Hunters, protesters clash over hunting contest

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HOLLEY, N.Y. -- A weekend squirrel hunting contest to raise funds for a western New York volunteer fire company drew about 30 animal rights protesters and a heavy police presence following heated criticism of the once-obscure event.

Organizers of the "Hazzard County Squirrel Slam" say they sold 900 tickets at $10 each for hunters as young as 12 to vie for cash prizes for bagging the largest squirrel and the heaviest group of up to five.

News media in the Rochester area reported that threats included in thousands of emails that critics sent to village and state officials urging them to call off the hunt prompted police to bring in extra officers to monitor what turned out to be a peaceful, and sometimes colorful, protest on Saturday.

Outside the squirrel weigh-in station, one demonstrator carried a sign reading "Teach Kindness, Not Killing" as a hunter walked by with dead squirrels hanging from his camouflage jacket pockets.

Edita Birnkrandt, director of New York Friends of Animals in Manhattan and an organizer of the protest campaign, said she was disturbed by an event that encourages youngsters "to pick up a gun and kill defenseless animals for prizes."

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She and other protesters chanting "Shame on Holley, New York" faced about 150 supporters of the hunt, some responding with a chant, "Squirrels taste good!"

Police charged one man with harassment after he shouted at Birnkrandt, first inviting her home for a squirrel dinner and then saying "someone would be shooting you" if police weren't standing by.

Austen Reid, 19, who watched the protest with a fellow Rochester Institute of Technology student, told the Batavia Daily News he "just wanted to see this. We're hunters, but we couldn't get tickets." He said he hadn't heard about the hunt before the national attention generated by the critics.

"It's their right to protest and it's our right to hunt," he said. "There's nothing wrong with that. They get around on subways and we drive pickup trucks. It's all the same."

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