Wildlife Killing Contests Are Sick, Cruel and Have No Place in Civilized Society

In October and November, participants in two gruesome wildlife killing contests in Nevada compete to claim the most coyote carcasses for cash or other prizes. The town of Austin recently held its annual Coyote Derby in early October, and next month the Nevada Predator Hunters will hold the 8th Annual Nevada Coyote Calling Championship in Las Vegas.

Wildlife killing contests, which target coyotes, foxes, bobcats, or even prairie dogs and pigeons, are grisly spectacles that are about as far as one can get from "fair-chase" hunting, and are no better than a blood sport like dogfighting or cockfighting. It’s all about body counts and has not a thing to do with the values that rank-and-file sportsmen profess.

At the coyote contests in Nevada, for instance, participants often use high-tech equipment such as powerful weapons and electronic calling devices that lure these curious animals by imitating the sounds of a fellow coyote or prey in distress. Countless dependent young may be orphaned during these events, left to die from starvation, predation, or exposure. Participants often toss away the bodies as if they are trash.

Wildlife killing contests occur more frequently across the United States than any reasonable person might imagine, although they are more heavily concentrated in the upper Midwest and the Northeast, and in Texas and the western states. Nevada also features the “High Desert Shootout,” while Arizona marks the holidays with the “Santa Slay Coyote Calling Tournament” and Idaho does the same with a “Christmas Songdog Challenge.” The Idaho Varmint Hunters host a “Whistlepig Tournament” for killing the heaviest groundhogs. Hawaii has the “Keep the Blood Flowing Hog Hunting Tournament,” while Iowa’s “Annual Howlers Bawl Coyote Contest” offers prizes for the largest number of coyotes killed, as well as for bringing in the “big dog” and “little dog.” In 2017 Montana took aim at coyotes, foxes, badgers, porcupines, and rabbits in its “4th Annual Fur-Busting Coyote Derby,” and Texas draws in participants for an astounding variety and number of contests that put coyotes, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and many more species in the crosshairs.

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After the contest, participants often toss away the bodies of the animals as if they are trash. Above, carcasses of coyotes after a killing contest in Illinois earlier this year. Photo by Marc Ayers/The HSUS

The HSUS is working with regional and national wildlife protection organizations like Project Coyote, Animal Protection of New Mexico, and others to address wildlife killing contests at the local, state, and federal levels with litigation, legislation, and public outreach. So far California, Colorado, and Maryland have passed laws or regulations limiting some of these contests which vary by species, and the state of New York is currently considering a measure to ban them outright.

The contests have also been opposed by some sportsmen’s organizations, including the Boone and Crockett Club whose Big Game Records Committee issued a statement condemning “programs, contests or competitions that directly place a bounty on game animals by awarding cash or expensive prizes for the taking of wildlife.”

Mass killing of animals by people is anti-ecological. Persecution of coyotes disrupts the social structure of coyote communities, and may even trigger an increase in breeding and produce more coyotes. The indiscriminate killing of native carnivores fails to target problem animals, and can actually lead to an increase in conflicts with livestock. Coyotes also play a large role in controlling rodent populations and other species often considered “pests,” so the entire predicate for the mass killing is faulty.

Newspaper pictures of stacks of bloody carcasses from coyote killing contests send a message about disrespect for life and classes some animals as “good” and others as “bad” or “evil.” The state of Nevada recently approved landmark legislation to end the trafficking in the parts of imperiled wildlife, and the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners just enacted a tremendously forward-thinking ban on the commercial collection of reptiles. The Silver State should continue this positive trend by banning these backward, cruel, unsporting, and, frankly, embarrassing coyote killing contests.

Advocates across the United States can now fight back against cruel wildlife killing contests in their own communities with our new toolkit, “Wildlife Killing Contests: A Guide to Ending the Blood Sport in Your Community.” Email the HSUS Wildlife Protection team at wildlife@humanesociety.org for your copy.

This article was originally published on Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.

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