncouldbe respectfullytreatedby trappersin
the matchshoot as local agentsfor a "side,"the virulentrhetoricof uncleanprofan-
ity in referencesto vermin,feces,and diseaseat the straightshoot has been puzzling
to ethnographers.ElizabethAtwoodLawrencethoughtthat,"likeanydisempowered
group,the pigeons have to be segregatedand perceivedas perpetratorsof evil to
justifytheir victimization"(1997:98).The paradoxis that their evil is simultane-
ously ruraland urban.As ruralreferentto tradition,they invokethe pioneerpast
when the skies darkenedwith the naturalbounty of passengerpigeons.As urban
representative,they show the patheticresultof being out of touch with the land,
whereexistenceis markedby scavengingin garbageand producingfeces.Pigeonsare
symbolicallya nuisanceto farmers,defilingthe fertileland, and an urbanfilth as-
sociatedwith the depravityof citiesandmodernism.Yet,asprotestsmountedduring
the 1990s,the contestationinfluenceda symbolicemphasison the birdsas the urban
and modern "other."S. Hoon Song rationallyaskedhow the flyingpests couldbe
eliminatedif the shoot resultedin a significantnumberof common pigeonsbeing
releasedback into the region. He answeredthat the areaneeded pests becauseits
identity was marginalized in modern society. Therefore, the community imported
pigeons for a ritual ceremony to declare an urban outsider so that the homogeneous
insider could be maintained under threats of social change. Song argued that to
maintain the community's self-sufficiency, "The expulsion of the pigeons must be
repeatedagain and againin orderto establishthe boundary of the interior"(2000b:225).
He missed the symbolic shift, however, from the bird as a passive feminized target to
a phallicized, masculinized pest; the supporters of the shoot, in fact, identified with

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Bronner,ContestingTradition 441

the pigeons as an extension of themselves in a way that was shocking to the protestors.
When a group of supporters spread the bird's wings in front of protestors to scare
them, they then referred to the bird as an aggressive rat.
As a contested tradition, the violence toward the animals at the shoot was pro-
jected at the human target of protestors. This view is supported by the invented
proverbial phrase, "Savea Pigeon, Shoot a Protestor,"emblazoned on the t-shirts of
many supporters. Yetthis view assumes that the shooting has one symbolic displace-
ment from the human target. It does not fully account for the layering of symbols for
hunting, masculinity, virgin land, and family in the purificatory process of the shoot.
The set of historical conditions as well as ethnographic circumstances particular to
the Hegins shoot helps explain why shooting clay targets just would not do. The
symbolic mythologizing of the bird as a narrative of clearing and provisfon offers
insight into how the shoot embodied both sacred and profane functions. Even if
residents did not shoot pigeons, they symbolized the shoot as their experience; the
shoot took on attributes of Eliade's "centre."

Traditionin the Crossfire

In light of the argument for the shoot's deepness as a cultural text and its "symbolism
of the centre" for the community, one may justifiably ask whether the end of the
shoot changed anything in Hegins. Privatematch shoots continue, although the Fund
for Animals is pursuing litigation applying the ruling against the Hegins shoot to the
private shoots. For now, the sound of shotguns is still very much in the air on Labor
Day weekends. But as Robert Tobash, chair of the Labor Day Committee told me, the
work of maintaining, and distinguishing, community has been undermined. He feels
that the hamlet needs a community festival to give it a sense of itself as well as con-
tinue the redemptive function of expanding the park for children. The committee
replaced the shoot with a craft fair, hailing a family theme, but it was not as well at-
tended or profitable. The substituted symbolism of preindustrial craft is consistent
with the perspective that the public festival builds on a legacy of the pioneer past
enriching the present. Yet it was not sufficiently regenerative,perhaps because it was
too peaceful; no sin offering or aggressive male display was apparent. It was not clear
how the event as the opening of autumn activity and its associated plenty of harvest
and hunting offered prologue. If anything, it reinforced the image of domestication
imposed by cosmopolitan modernism upon rural places and its people. Tobash reg-
ularly receives requests to revive the shoot in defiance of the courts, but he reluc-
tantly submits to the legal agreement. Meanwhile, the Fireman's Carnival has diffi-
culty mustering volunteer help, and he complains that young people are not as
involved as they once were with the life of the community. To underscore the point,
he mentions nearby church suppers, distinguished by offering such Pennsylvania-
German delicacies as stuffed pig's stomachs (colloquially called "Dutch goose") and
dandelion salads drawing on the bounty of the land, have been canceled despite their
popularity because sufficient volunteer help from the aging community could not be
organized. In 2003, the Coleman family erected a memorial in the park, honoring

