Hubbard's Cupboard: At least this time they are not shooting live pigeons...

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The Independent Online

The sound of crackling gunfire is not uncommon in east London so the residents of Woolwich will be unperturbed as bullets fly this morning at the Royal Artillery barracks. Finalists take aim in the men's 50m rifle and 25m pistol events, but at least the local wildlife can rest easily. No pigeons will be shot this time.

They were back in Paris in 1900, while the London Games of 1908 also had moving targets –but these were cardboard cut-outs of running deer. Oscar Swahn, a 60-year-old Swede, won two golds and a bronze in the running deer and competed in the Games until he was 72.

If that sounds as if it was strictly for the birds, it actually had been in 1900 when Paris hosted the weirdest and most controversial event: live pigeon shooting. Fortunately, it was a turn-off, and a one-off.

The object was to shoot and kill as many birds as possible. The pigeons were released in front of a marksman and the winner was the competitor who gunned down the most. Participants were eliminated once they missed two birds. Nearly 300 birds were killed.

The event turned out to be incredibly messy with dead or injured birds on the ground. An award of 20,000 francs was the prize for the winner, Leon de Lunden, of Belgium, who bagged 21 of the 300 released birds.

Shooting live birds was a no-no in London in 1908, where nightingales continued to sing happily in Trafalgar Square.