Pigeon racing club draws members from local community, nation and world

Photography by Alice Mary Herden

Gulfcoast Homing Club is a local pigeon racing club here in Hernando County.

“We have the largest club in the world,” said Vernon Young, president of the Gulfcoast Homing Club.

Civilizations have utilized homing pigeons for sport, communication and in times of war for centuries. Pigeons can be extremely valuable, some having sold for hundreds of thousand of dollars.

Homing pigeons have a unique and most intelligent sense of direction. How they find their way home is still under debate, however a new theory from Jon Hagstrum, a geophysicist, suggests sound as a way to navigate back to their loft. (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130130-homing-pigeon-navigation-animal-behavior-science/)

CHC started in 1985 in Pasco County but eventually outgrew that 10 acre location. In 2003, the new club built in Hernando County is thriving with over 200 members from all over the world.

Vernon Young, President of the Gulfcoast Homing Club holding one of his birds.

Pigeon Racing is actually a sport. It requires a competitive edge, a love of comradery and of course the dedication to raise, train and tend to your pigeons; hundreds of pigeons.

The loft is the pigeon’s home, some from birth. These lofts can be simple and others can be as elaborate as a small two story home!

When the birds are raised from birth they are trained to adapt for flight distance and navigation.

The training starts early for these birds. Once their home (loft) is established, distance is put between the pigeon and its home. In the beginning, it could be just a few blocks and as training continues the that distance could be miles. Distances can range up to 600 miles.

Each pigeon is banded on both legs: one dated and the other is an electronic chip. The chip tracks the bird for distance and time.

The first week of October to the first of November is racing time for these members. The young birds start out 100 miles on the first week, then the distances are increased. The older pigeons start at 120 miles and the farthest distance is 500 to 600 miles.

“They can fly 600 miles, 11 hours,” Young said.

The pigeons are transported in a trailer that can hold up to 3700 pigeons. When they arrive at their mile location the birds are released and the race has begun.

The percentage of the pigeons that return home is about 99%, however that may change due to weather or other incidents.

The first race starts the week of September 19th with a 100 speed sprint taking off in Alachua, Florida. There is a race every Saturday until the end of November.

This club is not only just members, it’s a community. Young explained that half the members live in Hernando County and the other half live in Pasco County. They have social events from dinners to dances.

“I like the competition and comradery. There is nowhere else in the world where you see forty to fifty people you know every day,” Young said.

Vernon Young | 240 Spring Time St, Spring Hill, FL 34608 Phone: (352) 684-7734 | http://www.gulfcoasthomingclub.com/

More information about Pigeon Racing: American Racing Pigeon Union |PO Box 18465 -Oklahoma City, OK 73154-0465 |Tel: 405-848-5801 | http://pigeon.org/index.html

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