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442 Journal ofAmerican Folklore118 (2005)

the memoryof the shoot;a ceremonyunveiledthe monumentat a Colemanfamily

reunionheldin the park.The shoot becamemournedas a heroicperson;inspiredby
a kind of originlegend,the shoot monumentembodieda communalmyth.
The end of the shoot also signaledthe beginningof a revitalizationmovementfor
hunting through the state,for in the wake of the shoot's cancellation,effortsre-
doubled to protect hunting and redefineit as a heritageand right. Indicativeof
measuresto pass constitutionallawsaddressing"hunters'rights"in responseto the
push for"animalrights,"PennsylvaniaHouseBill 1512in 2003introducedby central
Pennsylvanialegislatorswould amendthe stateconstitutionto guaranteethe "right
of the peopleto hunt and fish."In these efforts,the animalrightsmovementis the
barbarianat the gatethreateningthe verycoreof society.Manyresidentsfearthatits
goalsarenot justto end killingof animalsbut, in fact,to erodea life of traditionand
forcecomplianceto someimaginedcosmopolitanauthority.In servingasthe "other"
from the distant "outside,"animal rights organizationsinspirecommunitieslike
Heginsto definetheirvaluesby theirattitudestowardanimalsand an emphasison
hunting's promotion of tradition passeddown throughfamilies,particularlythe
kindsof manlytraditionsemphasizingprotectionand dominionpassedfromfather
to son. They also are more self-consciousabout the customsthey promoteas sig-
nificantto their"tradition"and promoteheritageas the bedrockof survivalin a new
age of culturaluncertainty.
Yetthe traditionis changingin responseto the erosionof huntinglandsandhunt-
er numbers.Sportsmengroups such as "Becomingan Outdoors-Woman"(BOW)
activelyencouragewomen to join in the sportsof huntingand shooting,and other
organizationslobby for loweringof the minimumage for huntingto attractmore
young people to the sport. Counteringthese moves,animalrights groupsarealso
creatingeducationalprogramsfor children,becauseyouthsareheld responsiblefor
the transmissionof society'svaluesin the formof culturalpractices.One can under-
stand,then, the distinctiveattentionin the twentieth-centuryfin-de-si&cle by both
protestors and supporters to the role of childrenat shoots becauseof the idea that
they are most impressionable and most In
culturallypotent. Pennsylvania, sportsman's
groupshavebeen successfulin introducingseveralspecial"youthhunts"andyouth
andwomen'shuntingeducationprograms.No longercanthe continuationof shoot-
ing and hunting as familytraditionbetweenfatherand sons be takenfor granted;
transmissionof "huntingheritage"hasbecomeorganizedandbroadened.Thepub-
lic rationalizationfor huntingis also changing,placinga greateremphasison envi-
ronmentalawarenessandheritagemaintenanceandthusdownplayingthe frequent-
ly cited primalinstinct of killing in the wild (see Swan 1995).Nevertheless,social
surveys of hunters frequently reveal "a feeling for tradition" and a desire to be close
to nature, two antimodern sentiments, as primary motivations to continue hunting
(Dizard 2003; Duda 1997; National Wild TurkeyFederation 2003). As my argument
here indicates, I also view a historical crisis of masculinity attracting many to the
virile meanings of hunting and shooting out of fear of domestication and moderniza-
tion (Bronner 2004, 2005).
The animal rights movement has also changed as a result of the Hegins campaign.

