Coyote Carnage: The Gruesome Truth about Wildlife Killing Contests (2023)


Coyote killing competitions, where contestants vie to shoot the most animals, are held throughout the U.S. But some hunting groups are denouncing these events as unethical, and states from New Mexico to New York are considering bans on these and other wildlife killing contests.

By TedWilliams May22,2018

Wildlife killing contests are legal in all U.S. states save California. The most popular targets are coyotes — “varmints,” as they’re commonly called even by some wildlife officials.

Contestants fan out into the countryside, and, with rifles often equipped with telescopic sights, methodically pick off any coyote that is flushed out by dogs or comes to investigate calls that mimic wounded prey. The most prolific killers win cash or prizes like outdoor paraphernalia and AR-15 rifles. Sometimes there’s a children’s division.

Body counts are impressive. Example: In last January’s Big Sandy American Legions’ annual “Coyote Derby” in northern Montana, 146 contestants dispatched 191 animals. Carcasses are piled or hung, photographed and, in virtually all cases, discarded.

Also targeted in coyote killing contests are other “varmints” that happen to show themselves. These can include bobcats, foxes, raccoons, crows, rodents such as prairie dogs, and even wolves.

The sponsors of the killing contests wrongly argue that these events help prevent coyotes from taking livestock and deer.

You may legally kill most “varmints” whenever you want and in any quantity you want. And, because few of these animals are officially designated as “game,” hunting regulations prohibiting “wanton waste” don’t apply — you can just let them rot where they drop.Bounties are even paid on coyotes by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resourcesand certain counties in Virginia and Texas.

Hundreds of varmint killing competitions take place across the country with names like Southern Illinois Predator Challenge, Oklahoma’s Cast & Bang State Predator Championship, Park County (Wyoming) Predator Palooza, Iowa Coyote Classic, Idaho Varmint Hunters Blast from the Past, Michigan’s Dog Down Coyote Tournament, Minnesota’s Save the Birds Coyote Hunting Tournament, and the Great Lakes Region Predator Challenge.

Not all or even most traditional hunters approve. “Awarding prizes for wildlife killing contests is both unethical and inconsistent with our current understanding of natural systems,” declares Michael Sutton, former president of the California Fish and Game Commission — a body that promulgates hunting regulations. “Such contests are an anachronism and have no place in modern wildlife management.”

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Varmint killers counter that they perform valuable public service, wrongly arguing that these contests help prevent coyotes from taking livestock and deer. “Wanted dead or alive for the crimes of stealing fawns, turkeys, & livestock,” reads one poster. “Shoot a coyote. Save a deer,” is a shibboleth in varmint-hunting circles. And the caption over a posted video on the Facebook page of a group called Coyote Contest boasts, “Well done! Saving livestock one bullet at a time!”

Their message doesn’t seem to be getting through.

California was the first state to prohibit these killing contests, instituting a ban in 2014. A lawsuit that shut down Oregon’s large JMK Coyote Hunting Contest that same year has been followed recently with: national and state petitions for bans from groups and individuals advocating for native wildlife; cancellation of the Boonie Club Crow Shoot in Williamstown, Vermont, after a social media outcry; the unanimous vote last March by Albuquerque’s City Council for a resolution condemning coyote killing contests and calling for a statewide ban; and impending bills to ban wildlife killing contests in New York, Nevada, New Jersey, and New Mexico. A bill banning coyote killing contests passed the Vermont State Senate on May 9 and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Coyote Contest is just one of many organizations working to remedy this mindset. “If you’re not aware, predator and varmint hunting is under attack by those that have no idea of the repercussions to farmers, ranchers, and wildlife if we were to stop keeping numbers in check,” it warns.

“Anything that doesn’t honor the animals grates on us and seems inherently wrong,” says a former official of a hunters’ organization.

What are these “repercussions?” I put the question to hunter and wildlife biologist Carter Niemeyer who finds the contests “disgusting.” From 1975 to 2000, Niemeyer worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, which kills predators mostly for the benefit of stockmen. Since his retirement he’s been able to speak freely.

“We did two types of control,” he said, “‘corrective’ when, say, two coyotes were killing sheep and we’d go in and remove them, and ‘preventive’ — gunships in the air every flyable day to shoot any coyote because it might eat a sheep someday.”

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The day before our interview Niemeyer had been in Boise, Idaho, giving a talk on predators to Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a group that promotes fair chase.

“They were the younger generation,” he said. “They looked like Marines. Angry, old white men just weren’t there. They were extremely receptive. One story I told them is the time in Montana we sent in a helicopter and randomly shot a bunch of coyotes. The rancher called me a couple days later and said: ‘Carter, do coyotes revenge kill? We haven’t had trouble with coyotes all winter. We saw your helicopter the other morning and heard lots of shooting. Now we’ve got coyotes killing sheep. What the hell’s going on?’

