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Seneca pigeon shoot stirs debate of unclear state law

No charges filed against Seneca Hunt Club over Dec. 30 contest

January, 1993

By Patrick Graziano

Seneca- With the repeal of the Bird Shooting Act in December 1991, pigeon-shooting contests are apparently no longer legal in Illinois.

That fact, however is the subject of much debate, a debate with Steve Hindi, a founder of the Animal Rights Coalition of Chicago, feels can only be silenced through a test of the legality in court.

One such opportunity for a courtroom test was recently lost when LaSalle County State's Attorney Joseph Navarro, despite the urgings of the Coalition, decided not to charge the individuals involved in a pigeon shoot held Dec. 30, 1992, at the Seneca Hunt Club.

In such a pigeon shoot, participants pay entry fees for the opportunity to shoot at live birds which are released, one at a time, from a box to serve as targets for the shooter.

Each shooter is permitted a limited number of shots to bring the bird down in a defined scoring area around the cage. The shooters compete with one another for prizes.

The Ottawa Daily Times reported that Navarro decided not to file charges because of the confusion over the legal status of the shoots and because the club owner, William Vajdik, has reportedly promised not to schedule further shoots.

Efforts to real Vajdik were unsuccessful.

Hindi, of Plano, was displeased with the premise for Navarro's decision not to prosecute.

"The law is quite clear and it should be prosecuted," said Hindi. "If it had been dozens of people catapulting cats or dogs into the air and shooting them, or if it had been a dog fight…it would have been prosecuted."

Navarro, who declined to comment on his decision "since matters have been taken care of," reportedly does not feel the law is clear, and is therefore pushing for lawmakers to tighten language in the Humane Care for Animals Acts to resolve the controversy.

This act prohibits the capture, breeding or training of an animal with the sole intention of killing it for the purpose of sport, wagering or entertainment.

Until one year ago, however, the Bird Shooting Act provided an exemption to this law for pigeon shoots, stating that it was illegal to shoot birds for sporting purposes or as a test of skill in marksmanship "unless the person obtained a permit from the Department of Conservation to do so."

That law was repealed in December 1991.

In September 1992, at the request of then Will County State's Attorney Edward A. Burmila, Attorney General Roland W. Burris issued an informal opinion in which he states that it is his belief that pigeon shoots of the type held in Seneca are no longer legal.

However, when, acting on Hindi's report of the Dec. 30, 1992 shoot, a humane investigator from the Will County Humane Society and LaSalle County Sheriff's deputies went to the club to stop the shoot, they were allegedly informed by a local representative of the Department of Conservation that such shoots were still legal in Illinois.

After attempts to determine the true legality were made, the shoot was stopped upon the urgings of sheriff's deputies, but no charges were filed or arrests made because of the difference of opinion.

Mark Wolzinski, a local official of the DOC, would only say, regarding the situation, that the Department of Conservation has no control over what happens on private property.

The Seneca Hunt Club is a privately owned, 700-plus acre facility located along Union Road, near Seneca. All but 105 acres of the club are within Grundy County.

Anne Mueller, spokeswoman for the Springfield office of the DOC, said that the issue of the legality of pigeon shoots is viewed by the DOC as something that no longer involves the department.

Mueller said that, under the Bird Shooting Act, the DOC at one time was authorized to give permits for pigeon shoots. Since the DOC is no longer required to give permits for these activities, Mueller said, they are no longer within its jurisdiction.

Ernie Slottag, a spokesman for Attorney General Burris, confirmed the fact that the DOC can no longer issue such permits.

Slottag also reinforced Burris' opinion that the repeal of the Bird Shooting Act removed any exception to the Humane Care for Animals Act which would allow such shoots.

In his decision, Burris wrote, "Initially it is clear that (the Humane Care for Animals Act) does not prohibit the shooting or killing of pigeons, per se.

"It does, however, prohibit the sale, delivery or receipt of an animal by a person who knows or should know that the animal has been captured or bred, or will be used, to be intentionally killed for the purpose of sport, wagering or entertainment."

Burris concluded, "This limited exception to the general prohibition having been repealed, it appears that pigeon shoots conducted in the manner…described are now prohibited by section 4.01 of the Humane Care for Animals Act.

After this informal opinion was released, the Animal Rights Coalition of Chicago sent letters to all state's attorneys and sheriffs in the state informing them of the change in the law.

Due to the Seneca shoot, the Coalition plans to send another mailing to those officials, which will be followed up in order to receive acknowledgements of the change.

"The animals that have died have died and we're not going to bring them back," said Hindi, who indicated that the coalition only wants to see the future shoots stopped.

Even in states like Pennsylvania, one of just three states where shoots are clearly legal, objection to such activities is heavy, and at times boisterous.

In September 1991, in an infamous case, more than 80 people were arrested for criminal trespass and theft for their efforts to obstruct the annual Fred Coleman Memorial Shoot held each Labor Day since 1934.

According to the Sept. 16, 1991, U.S. News & World Report, more than 10,000 spectators and 1,000 animal rights activists were on hand that day exchanging insults and slogans promoting their opinions.

The protestors have promised to return in greater numbers each year until the shoot is stopped.

"It is a relic of a less evolved society," Hindi said of the shoots.