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Bronner, Contesting Tradition 443

It is less reliant on national direct action, frequently looking to litigation and legisla-
tion rather than civil disobedience (Wicklund 1998). The Hegins campaign, animal
rights leaders will tell you, attracted many more adherents to the cause, many of
whom were men. This feature has influenced a broader social agenda, although the
feature of advocacy for animals as a way to curb human violence is still prevalent.
The Fund for Animals has reached out to hunter groups to improve the hunter's
image by calling for hunting ethics that would eliminate live pigeon shoots, prairie
dog shoots, coyote killing contests, fox hunting, and pheasant tower shoots (Prescott
1995). Especially intense is the campaign against manly "blood sports" such as dog-
fights and cockfights; animal rights groups were involved in a ban on cockfighting
passed by voters in Oklahoma in 2002, leaving only two states where cockfighting is
legalized, but, to the concern of the groups, Oklahoma legislators in 2005 proposed
revising the ban to allow cockfighting without knives or gaffs (the cocks can be fitted
with muffs).1"Sensitive to the experience of being portrayed as being "against"tradi-
tion and American heritage,the Fund has been particularly carefulto work with grass
roots organizations that propose new traditions, including festivals and even shoot-
ing contests, replacing features of animal cruelty (Markarian 1997:34).
Geertz claims that events such as the cockfight show status relationships to be mat-
ters of life and death; more analysis is needed in the world of the shoot, however, to
discern the way that status relationships are symbolized-and centered. In each rela-
tionship is a tension, even a paradox,that callsfor ritualizedresolution-between sacred
and profane, redemption and sin, nature and humanity, and peace and war. In the
layered metaphorical tradition of shoots and related customs of dominion, one en-
gages relationshipsof the traditionalizedinside, conceptualized as community, and the
modern, changing outside or other, which is often conceived as mass culture or cos-
mopolitan society. In fact, much of the contestation of the shoot was about the source
of culturalproduction, from "inside"families and communities, or "outside"in urban
centers and governmental policies. The protest sought to subvert the "symbolism of
the centre"and show it as marginal,whereas supporters argued for animal rights as the
radical "fringe"and had to articulate symbolic meanings of the center to counter the
phallocentricreadingsof predatoryviolence by animal rights advocates.Both arguments
for centerednesslaid claims to representingthe heart and soul of America in Hegins.
The contestation over pigeon shoots, used widely in the media to evoke testimony
in the court of public opinion, opened for examination other dramas that had been
taken for granted-of the past and present, masculine and feminine, adult and child.
Basic to the tension of the tradition of the shoot in a modern age of sensitivity is the
use of violence and the elimination of the unclean to regenerate or redeem the past.
Killing the dirty bird appeared to consecrate the land and bless human dominion
over its wildlife, reminding one of the abundance to be gained or the bounty once
enjoyed. Ritualizing a sacrificialtradition promises a better day and purifies the path
for the provisionary season in the fall harvest of crop and animals. Challenging the
regenerativeproperty of killing unclean pigeons with reminders of their sacred fem-
inine symbolism associated with peace, animal rights protestors created a contest
frame of their own for the dominance of locally generated values. Much of the battle

