At the end of a macabre “contest” in Mendon, Illinois, a young boy carries the lifeless bodies of coyotes streaked with blood and torn apart by bullets. He walks across blood-soaked pavement, struggling under the weight of the animals as he helps to load the bodies onto trucks, while other children watch. Adult participants hang animals upside down from a scale to be weighed and judged for prizes, then throw the bodies into heaps or line them up on the ground for photos. The event’s organizer is Nuggets Night Vision, a manufacturer of night vision and thermal optics devices often used in wildlife killing contests. The overwhelming stench of decay fills the air.

Our undercover investigator was on site to witness this chilling spectacle. Over the 45-hour contest period in early February, competitors gunned down 405 coyotes—an ecologically important carnivore native to the American prairie—to compete for $15,000 in prize money. Prizes were awarded for killing the most, the heaviest and the smallest coyotes. Participants could also enter a raffle for a thermal imaging rifle scope. A three-man team was crowned champion for killing the “most coyotes”—49 of them—with second place awarded for killing 27.

The animals don’t stand a chance against these odds. The equipment used, which can cost many thousands of dollars, simply overwhelms the animals’ ability to escape. Competitors first lure animals into gun range with electronic calling devices that mimic the sounds of coyote or fox young or prey in distress, and then shoot the animals with AR-15-style weapons often fitted with night vision and thermal imaging scopes.

At the Nuggets Night Vision contest, out-of-state teams brought dead coyotes across state lines from Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Wisconsin. At least one coyote from Kansas appeared to have severe mange. The bodies were not checked for disease, nor were diseased animals disqualified from the contest—a practice that causes concern among some state wildlife agencies.

One participant told our investigator that in noncompetitive hunts, he shoots coyotes and leaves them to rot where they fall. He said coyote bodies aren’t worth anything and are thrown away. Typically, after killing contests are over, participants dump the bodies like trash.

A pile of dead coyotes after a killing contest in Illinois in February 2023.

This contest was not a one-off. At least 28 killing contests took place in cities and towns across Illinois in 2022, targeting coyotes, foxes, raccoons and crows. Nationwide, at least 730 contests took place in 2022, killing an estimated 18,000 to 110,000 coyotes, foxes, bobcats, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs, porcupines, armadillos, opossums, beavers, cougars and other species. The competitions take place in nearly all of the 42 states that still allow them. In December 2022, we joined veterinarians and 18 organizations to petition the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to prohibit wildlife killing contests in the state. The agency has thus far allowed these contests to continue.

We have conducted undercover investigations in many states—Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas and Virginia—to expose these grisly events to the public. A poll by Remington Research found that 80% of Americans are opposed to wildlife killing contests. Eight states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington—have banned killing contests in recent years, and we are working state by state to get them outlawed across the U.S., just as we’ve done with dogfighting and cockfighting. There is promising movement, too. In December, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 6-1 to direct the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to draft a rule to ban killing contests, and legislation to do the same is pending in Nevada, New Jersey and New York.

You can help end this bloody spectacle by learning more and contacting your HSUS state director to get involved with our campaign. Illinois residents can contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and ask the agency to prohibit cruel, unsporting and ecologically destructive contests.

Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.