"Coyote calling contests"—in which contestants compete for prizes to see who can kill the most coyotes in a specified period of time—are found across the west and midwest. In South Dakota, coyote hunters gather at bars the night before a hunt to bet on winning teams and take bets on who will kill the biggest animal.

Unfortunately, these deadly competitions are spreading into the east as coyotes move back into territory from which they were driven by hunters over a century ago.

Small towns and local motels often promote calling contests as a way to attract visitors. In fact, there is a circuit of contests that attracts semi-professional contest killers who take part in most of the best-known events. The most lethal even become celebrities of a sort, regaling their fans with war stories about coyotes they have shot while never once placing themselves in any danger.

Deceived and seriously outgunned

Contestants use two basic techniques, both involving mechanical, commercially manufactured- and marketed- calls. The first is to imitate the cries of coyotes in distress, and the second includes imitating a downed prey animal, usually a deer or rabbit. Coyotes then come to investigate what they perceive to be a fellow coyote in trouble or a possible meal.

Waiting for the coyotes is a two-person team of hunkered-down, camouflaged killers—a shooter with a high-powered, long-range, tripod-balanced, scope-mounted rifle, often equipped with an electronic range finder; and a spotter using powerful binoculars to search the countryside for any signs of a coyote on a mission of mercy or in search of a meal.

Counting the dead, forgetting the wounded

It is not unusual for several hundred coyotes to be killed in the course of a three- or four-day contest. How many are wounded by the difficult, long-range shots that are usually necessary—and left to wander off and die slow, painful deaths—is something that contest aficionados never talk about.

Noble words and dirty deeds

Coyote killers like to brag that they are protecting livestock and providing a service to ranchers. But this is just a smokescreen to disguise what they are really doing: killing for entertainment and prize money. According to wildlife biologist D. J. Schubert, "There simply are not enough predators killed in a concentrated area during predator contest killing events to have any impact."

There are ways to protect livestock from coyotes that really do work, such as electric fencing, strobe lights, and guard animals—including dogs and llamas—who integrate very well into livestock herds. Killing coyotes for cash and kicks isn't one of them.