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444 JournalofAmericanFolklore118 (2005)

was overhow to interpretthe meaningof the birdand the processof the shoot,for
thatwas a keyto the translationof humandominionin the constructionof cultural
A claim is also apparentin the battle over the Hegins shoot for redirectingan
Americanethic,basedon perceptionof a presentstateof culturaldegradation.From
the viewpointof animalrights,Heginscentrallyrepresenteda traditionof crueltyor
"barbarism" pervasivein Americaandholdingbackprogresstowardcreatinga civil
society; from the perspectiveof sportsmen,by contrast,the animalrightsmovement
was centralto all the depravityassociatedwith modernizing,cosmopolitanAmerica
that had takenoverthe country'ssoul. Evenif the Heginspigeonshoot is no longer
front-pagenews,the majorculturalconflictsit represents,andthe potent symbolsit
articulated,continuein variousforms,especiallyin the debateoverthe moralityof
huntingin modernenvironments. A clusterof issuesregardingthe culturalinheritance
of children,patriarchalor predatoryroles enactedin "bloodsports,"tolerancefor
community-basedvalues,andthe placeof gunsandviolencein culturebubbleto the
surfacein heartlandskirmishesoveranimalrights.GeertzandDundesareboth right
in presagingthatfolk culturaltextsof animalsandviolencetell somethingprofound
in itself and seriousabout somethingelse that apparentlycan only come out in the
life frameof playand fantasy.The folkloristicchallengeis to analyzeits deepnessand
distinctivenessand, from there,to be ableto returnto how traditionfunctionsas a
cognitivecategoryfor participant,protestor,and observer.

1. I hadbeensurveyingfolkcultureandconductinginterviewswith huntersand craftsworkers in the
Hegins and Mahatangovalleysbeforeattendingmy firstpigeon shoot in 1988.From 1989 to 1994,I
documentedpigeonshoots and spenttime interviewingparticipantson both the protestand supporter
sides.In 1990,I had presscredentials,givingme entranceinto a sectionreservedfor the mediacorps.I
also attendedcourtproceedingson the suit againstthe shoot in Harrisburgand interviewedleadersof
the LaborDay Shoot Committeeand the Fundfor Animals.I am gratefulfor facultyleavegrantedin
2003-2004 by the PennsylvaniaStateUniversityto devoteto the researchon the pigeonshoot. I extend
gratitudeto JayMechlingof the Universityof Californiaat Davis for his many contributionsto the
projectandinsightsinto the event.Hejoinedme at the 1991shoot andparticipatedin a preshootconfer-
enceon animalrightstacticswhileI workedwithHeginsshootsupporters. JacquelineThursbyof Brigham
YoungUniversity also addedvaluable comments as chairof an American Folklore Societymeetingpan-
el in whichthis researchwasfirstpresented.KenThigpenof the NewYorkInstituteof Technology, who
participatedin the panel,also sharedhis experiencein Pennsylvaniawith animalrightsactivistsand
huntingculture.JanetDavisof the Universityof Texaskindlysentme herhistoricalfileson pigeonshoots
from the AmericanSocietyfor the Preventionof Crueltyto Animals,and MarjoleinEftingDijkstraof
the Departmentof Ethnology,MeertensInstitutein the Netherlands,providedinformationon com-
parativeEuropeantraditions.In Pennsylvania, VickiTerwilligerof the PottsvilleRepublican
and Jennifer
Miller,a local historianfrom the HeginsValleyand descendantof FredColeman,providedvaluable
materialson the historyof the ColemanMemorialShootandthe Colemanfamily.RobertTobash,chair
of the LaborDay Committee,andBudAngst,columnistfor the CitizenStandardin ValleyView,Penn-
sylvania,kindlysharedtheirfileson the Heginsshoot with me. On the animalrightsside,I am grateful
to HeidiPrescott,nationaldirectorof the FundforAnimals,forallowingme accessto the Fund'sarchives
on its Heginscampaignandto IngridNewkirk,presidentof Peopleforthe EthicalTreatmentof Animals
(PETA),SteveHindi, founding presidentof ShowingAnimalsRespectand Kindness(SHARK),and
DorisGitman,animalrightsactivistin SchuylkillCounty,Pennsylvania, forsharingwithme theirprivate

