Tickets for the Holley Fire Department's annual squirrel-shooting contest were sold out despite national efforts protesting the event. But, it escalated beyond protesting.
The Holley Chief of Police says the FBI has been contacted after the village's Mayor, Fire Chief and elected officials received death threats, urging the event to be canceled.
It was an usual sight in the village square. Cars beeping, people shouting and dead squirrels hanging out of car windows. For seven years, the fire department's Squirrel Slam fundraiser was unknown to many of its own residents.
"I said, 'Protesting what?' She said, 'Squirrel Slam'. I said, 'What's squirrel slam", said Holley resident Brian Blackburn.
The Fire Chief says a Texas woman who learned about the fundraiser posted her outrage on various social media sites. And, almost overnight, the residents of Holley had to defend their actions.
"We tried our best to reach Holley officials to get this awful event canceled and we were refused," said Edita Birnkrant, New York Director for Friends of Animals.
Every year, residents buy a ticket, hunt up to five squirrels and bring it back to the fire department where they prepare a dinner from them. The hunter with the biggest squirrel receives a cash prize.
"Encouraging the children of Holley and the adults to engage in a killing contest, to be rewarded for killing, and the idea that's the best way to raise funds for a fire department is appalling," said Birnkrant.
Normally 200 tickets are sold each year. This year, 1,000 were sold. Critics call the event cruel and a bad example for children. Supporters say hunting is part of the area's culture.
"You teach the kids how to respect the wildlife, no one ever let their kids shoot something just to shoot it, it's consumed," said Dan Macdonald of Holley. "I taught them gun safety at a very early age. Safety starts at home, you educate your children, you don't keep things from them, you have no problems."
"I don't believe we have any of our Firefighters hunting squirrels. We are here to make sure the event is successful, safe," said Holley Fire Chief Peter Hendrickson.
And while some residents think all the commotion is nuts, they're looking at a bigger picture.
"There is no such thing as bad publicity. If it gets Holley on the map, who knows maybe people will decide to check it out; it's really a wonderful place," said Blackburn.