After months of promising to pursue prosecution of hunters who sponsored an illegal event in which nearly 700 birds were released from cages and shot, both the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office have backed out.
The event, sponsored by the Valley of the Sun Golden Retriever Club, took place in a field northwest of Phoenix on March 4. It included a pheasant and chukar hunt, in which participants were given 25 minutes to flush and shoot as many of the birds as possible. It was followed by a pigeon shoot, in which cages full of pigeons were placed in the center of three concentric rings. On the signal of the shooter, the cages were opened and the birds were shot as they flew out. Points were awarded based on how far from the cage the pigeons flew before they were shot.
All birds had been trapped beforehand and brought to the event in cages.
Dave Roth, chairman of the Avian Affairs Coalition, a group composed of members of seven Arizona animal-rights organizations, says he advised the state Game and Fish Department of the illegal shoot in advance, but "they sent no one to stop it."
Roth and the other activists videotaped the event, beginning with the exercises involving dogs. The more disturbing segment of the video, however, was taken during the pigeon shoot--it shows dozens of pigeons being blasted out of the air almost as fast as they leave their cages.
In one instance, a pigeon is wing-shot and lands in one of the outer rings. As it flails helplessly on the ground, hunters scream at it to move into the middle ring so the shooter will receive the most points. Finally, the shooter blasts it again with his shotgun. The bits and pieces of the bird that are left after a close-range hit from a 12-gauge end up in the center ring, and the shooter gets the points.
Other parts of the video show large trash containers full of dead birds.
State law allows hunting groups to sponsor events in which birds are set free in a wooded or grassy area and then flushed and shot, provided such events are field trials--to evaluate and train hunting dogs--and the sponsors have obtained a permit from Game and Fish. This event, which cost $100 to enter, was a contest shoot rather than a field trial, and was therefore illegal in the first place; in any case, no permit was obtained for it.
A state Game and Fish official later admitted in a television interview that the event was illegal and should have been stopped by his department.
The Valley of the Sun Golden Retriever Club did not return calls to New Times.
Avian Affairs Coalition members say they are especially disappointed in the officials' decisions not to prosecute because they helped do law enforcement's job--they were asked by both Game and Fish and the Sheriff's Office to compile lists of statutes the event violated.
Members say the shoot appears to have taken place in violation of at least eight separate laws regarding hunting and cruelty to animals. In addition to the rule prohibiting the event in the first place, laws concerning transportation of wildlife and waste of game meat were apparently broken. Also, videotape taken by the group at the event shows some participants drinking beer as they handle their shotguns, despite laws making that illegal--and despite that the event started at 7:45 a.m.
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Game and Fish officials say they issued a verbal warning to the hunters after the event, and that that will be the extent of their enforcement action. Roth says that's not good enough.
"Game and Fish said it was not a permissible event because it was not any kind of a field trial," he says. "They just issued them a verbal warning afterwards, and acted like that was some big deal."
After getting nowhere with the Game and Fish Department, the group decided to try getting the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office involved. After reviewing the information the animal-rights people had, the Sheriff's Office declined to pursue the matter, says Tim Campbell, a Sheriff's Office spokesman.
"They said it was a Game and Fish situation to handle," Roth says.
Game and Fish records show that between January of 1994 and January of this year, 29 permits were issued for legal field-trial events. Those records say that 9,000 ducks, bobwhites, pheasants, chukars and pigeons were killed at such events.
Roth and other activists say that number is deceptively low, however, because not all permit applications list the number of birds to be used and because no permits are obtained for illegal events such as the one on March 4.