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Bronner,ContestingTradition 445

materialson the shoot.AlanDundesofferedvaluablecommentson my interpretation; he was looking

forwardto thispublicationbeforehis untimelydeathin 2005.I dedicatemyeffortsto expandhis symbol-
ist perspectiveto him.
2. Chroniclesof the animalrightsmovementfrequentlytraceits roots to a 1980 conferencein New
Yorkthatbroughttogetheractivistsfor vegetarianismand animalrights.Out of this event emergedan
annual"Actionfor Life"conferencethatespeciallyfocusedon protestsof animalexperimentation,ani-
mal entertainment,and factoryfarming.PETA,one of the organizationsinvolvedin the Actionfor Life
conferences,had a specialinterestin speakingout againstmeat consumption,protectingwildlife by
thwartinghunters(by using bullhornsto scareawayanimals)and protestingtrappingas well as the
wearingof fur.Among its activitiesin the heartlandduringthe 1980swerepicketingrodeos and cir-
cuses.It also attractedpublicityby havingan activistweara pig costumeto hit the Iowaporkqueenin
the facewith a pie duringtheWorldPorkExpoandplacingan advertisementin the DesMoinesRegister
(Iowa)in August1991comparingthe slayingscommittedby serialmurdererJeffreyDahmerin Milwau-
kee to the slaughterof livestock(Guither1998:48-50).Trans-SpeciesUnlimited(latercalledAnimal
RightsMobilization,or ARM!),founded in 1981,also protestedfur trappingand wearingbeforethe
HeginsShoot,but its main effortwas an intensecampaignagainstbarbiturateaddictionstudiesin cats
at CornellUniversityin 1988(Finsenand Finsen1994:81-4;Guither1998:50-2).
3. As an extensionof this argument,Mechlingpointsout the possibilityof interactiveroutinesform-
ing culturalsystemsbetweenhumansandinanimateobjects-as in theplaybetweena childanda stuffed
animalor favoritetoy or adultswiththeirautomobilesandothermachines-and humansandimaginary
others-as in the playbetweena childand imaginaryfriend(1989:320-1).
4. A list of contestantsfor the shoot between 1934and 1984 is availablein HeginsLaborDay Shoot:
50thAnniversary1934-1984,publishedprivatelyby the HeginsLaborDay Committeein 1984.There
were1562contestantslistedbetween1979and 1983.Of those,sixteen(1 percentof all contestants)were
5. Residentsnamedthe traditionalmatchshoot held atthe ValleyViewGunClubthe WarrenKlinger
MemorialShoot afterKlingerdied in 1987 (see Zemincik2003). The name rhetoricallyconnectedthe
matchshoot to the ColemanMemorialShootby memorializinga localsportsman.
6. Thethemeof birdsas dispensablenaturaltargetsis baldlystatedby ErnestHemingwayin "Remem-
bering Shooting-Flying:A KeyWestLetter"(1935). In the essay,he recalledshooting pigeons in his
childhoodandcommentedon birdsgenerally,"Ithinktheyweremadeto shoot becauseif theywerenot
whydidtheygivethemthatwhirrof wingsthatmovesyou suddenlymorethananyloveof country?... I
thinktheyweremadeto shoot andsome of us weremadeto shoot them andif that is not so well,never
saywe did not tell you thatwe likedit" (2001:185).
7. Thetitleof Singer'sbook alsoraisescomparisonswith the radicalrhetoricof "women'sliberation"
and "blackliberation"popularduringthe 1960s.Anotherrhetoricalconnectionis the Marchfor the
Animalson Washington,D.C.,on June10, 1990,whichhad intendedto affectthe animalrightsmove-
ment the waymarchingon the nation'scapitalhad acceleratedother socialmovements,especiallythe
"Marchon Washington" in 1963on behalfof civilrights.TheNationalParkPoliceestimatedthat25,000
animalrightsactivistsattendedthe march.A humanisticlink betweenanimalrights and civil rights
duringthe 1960s,as pointed out by an anonymousreviewerof an earlierdraftof this article,is in the
popularimpactof HarperLee'sPulitzerPrize-winningnovel ToKilla Mockingbird (1960), madeinto a
critically acclaimed film in 1962 (winner of four Academy awards,including best screenplayand best
actor).The title refersto lawyerAtticusFinch'sadviceto his childrenabout firingtheir riflesat birds:
"Shootall the bluejaysyou want,if you can hit 'em,but rememberit's a sin to kill a mockingbird."The
fatherexplainsthatthe bluejayis a commonbird,oftenperceivedas a bullyanda pest,whereasmock-
ingbirdsdo nothing but "singtheir heartsout for us." Tom Robinson,the innocent blackvictim of
racismin the smallsoutherntownis, metaphorically, a mockingbirdattackeddespitedoing nothingbut
good.Arguably,his characteris also feminized,like the bird,becausehe could not havecommittedthe
rapeof whichhe was accused.Boththe birdand Robinsonaresinlessand consideredless thanhuman,
and when they arekilled,innocenceis metaphoricallydestroyed.The book and movie had a powerful
antiprejudicetheme as racialunrestoversegregationmountedduringthe 1960s,and it used sympathy
for an innocentbirdto drivehome the message.

