Would you like to earn money and prizes by killing coyotes, foxes, cougars, bobcats, wolves, raccoons, squirrels, crows, rattlesnakes, rabbits, prairie dogs, groundhogs or skunks?
If so, you can participate in one of the thousands of wild animal killing contests licensed and sometimes promoted by 44 national hunting and fishing agencies. Such contests are legal in all western states except California, Washington, Arizona, and Colorado.
These events have names like “Song Dog Smackdown”, “Good Ol Boy ”and“ Predator Palooza ”Fall Predator Tournament.
The names of the competing teams are no less evocative. Place high in a Lone Star Predator Calling Classic were “Beer Belly Varmint Hunters ”and“ Team Anthrax ”.
Standard equipment includes recliners, electronic predator calls, tripods and other weapon rests, spotting scopes, searchlights, night vision goggles, other thermal imaging equipment, and guns. high-capacity assault equipped with telescopic sights. Prizes include cash – $ 50,000 if you win the West Texas Big Bobcat contest – and accessories like camouflage clothing and AK-47s.
Many competitions have children’s divisions. Sponsors include gun companies, sporting goods stores, fire departments, 4-H clubs, and chambers of commerce.
The number of bodies is impressive. One of the 717 teams in last year’s Big Bobcat contest counted 94 foxes. Carcasses are piled up, photographed and invariably discarded.
“Event coordinators are harassed,” lament the directors of a murder contest support group called the Coyote Contest. “Help us promote those who still understand and appreciate the services provided by predator hunters!” Commentators on the group’s website explain these “services”: “Save a fawn; kill a coyote ”,“ Wanted dead or alive for the crimes of fawn, turkey and cattle theft ”,“ Save cattle one bullet at a time! “
It doesn’t work that way. Predators kill game and livestock, but no game species in the United States is suppressed by predation, and overcrowded species like elk and deer lack the predators necessary to maintain their health and that of the native ecosystems.
Robert Crabtree, who did the foundational work on coyotes in central Washington and Yellowstone National Park, reports that to reduce a coyote population, at least 70 percent of the animals must be eliminated – which he says , “Occurs rarely, if ever. ”
He found that where coyotes are not persecuted, the average litter size at birth is five or six, but due to competition for prey, one to two puppies on average survive their first year. When coyotes are shot, trapped, or poisoned, pup survival increases because competition is reduced.
So, “control” of coyotes results in more coyotes, not less.
Additionally, Crabtree found that indiscriminate killing of predators increases livestock loss. Because the “control” of the coyote (which, again, does not approach 70 percent) reduces the number of adults able to feed the young, the packs tend to abandon their normal diet for small mammals and to turn instead to larger prey, such as cattle.
Carter Niemeyer, a retired predator control officer, tells the story of the breeder who called him after an air operation. “Carter,” said the breeder, “does coyote revenge kill? We haven’t had any problems with the coyotes all winter. We saw your helicopter the other morning and heard a lot of gunfire. Now we have coyotes killing sheep. What the hell is happening?
Here’s the explanation: Random shooting from predators creates havoc by removing “desirable” ones. Other predators fill the void, including ‘undesirables’ who kill livestock
The public gets tired of competitions that kill wildlife. Three years ago, they were legal in all states except California. Now they are also banned in Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts and Maryland. New Mexico and Vermont have banned coyote killing contests.
The competition to kill wildlife scandalizes the community of fair hunters. “We don’t like anything that smacks of commercialization with money or prizes,” notes Eric Nuse, a hunter educator who sits on the boards of directors of Orion – The Hunters’ Institute and the New England. Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “Anything that does not honor animals eats away at us.”
Wildlife killing contests can erode “public opinion on ethical hunting,” reports the Wildlife Society, made up of 11,000 biologists and managers.
No trained wildlife professional believes that killing contests accomplish anything worthwhile. This from the Pennsylvania Game Commission: “The agency (has) finally accepted the reality that predator control doesn’t work.” Yet the Commission still sanctions 27 major wild animal killing contests that attract thousands of participants.
Why do 44 national game and fishing agencies continue to authorize these competitions? Money. Employees are fed and clothed largely by income from hunting licenses; and competitors who kill wildlife must purchase hunting licenses even if they are not “hunters”.
More specifically, the people who compete to kill wild animals are described by their detractors as “murderers”.
Ted Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to sparking a lively conversation about the West. He is a nationally recognized writer on wildlife issues.