Wildlife Killing Contests: Legalized Evil

Wildlife killing contests are held regularly in New Mexico and many other states. They are organized events in which contestants compete for prizes by killing the most animals over a given time period.

Wildlife killing contests serve no legitimate management purpose.

They range from well publicized, sponsored events to informal contests announced on the Facebook pages of predator-killing enthusiasts. (There are many such pages, such as Predatormasters, Predator Hunting Dog Down, Kill Shit, NM Desert Dogs etc.) Prizes are also sometimes offered for the largest and smallest animals killed.

Guy holding two dead coyotes

The most common targets are coyotes, but other targets include foxes, prairie dogs, skunks, badgers, bobcats, and other unprotected species. Contestants usually use high-powered firearms to kill their targets at long distances, often after luring them in with calling devices. The AR-15 is a popular weapon among predator hunters. It is a modified version of a rifle developed for the military, accurate at long distances.

Prairie dogs are simply used for target practice without any pretense of “fair chase.”

Wildlife killing contests are legal in every state except California and Vermont. (Colorado limits the number of animals that can be killed by each participant to five, which is not much of a restriction.)

Participants in prairie dog shoots enjoy the "red mist" that occurs when their targets are disintegrated by high powered rifles at distances of up to 800 yards. Is this "hunting"?

Wildlife killing contests happen because many species of wildlife are not legally protected.  In New Mexico, for example, there are seasons but no bag limits for furbearers such as bobcats and foxes, which means you can kill as many as you like during much of the year.

For other species, such as coyotes and prairie dogs, there is no protection at all. You can kill as many as you like at any time.

A five year old looks at a coyote killed in a Pennsylvania killing contest. What sort of values is he learning?

Wildlife killing contests give ethical hunters a bad name. Using animals for live target practice violates one of the core tenets of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation: wildlife should only be killed for a legitimate purpose.

Advocates of wildlife killing contests often say that such events are needed to “manage” wildlife to prevent overpopulation, protect livestock or increase game animals. Science does not support these claims.

Coyotes, for example, are self-regulating. Coyotes are intelligent animals that often mate for life. A pair will defend territories against other coyotes. When resident coyotes are removed, they are quickly replaced by new arrivals.

The indiscriminate killing associated with wildlife killing contests does not target specific coyotes that are attacking livestock.

There is evidence that wildlife killing contests may actually increase conflicts with livestock by leading to higher pup survival rates (and so more mouths for adults to feed), and increasing the number of younger, transient individuals that may be more predisposed to attack livestock.

Killing predators indiscriminately does not necessarily translate to more game animals since ungulate populations are often limited by other factors, like habitat and climate.

Wildlife killing contests ignore the ecological importance of target species. Coyotes, for example, help to keep prey populations in check, including rodents that carry human diseases such as hantavirus and plague. Prairie dogs are a keystone species upon which many other wildlife species depend to some extent.

Coyotes eat prodigious numbers of rodents, including species that carry human diseases such as hantavirus and plague.

While wildlife killing contests have little impact on overall coyote numbers, they disrupt pack family structure and causes needless suffering to individual animals, not just to those that are actually killed or wounded, but to those that are left orphaned and unable to fend for themselves.

Learn more about the science of coyote population management from this short video, featuring Dave Parsons of Project Coyote:

Wildlife killing contests undermine the economic benefits of wildlife to New Mexico. Non-consumptive users of wildlife comprise about one-third of the state’s population. They outnumber hunters and anglers by nearly two to one, and account for $328 million in annual expenditures related to wildlife-watching.

The Southwest Environmental Center is determined to outlaw wildlife killing contests in New Mexico.

A SWEC-led rally in Las Cruces last year helped persuade the Utah group Predator Masters to hold their annual coyote "hunt and convention" somewhere else.

What you can do

1) Sign the End Wildlife Killing Contests petition 

2) Contact Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and your state legislators. Tell them to support legislation to make wildlife killing contests illegal in New Mexico. Find your state legislator: http://www.nmlegis.gov/lcs/legislator_search.aspx

3) Help us make New Mexico the first state to ban wildlife killing contests through legislation. Click here to donate to the campaign.

4) Volunteer! We need all the help we can get, writing letters to the editor, making phone calls, attending rallies, etc. Contact Peter at roseann@wildmesquite.org to sign up.

In the News

Check out these great articles and editorials on wildlife killing contests.

"Howling over coyote carcasses", Lauren Villagran

"No coyote deserves to die like this", editorial Arizona Republic

"Balance needed in laws dealing with coyotes", editorial Las Cruces Sun News

"Coyotes serve a purpose greater than target practice", Nathan Cote