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446 JournalofAmericanFolklore118 (2005)

8. In FollowingTradition(1998),I arguethatthis neglectof huntingas traditionowesto the common

modern folkloristicmotive of showingtraditionas adoredart and exhibitedform or to an emotional
responseof sympathyfor groupsand eventsthreatenedby modernity.Evenif it is widespreadas a folk
practice,huntingand shootingareavoidedbecausethey raiseconflictsin the folkloristicpresumptions
about traditionas vernacularart in step with progressivecauses.Some notablefolkloristicexceptions
2004;Dundes 1997;MaryT. Hufford1992;EdwardD. Ives 1988;WilliamKoch 1965;VenetiaNewall
1983;andIanRussell2002.Mostof thesestudiesareidentificationsof folkgenressuchas beliefs,rituals,
songs,and narrativesassociatedwith hunting,ratherthanthe processesof huntingas culturalpractice.
Studiesby Brady,Russell,andIvesaredistinctivefor theirconsiderationof the politicalcontextof regu-
lation of or protestagainsthuntingand trapping,while Dundes'sand Hufford'soffersymbolistinter-
pretations,with Dundes (1997) and Bronner(2004) proposingpsychoanalyticexplanationsof male
ritualcombatsandHuffordinterpretingthe socialstructuralimplicationsof narrativeperformancefol-
lowingGeertz(1973)andGregoryBateson(1972).Bronner'sstudyof turtlehuntingin 1986considered
the socialstatusof huntingin a communityand its relationto publicritualsof consumption.Inspired
largelyby animalrightschallengesto the traditionsof huntingandfishingin locationssuch as Utah,the
firstfolkloristicjournalto devotean entireissueto traditionsof, and debatesover,huntingand fishing
was WesternFolklore(vol. 63, nos. 1-2, 2004), editedby JacquelineThursby.Almosta centuryearlier,
HenryShoemaker,renownedlateras the nation'sfirst"statefolklorist"(establishedin 1948),triedto
attractfolkloriststo the subject.He drewspecialattentionin the earlytwentiethcenturyto the collection
of huntingstoriesandbeliefsin Pennsylvaniaand the contextof environmentalconservationandgov-
ernmentalregulationof hunting( [1912] 1992and [1917] 1993).Labeleda popularizer,Shoemakerhad
troublereceivingappreciationfor his workby academicfolklorists(see Bronner1996).Intothe twenty-
firstcentury,popularawarenessof huntingandshootingastraditionsis evidentin the OutdoorLifecable
network(see and mass-marketmagazinessuchas FieldandStreamand OutdoorLife.
9. Thissong appearson the CD StreetCinema(1999),with composercreditsto K. Briggs,K.Howell,
M. Bryan,and S. Ford.The transcribedlyricsare availableat
Venue/9769/rap/n/no_pigeons.html. The song wasintendedas a masculinistanswerto "NoScrubs"by
the women in the rapgroupTLC(Fanmail1999).
10.To show the influenceof the passagein the discourseof animalrights,I took the text fromthe
chapterentitled"GodCreatedManin His Own Image"in TomReganand PeterSinger'sAnimalRights
and HumanObligations(1976:58-9). The materialfrom the Bibleis the firstchapterin a sectionon
