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The haunted life of a pigeonnaper
Bil Gilbert
April 17, 1961
A simple sportsman, he is forced to skulk in a shadow world, spied on by the police, pursued by savage humanitarians
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April 17, 1961

The Haunted Life Of A Pigeonnaper

A simple sportsman, he is forced to skulk in a shadow world, spied on by the police, pursued by savage humanitarians

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Pigeonnaping is not, in the classical sense, a primary pastime. It is one of the derivative, getting-ready games, things that must be played before something else can be played. These deserve more attention than they have received from recreation authorities, for they are the challenge and curse of all minor-minor, or way-out-in-left-field, sports.

Of all the minor-minors, none is so beset with getting-ready games as is falconry. A falconer needs many things: hoods, jesses, mews, self-control and the disposition of a saint. But more than gear, more than virtue, he needs a hawk. No hawk, no sport. Getting a hawk for falconry, once the work of proud, clever professionals, is now a grubby do-it-yourself job, the objective of a whole complex of getting-ready games.

The best method of snaring a wild, adult hawk (the only sort worthy of falconry) is to use a bow net, trapping on mountain ridges or ocean beaches during the fall migration of the diurnal birds of prey. Bow netting is a tough getting-ready game in itself. First the trapper must design, manufacture and assemble the 80-odd parts of a bow net. Then, to bring a hawk down from a horizon-wide pool of sky into the 10-foot net, he needs sharp reflexes, luck and maniacal determination. But no matter how complete his equipment and experience, a man cannot net a hawk unless he has two live pigeons. One is used to bait the net, the other is flown about the top of a pole as a lure. Replacement pigeons are also needed, since used hawk bait is seldom salvageable.

It is at this point that the bravest spirits may be broken, for danger and humiliation lie in wait for anyone who wants to lay hands on common, ordinary, lousy pigeons. The technical term is pigeonnaping: a demanding, exasperating getting-ready game.

Pigeons can be bought, but only fancy varieties at fancy prices or obese squab breeds that are as useless on a lure pole as a bullfrog on a fly rod. Country pigeons are tough and active enough for bow netting but can only be caught at night in barns. The rural pigeonnaper has to convince farmers that he is not a dangerous lunatic but a fun-loving sportsman. Farmers are a skeptical lot and most pigeonnapers prefer to take their chances in city parks, zoos and streets.

Pigeonnaping means living in the evil underworld of city pigeons, the most disreputable class in the bird world. They are dirty and lustful. They cannot sing. They build nests of dung. They dress sloppily. But like all city species, they are suspicious and superb at survival.

Let us create a scene illustrating the nature of pigeons and pigeonnapers. It is a hot August afternoon. The place is a grass-worn city park with benches, a fountain and hundreds of pigeons. An octogenarian lady is describing her granddaughter's depravity in clinical terms to an elderly friend. By the fountain a small boy, carrying a sack, of popcorn, is surrounded by still another gang of free-loading pigeons.

Enter a pigeonnaper. He wears a heavy winter overcoat, its pockets bulging with bags of pigeon goodies—corn, peanuts and millet. The coat is essential, the basic snatching costume. Captured pigeons will be stuffed under it. But because the napping season comes in late summer the coat tends to make the snatcher conspicuous. The pigeonnaper sits down. The pigeons spot him as a bad 'un, fly up, light 15 feet away and glare.

"Look," cackles the old lady, "that queer man in the black coat. Something wrong about him. Eyes too close together. I can tell every time. The little pigeons are afraid of him."

The pigeonnaper humbles himself before the birds and people. He scatters his bait and croons, mimicking the obscene tone of a pigeon fancier. "Nice pidgey, come here, pidgey, thataboy whitey, come whitey, you dirty glutton. You'd show up for 10 miles on a lure pole. Have a peanut."

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