In the past few weeks, I’ve detailed our recent undercover investigations into gruesome wildlife killing contests in Illinois and Nevada. Nothing about these investigations is easy to see or hear. But I want to explain why we are so committed to exposing these events to the public and to lawmakers.
Many people don’t even realize that such events take place in their state. These investigations are crucial to expose and eventually end this blood sport.
Following the release of our investigations, thousands of Illinoisans and Nevadans contacted their state policymakers asking that they stop the cruel spectacles. It’s clear that most people do not support the killing of animals for cash and prizes. A January 2022 poll by Remington Research Group found that 80% of American voters oppose killing contests, while a poll by the same firm in April 2022 showed that 73% of Illinois voters support banning the events. The issue has garnered attention in major media outlets including a recent story by National Geographic.
Killing contests are a widespread scourge, taking place in nearly all the 42 states that still allow them. Our research uncovered at least 730 contests nationwide in 2022, which led to the deaths of an estimated 36,500 to 110,000 animals.
We are working state by state to prohibit killing contests, just as advocates did with cockfighting and dogfighting, both of which are now illegal in all 50 states. We’re backing legislation in Nevada, New Jersey and New York, and encouraging the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Board to introduce regulations. And last December, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission directed the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife to begin the rulemaking process for a ban on killing contests. Eight states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington—have outlawed killing contests since 2014.
Creating change is challenging. Participants frequently perpetuate myths to justify their hobby, such as falsely claiming that killing contests reduce coyote numbers, prevent conflicts with livestock and boost populations of game species like deer and turkey for hunters. These claims can gain traction with influential policymakers, even though the best available wildlife management science clearly refutes them. We’re also up against state wildlife management agencies that historically cater to the interests of consumptive users of wildlife, including killing contest participants.
In Virginia, the Department of Wildlife Resources introduced a rule in 2021 to prohibit killing contests, explaining that they were doing so based on science and to protect the reputation of the hunting community. During the public comment period, 77% of Virginians expressed support for the proposed rule. Yet just a few months later, the department’s board voted to table the rule, and the department bowed to pressure from contest organizers and participants. Since then, thousands of Virginia residents have contacted the agency asking it to resume the rulemaking process to end killing contests but have been met with silence. In Illinois, in December 2022 we petitioned the Department of Natural Resources to prohibit contests, and thousands of residents contacted the agency in support. But ignoring science, ethics and the will of the people, the Illinois department simply punted the issue to the legislature.
State wildlife management agencies disregard this issue at their own peril. Even many hunters and wildlife management professionals have spoken out against wildlife killing contests, calling them unethical, unsporting, unscientific and a threat to responsible hunters. By ignoring pleas to end these contests, wildlife management agencies risk jeopardizing the legitimacy of their agencies. We will continue to hold them accountable until this bloodshed ends. You can help.
Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.