"Animaland HumanNature."It is followedby philosophicalexcerptsfromAristotle,SaintThomas
Aquinas,Descartes,Voltaire,Hume,andDarwin.Myinclusionof "creatures" in bracketsrefersto mod-
ern translationssuchas TheTanakh,editedby JaroslavPelikan(1992:14).It alsochangesthe categoryof
food to an action:"Everycreaturethat lives shallbe yoursto eat."An alternativeview, more sympa-
thetic to animalrights,of the relationof pigeon shoots as a male coming-of-ageritualalso is a strong
theme of JerrySpinelli'sWringer(1997), a fictionaljuvenilebook which gainedattentionby receiving
the designationof NewberryHonorBookandotherawardsin 1998.Baseduponthe Heginspigeonshoot
(calledWaymerin the book),the "wringer" in the title refersto the trapperboyswho wringthe necksof
injuredpigeonsto killthem.In the story,he developsan emotionalattachmentto a pigeonthathe per-
sonalizesbycallinghim "Nipper." He savesthebirdfrombeingshot,"cradlinghis pigeonin bothhands,"
andthe narratorrecountsthathe "felta peace,a lightnessthathe hadneverknownbefore,as if restrain-
ing strapshad snapped,settinghim freeto floatupward"(1997:228).In contrast,the undesirablechar-
acterof Beanspreviouslyhad"hoistedthebirdabovehisheadandgavea long,rippingscreechof triumph."
Then he "shookthe birdin the shooter'sface,"andyelled,'It'syours!It cameback!Kill!Kill."Thenar-
ratordevelopsthe reader'ssympathywith the line, "Heslammedthe bird to the groundand ranfor
11.StateSenatorFrankShurden,a DemocratfromHenryetta,Oklahoma,explainedthat the muffs,
describedby reportersas "tinyboxinggloves,"couldbe worn overthe cocks'spurs.The cockscanalso
wearlightweightvestsconfiguredwith electronicsensorsto recordhits andkeepscoreratherthanallow
roostersto slashandpeckeachotherto deathwhilehumanspectatorsbet on the outcome.JanetHalli-
burton,presidentof the OklahomaCoalitionagainstCockfighting,whichled the drivefor the 2002law

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Bronner,ContestingTradition 447

banningcockfightingin the state,resistedthe compromise,saying,"Whatthis is going to do is makea

platformfor him to continuallytry to amend the existingban"("GamecockBoxingPlan Proposed"
2005).The significantpoint of this exchangein light of my analysisis thatmakingthe contestless cruel
or bloodycouldnot satisfythe animalrightsopponentsbecauseit wasthe idea of the cockfightwith its
symbolismof malecombatthat,in the view of the protestors,neededto be abolished.A relatedcontro-
versyalsoarosein the stateoverthe men'sfolkpracticeof "noodling,"referringto sportmadeof catch-
ing fresh-waterfish (usuallylargecatfish)with barehands,typicallyusingone's fist as bait.Noodlingis
legalonlyin Oklahoma,Tennessee,Mississippi,andLouisiana.A filmentitledOkieNoodlingdirectedby
BradleyBeesleyand distributedby the PublicBroadcastingSystemin 2001 drewattentionto the play
and protestof the noodlingtournamentsin Oklahoma(2002).

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