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In the spring of 2020, an HSUS investigator noticed something unusual: Just as some annual in-person killing contests for coyotes, foxes, bobcats and other animals were being canceled because of COVID-19, groups devoted to online killing contests were being formed. For a per-contest entry fee, these groups, with hundreds and hundreds of members, offer chances to compete for cash pots that can total thousands of dollars by killing the most or largest or smallest animals over a weekend, plus raffles for “predator” hunting equipment. Contestants submit videos of the animals they’ve killed, shaking the bodies to show there’s no rigor mortis to prove the animals were killed during the official contest period. People have joined the contest websites from at least 42 states, including those where contest killing is banned, such as Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Washington. In an edited interview with senior writer Karen E. Lange, the investigator talks about this new form of trophy hunting and why it’s so cruel.

How many animals are being killed in online contests versus in-person contests? 

A lot. Most in-person killing contests start around November and go through March, but some of these online groups are year-round. Participants can compete constantly if they want, week after week. Participants in one online group kill scores of animals every weekend. 

Undercover shot of dead animals from a wildlife killing contest

How is this different from what most people consider sportsmanlike hunting?

All the equipment just makes it so easy. It’s not really about understanding coyote behavior and stalking. It’s "play a digital call, and the animals come out." It’s like the ice cream man—play a little song and all the kids come out. They have these digital machines with loudspeakers. They can dial up hundreds of animal sounds: rabbits in distress, red fox in heat, coyote in distress. I would bet some of these guys barely get out of their vehicles except to retrieve dead animals. I have seen where they have their weapon on a tripod in the back of the vehicle. Almost all of them use modified AR-15s [semi-automatic rifles originally designed for military use]. And they use silencers so they can get more than one coyote. If they have a silencer, they can take out the others in the group. They pretend they’re engaging in some dangerous activity. There’s nothing dangerous about it for them. Animals die.

They pretend they’re engaging in some dangerous activity. There’s nothing dangerous about it. Animals die.

Undercover investigator

Who is promoting these contests?

There is a real emphasis on the gear involved. These guys are obsessed with it. They love their weapons and their calling devices, night vision and thermal imaging scopes and scanners. It’s the kind of technology law enforcement might use to find fugitives in the woods. And the military uses. It’s very high-tech, very expensive. They have their AR-15 set up with their thermal imaging scope. Sometimes these weapons are set up to actually record video, so they can relive their "heroic" animal slaughter moments. Some contests even award prizes for best video of a kill. 

The companies that make this stuff sponsor the contests. They invest heavily in their market. They’re constantly trying to recruit new customers. They want to keep people doing this. It’s insidious. There was a recent animal killing contest for youths and a lot of the prizes were donated by equipment companies. It’s like cigarettes—gotta get ’em hooked.

How do people try to justify these killing contests, since data shows there’s and research has proven that killing coyotes actually increases their numbers? 

I have not seen any reason they do this other than for fun or money. They post brag pictures of dead animals in the backs of their trucks. They’ll say, "One less fawn killer." It’s just nonsense. Coyotes are omnivores, they are beneficial at reducing the rodent population, they serve a purpose. But these guys lure these animals out, kill them as quickly as possible, make their little videos and then dump them and go out and do it again. It’s this massive slaughter. It’s beyond disgusting.

TAKE ACTION: Help pass more laws against wildlife killing contests. In 2021, we are supporting legislation to ban contests in Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Oregon (as well as a bill in Congress to address killing contests at the federal level).

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