Today, we released the grisly findings of three undercover investigations into wildlife killing contests in Virginia, including the largest contest held east of the Mississippi River. The heartbreaking callousness and carnage our investigators saw at the weigh-ins of the three contests, which took place over the last 13 months, make it clear that Virginia should be the next state to ban this shameful pastime.

It was an eerie scene at the Eastern U.S. Predator Calling Championship in Wytheville on January 9, 2022, where investigators watched as trucks filled with dead coyotes and foxes slowly pulled into the Apex Arena, in assembly line fashion, to weigh and count the bodies. Young children played around the bloodied animals laid out on the dirt floor. A scent of rotting flesh filled the air.

Contestants of a wildlife killing contest bring their dead foxes and coyotes to be weighed and counted for prizes in Dugspur, Virginia, on January 17, 2021.

Over the previous 44 hours, participants in the contest had gunned down at least 590 coyotes and several dozen foxes for the chance at champion belt buckles, trophies and $25,600 in prize money. Prize categories included killing the most, the smallest and the heaviest coyote; the heaviest and smallest fox; and the most combined of the two species. First place for “most coyotes killed” went to a three-man team that shot 38 coyotes. The “smallest fox” killed during the event weighed just 6.8 pounds—smaller than the average house cat. Organizers call the contest a “family-friendly event” and the “premier predator hunting event in the Eastern United States.” People from all states east of the Mississippi River were encouraged to participate in the competition, which takes place annually.

At the Kanawha Valley Predator Calling Championship in Dugspur in January 2021, trucks were adorned with phrases like “COYOTE TAXI” and “YOTE H8R,” epitomizing the unrelenting persecution that coyotes have endured for more than 100 years. Investigators documented contestants dragging coyotes and foxes, some with gaping wounds, from their trucks to the weigh station. Once again, children played among the dead animals strewn across the ground. First place went to a two-man team who killed 52 animals alone. At least 315 coyotes and foxes were slain during the contest.

And at the 2nd Annual Fall Predator Tournament located at the Lovingston Volunteer Fire Department in November 2020, firefighters helped weigh and count dead coyotes and foxes, which were swarming with flies on an unusually hot fall day.

These are disturbing but all-too-familiar scenes for our investigators, who have attended eight other such contests since 2018 in Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Texas. Participants in these events make no secret of the true motive behind the killing: prizes, bragging rights and fun. They joke about “gut shots,” boast about their high kill numbers and powerful guns fitted with night vision scopes, gloat of the “thrill” of using digital technology to lure animals in for an easy kill and admit to throwing animals in dumpsters after the prizes are awarded.

While these disgraceful competitions continue in staggering numbers in Virginia and nearly all the other 41 states where they are still legal, they have received widespread condemnation in recent years as more people learn about them. A new poll by the respected firm Remington Research found that 80% of Americans are opposed to wildlife killing contests, and wildlife management professionals and hunters across the country have raised ethical concerns about the events and warn that they risk threatening the public’s acceptance of hunting in general. Tony Wasley, director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife and president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, recently stated, “Killing contests are ethically upsetting by virtue for most members of society. Hunting should not be a competition as such behavior ultimately degrades the value of life and undermines respect for the animals being hunted.”

The science, too, is unequivocal: Wildlife killing contests are not a tool for managing wildlife and are even counterproductive to such goals. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources recently explained that there is a “misconception that predator killing contests provide benefits to the public and other wildlife species,” and there is “no scientific evidence” to support claims that killing contests reduce carnivore numbers, prevent livestock attacks or boost populations of game species like deer for hunters. The best available science shows that indiscriminately killing coyotes actually increases their numbers and increases conflicts with livestock.

We won’t stand by as a small subset of people treat our country’s wild animals as nothing more than pawns in a game for cash and prizes. We’re working in states across the country to eradicate killing contests and the cruelty and violence they promote. Last year—in a landslide, bipartisan vote—Maryland became the eighth state to prohibit such contests (after California, Vermont, New Mexico, Arizona, Massachusetts, Colorado and Washington). Neighboring Virginia, where more than 60 wildlife killing contests have taken place since 2015, along with Illinois, New Jersey and New York, are all considering legislation to outlaw killing contests this year.

You can help relegate these horrific contests to history by learning more and contacting your HSUS state director to find out how you can get involved. Virginia residents can contact their state lawmakers and ask them to support legislation to ban wildlife killing contests.

Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.