Update 9/19/23: In a win for coyotes and other animals, on Sept. 15, 2023, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to prohibit wildlife killing contests across the state. A coalition of 22 conservation organizations, hunters, wildlife management professionals, scientists, veterinarians and advocates submitted testimony in support of this move. Oregon is now the ninth state to end these gruesome competitions.
Earlier this week, we led a coalition of organizations in submitting a petition to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission proposing a ban on killing contests in the state.
Wildlife killing contests are grisly events where participants compete to kill as many animals as possible for the chance to win cash and prizes. For instance, in Oregon’s Harney County Coyote Classic this year, as many as 300 coyotes were killed over a two-day period. More than 1,000 coyotes have been slaughtered in these contests in Oregon over the last four years.
During these events, participants may use electronic calling devices to attract coyotes into rifle range with sounds that mimic their prey or even coyote pups in distress. Because of the chaotic nature of the contests, animals may suffer gunshot injuries that can take days or weeks to succumb to, even indirectly due to starvation, predation or exposure. The carcasses of the animals killed in such contests are usually wasted. These contests promote gratuitous violence and send the message that killing is fun, animals are disposable, and life is cheap.
Animal advocates, conservation groups, scientists, veterinarians, land trusts and farmers have spoken in strong support of outlawing killing contests in Oregon. Former chair of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission Mike Finley backs the petition to end these cruel contests. A hunter himself, Finley has condemned killing contests, explaining that “killing large numbers of predators as part of an organized contest is inconsistent with science-based wildlife management and antithetical to the concepts of sportsmanship and fair chase.” Finley testified in support of legislation to prohibit these contests in Oregon and, since lawmakers have failed to listen, has joined those pressing the commission to do the right thing and ban the practice.
Increasingly across the nation, hunters and wildlife management professionals like Finley are plainly calling out these competitions as being unethical and serving no purpose. Tony Wasley, president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife, and also a hunter, recently stated that “killing contests are ethically upsetting 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.”
People who support the contests continue to try to vilify coyotes, foxes and other wildlife species in order to justify these killing sprees, but their sentiments are increasingly going against larger public opinion. A whopping 80% of Americans oppose killing contests, according to a January 2022 poll by the bipartisan firm Remington Research Group. Another poll found similarly strong support among Oregonians for a ban. A study by researchers at the Ohio State University showed that between 1978 and 2014, the public’s positive attitudes toward coyotes, the most frequent target of killing contests, grew by 47%, with the majority of respondents expressing positive attitudes toward coyotes. The researchers theorized that this increase in positive attitudes toward coyotes may indicate that Americans are growing more concerned for their welfare.
Other studies, including The Nature of Americans report, have found that Americans express broad interest in nature, believe connecting with nature is important and want to conserve wildlife species and their habitats. And a keystone study, the America’s Wildlife Values project, has documented a substantial shift in public attitudes away from a traditional view of wildlife—of human mastery and that wildlife should be managed for human benefit—and toward a mutualist view, or the belief that humans and wildlife should coexist and that the welfare of animals is important. The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies has underscored the need for wildlife agencies to appeal to a broader constituency to ensure that the agencies remain relevant in the future.
Allowing a very small minority of people to pilfer the public’s wildlife for prizes is against the principles of the public trust doctrine, which holds that government must protect wildlife for the benefit of all. This isn’t an issue of culture or differences in values between urban and rural residents, either. When it comes to wildlife, people—whether they live in urban, suburban or rural areas—do not support practices that they view as pointless, unsporting or wasteful. Wildlife killing contests are not rooted in tradition, and they are not subsistence hunting—they’re just a blood sport that makes a game of killing animals. That’s why eight states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington—have already outlawed the events.
Our campaigns and investigations across the nation have been shining a light on cruel killing contests. Thousands of people recently contacted the wildlife agencies in Oregon, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Virginia, asking them to prohibit killing contests too. The agencies would be wise to listen.
Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.