Not quite extinct: live pigeon shooting , Kansas City 1893

 The three Elliott brothers opened their new Shooting park at Washington Park on May 4, 1893. The targets were live pigeons. At the grand opening of the Elliot park, three live-bird shoots were held, with different entrance fees for each category: five birds: $5; seven birds: $7; ten birds: $10. The fees were pooled and made up the prize money for the best shooters.

Elliott brothersThe Elliotts, Robert, Jim (known as J.A.R.), and Dave, had opened their first shooting park in Kansas City in 1887. Dave went to work for the Winchester company; JAR became known as one of the best live pigeon shooters in the country. The shooting park was left to the management of Robert Sage Elliott, “Uncle Bob.”[1]

For the grand opening, Uncle Bob devised an elaborate new point system aimed at assuring that the experts didn’t win all the money. The new system, explained the Times report, “forces all shooters to compete in a certain class and every contestant has a chance of winning his entrance fee or more by shooting out men in his class.”[2]

About 100 sportsmen came out for the event. Reported the Star, “Everybody was delighted with the park, which promises to be the most picturesque and best arranged of any shooting ground in the country.” The highlight was the ten live bird event, which attracted twenty-five entries at $5 (not $10, apparently, as reported in the Times), for a purse of $125, less the price of the birds, which reduced the winnings to $62.50. Under the old scoring system, the purse would be divided into four parts of 40, 30, 20, and 10 per cent “for shooters having scored 10, 9, 8, and 7.” Those tying on the scores would then shoot off for the money to which each class was entitled.

Under Elliott’s new system, described by the Star as “like a Chinese puzzle,” the purse was divided into three classes with 45 percent going to one group of ten shooters, 30 percent to a second group of nine, and 25 percent to a third group of eight. These group purses were then to be subdivided into three moneys.

The shooting was good, reported the Star, despite the unfamiliar grounds and “the peculiarities of the flight of the birds,” but Elliot’s new scoring system was “so intricate that it gave rise to innumerable arguments and the shooters who were mixed up in it, together with Mr. Elliott and the scorers, were troubled with a nightmare of mathematical problems…. Mr. Elliott is not dismayed, however, but will continue to work on it until he does get something practical out of it, and as he is still young and full of vigor, he may be successful.”[3]

Shooting was promised every afternoon until the opening of the state tournament later in the month, though it was expected that the old scoring system would be used for the tournament.

At the sixteenth annual three day tournament of the Missouri State Game and FishState bird shoot Protective Association, nearly four thousand pigeons were “sacrificed,” reported the Times, in an article titled “End of the pigeon killing.” The shoot was a “successful one…. Most of the birds were fast flyers and a stiff wind was blowing nearly all the time across the grounds, with interfered with a good many scores, but the average was up to the mark.”

The tournament began with a “triple rise shoot,” three pigeons released at once. In the ten bird shoot on the second day, only five men paid the $7.50 fee. The clay pigeon, or “mud pie” shoot on the second day, attracted few takers; “Every man seemed completely worn out from the hard work of the week,” said the Times.

Although clay targets were widely used, there was no objection to the mass killing of pigeons. A live pigeon shoot was even an event at the Olympics in 1900. In 1903, the last live pigeon national championship, at least in Kansas City, was hosted by Robert Elliott at Blue River Park.[4]  1903 was also the last year live birds were used in the state shooting competition in Illinois.[5]

Live pigeon shooting fell out of favor for financial as well as ethical reasons, but is still lawfully and openly practiced in some U.S. states, notably Pennsylvania. A bill has been introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature to stop pigeon shoots, but as of late 2012 has yet to be passed. [6]

 August 25, 2012


[1] History of the Kansas City Trapshooters Association: http://www.kctraps.com/history.html

[2] “Current sporting events.” Kansas City Times, May 3, 1893, p. 2.

[3] “Like a Chinese puzzle.” Kansas City Star, May 3, 1893, p. 3.

[4] History of the Kansas City Trapshooters Association: http://www.kctraps.com/history.html

[5] Illinois State Trapshooters Association. http://illinoistrapshooters.org/history/ista-history\

[6] Animal law coalition: http://www.animallawcoalition.com/wildlife/article/1689.