Today, veterinarians and 18 organizations, led by the Humane Society of the United States, submitted a petition to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources requesting that the agency initiate rulemaking to prohibit cruel, unnecessary wildlife killing contests in the state. At least 20 killing contests that target coyotes, foxes and raccoons for cash and prizes took place across Illinois in 2022.
Wildlife killing contests are organized events in which participants compete for cash and prizes—typically guns—for killing the most, largest or smallest animals over a period of one or two days. To achieve high kill numbers, participants use electronic calling devices to attract coyotes and foxes into rifle range with sounds that mimic prey animals or young in distress and then shoot them with AR-15-style weapons fitted with night vision and thermal imaging scopes.
Competitors then gather at celebratory events—often with young children in attendance—to weigh and count the bodies, pose for pictures next to piles of bloody carcasses, and receive their prizes. Following the event, the animals are typically dumped like trash. Even the fur often goes to waste because the high-powered guns rip holes in the pelts. Hundreds of animals may be killed at a single contest.
While eight states have already prohibited these cruel contests in the last few years, the Illinois DNR has failed to act. In fact, the IDNR has taken a position of opposition to legislation introduced earlier this year that would have prohibited killing contests—catering to the whims of the few Illinois residents who choose to competitively slaughter the public’s wildlife for cash and prizes.
An April 2022 poll by Remington Research Group found that 73% of Illinois voters support banning killing contests and 83% believe that wildlife like coyotes and foxes are important to healthy Illinois ecosystems.
“Wildlife killing contests make a sadistic game of slaughtering animals for prizes,” said Marc Ayers, Illinois state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Senselessly gunning down coyotes and tiny foxes and then dumping them like trash is far outside the realm of what most Illinoisans would find an acceptable pastime. We urge the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to join the eight other states that have already taken a stand against this unconscionable, cruel bloodsport.”
Eight states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington—have outlawed killing contests, and last Friday the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission directed the state agency to draft a similar rule to prohibit coyote killing contests. When proposing the rule, Oregon commissioners joined wildlife agencies and commissions in six of the states that have already banned killing contests in stating that they are unethical, not supported by sound science and damage the reputation of hunters and threaten the future of hunting. There is no scientific evidence to support participants’ claims that killing contests reduce coyote numbers, boost populations of game species like deer or turkey for hunters, or minimize conflicts with livestock. In fact, the best available science shows that random killing of coyotes, such as occurs during killing contests, can increase coyote numbers and increase conflicts with livestock.
The Humane Society of the United States has gone undercover to investigate many of these competitions. Investigators documented participants dragging bloody animal bodies to scales to be weighed, children playing among dead animals, competitors bragging about the “thrill” of the kill and trucks bearing license plates and stickers bragging about this sick game included sayings like “COYOTE HEARSE,” “YOTE H8R” and “KLN YOTES.”
Groups and individuals that submitted the petition, led by the Humane Society of the United States include Harvard Law School Animal Law & Policy Clinic, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Born Free USA, Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Species Coalition, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, Illinois Bobcat Foundation, In Defense of Animals, the National Wolfwatcher Coalition, Pegasus Foundation, Pettus Crowe Foundation, Predator Defense, Sierra Club - Sangamon Valley Group, Second Nature Wildlife Rehabilitation, Speak for Wolves, Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust, Wolf Conservation Center, state veterinarians, and faith leaders.
“The draft rule as proposed in the petition is a sensible and narrowly constructed regulation that aligns with hunting ethics,” said Ayers. “Its effect would be simply to prohibit competitions that involve the mass killing of animals for cash and prizes. It would not otherwise restrict the take of species covered. It would also not ban field dog trials, big buck contests or fishing tournaments, nor would it prevent farmers and landowners from using lethal control to protect livestock.”
HSUS undercover investigations and footage at wildlife killing contests, photos/video available for download: