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Upstate NY fire department hosting squirrel hunt

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HOLLEY, N.Y. (AP) -

A weekend squirrel-shooting contest in upstate New York is a sell-out, with all 1,000 tickets spoken for, organizers said, despite a push by animal rights groups and others to cancel the event.

The 7th annual "Hazzard County Squirrel Slam" will raise money for the volunteer Holley Fire Department, the event sponsor. 

Prizes ranging from $50 to $200 will be given out Saturday for the largest squirrel shot and the heaviest group of five squirrels. Five rifles and shotguns are to be raffled off, according to a flier on the western New York fire department's website.

Critics have sought to stop the event through online petitions and protests, calling the event cruel and a bad example for children. The contest targeting red and gray squirrels is open to anyone over age 12 with a hunting license.

"Declaring someone a winner for killing the most animals influences children and the wider community to believe that wildlife is unimportant and killing for a monetary prize is meritorious," Brian Shapiro, New York state director of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in a letter to Holley Fire Chief Pete Hendrickson.

Supporters say hunting is just part of life upstate, including in the largely rural village of 1,800 people on the Erie Canal. 

"This is a community of hunters and they're going to hunt anyways. Why not hold a fundraiser that will reach our community," the event's chairwoman, Tina Reed, told the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester. She said the event has grown each year: This year, 1,000 tickets were made available after it sold out of 200 tickets last year.

Participants must abide by New York's hunting regulations, hunting only where it is permitted and killing no more than six squirrels in a single day. Shooting will be followed by a weigh-in, then a dinner.

State Sen. Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat, called the contest insane during an Albany news conference with the group Friends of Animals earlier this week. The group planned to protest outside the Holley Fire House on Saturday afternoon.

Avella's upstate colleague, Sen. George Maziarz, a Democrat who represents Holley, defended the fundraiser, saying hunting, fishing and shooting sports are part of the region's lifestyle.

"It's like a fishing derby but it's squirrels, not fish," Maziarz spokesman Adam Tabelski said Friday.

Neither the fire department nor members of its board of directors returned telephone and email messages from The Associated Press.

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