“When you have coyotes eating rodents and rabbits around sheep, that’s desirable. Random shooting — ‘preventive control’ — creates chaos, removing the good coyotes. So other coyotes immediately come in to fill the void, and some may be undesirables. Same with bears and mountain lions.”

Since Niemeyer left Wildlife Services, the agency has devised innovative non-lethal controls, and it works on eliminating alien invaders that threaten imperiled species, especially on islands. But lethal “preventive control” of native predators still happens. With such models from federal authorities, it’s easy to understand the thinking behind wildlife-killing contests — random shooting as a wildlife control technique.

Robert Crabtree, who did the seminal work on coyote biology in central Washington and Yellowstone National Park, reports that most “control” takes out the non-offending coyotes, the ones that are not bothering livestock.

Crabtree notes that to really control coyotes it’s necessary to remove at least 70 percent of a population, something he says “rarely, if ever” happens. Moreover, virtually all coyote “control” results in more, not fewer, coyotes. Crabtree reports that where coyotes are left alone, the average litter size at birth is five or six, but because of all the competition in summer only 1.5 to 2.5 pups survive. Where coyotes are killed by humans (never resulting in a population reduction approaching 70 percent), less competition results in significantly higher survival.

“Predator hatred is hard-wired even in people who should know that predators make prey strong and fleet.”

And Crabtree has determined that because coyote “control” reduces the number of adults able to feed the young, packs tend to abandon their normal diet of rabbits and rodents and turn to larger prey like livestock, antelope, and deer.

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Chapters of the hunting group Pheasants Forever sponsor competitions to kill native coyotes for the alleged benefit of alien pheasants. That reasoning is apparently not shared by the editors of the group’s national magazine, which last year published an article entitled “Like Pheasants? Thank a Coyote.”

The piece was written by avid pheasant hunter Rich Patterson. Quoting wildlife biologists, he reported that coyotes are opportunists, preferring mice, rats, gophers, mountain beavers, rabbits, squirrels, snakes, lizards, frogs, fish, pet food, garbage, crops, poultry, house cats, and insects to hard-to-catch pheasants and that they run off major pheasant predators such as raccoons, foxes, opossums, minks, and weasels.

“In my youthful hunting years,” Patterson wrote, “I would have never passed up a chance to ‘help’ pheasants by shooting any coyote that came into range. No longer. Instead of sending a pheasant load his way I merely shout, ‘Thanks fella!’”

Patterson’s view is shared by many in the hunting community. At Orion: The Hunter’s Institute, an organization “dedicated to improving the image of hunting with an emphasis on fair chase ethics,” founder Jim Posewitz said, “I don’t think any form of hunting should be competitive. I think we need to encourage a more sensitive relationship with the animals we hunt.”

Eric Nuse, former executive director of the International Hunter Education Association, offered this: “We don’t like anything that smacks of commercialization with money or prizes. Anything that doesn’t honor the animals grates on us and seems inherently wrong. These contests create very poor PR for hunters.”

It’s rare to see agreement between the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Boone and Crockett Club, which advocates “the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit” of big game. But a HSUS treatise on wildlife killing contests, identifying them as “grisly spectacles that are about as far as one can get from ethical, fair-chase hunting,” elicited this response from Mark Streissguth, who chairs Boone and Crockett’s committee for Hunting and Conservation Ethics: “They got at least this part right.”

“By remaining silent about killing contests, wildlife agencies endorse the notion that predators are harmful,”says one conservationist.

State wildlife agencies acknowledge the biological fact that organized shoots can’t control varmints, but otherwise tend to avoid the debate. An exception is Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources, which sponsors the “Georgia Coyote Challenge,” awarding rifles to winners. The contest is intended to benefit deer. But Georgia deer are so grossly overpopulated that the season limit is 12, and hunters can even use dogs — “retrievers,” goes the joke, because Georgia deer are so stunted.

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“By remaining silent about killing contests, wildlife agencies essentially endorse the notion that predators are harmful,” remarks Walt Medwid, a founder of the Vermont Wildlife Coalition which pushed the state bill to ban coyote killing contests. “Predator hatred is hard-wired even in people who should know that predators make prey strong and fleet. Fighting these contests is fine, but unless we change the infrastructure empowered to make wildlife decisions we’re in some ways spinning our wheels.”

Melissa Groo, a wildlife photographer who advises the National Audubon Society on photography ethics, puts it this way: “I’m fine with hunting for food, but these killing contests are wanton waste, not hunting… At a time when so much of our wildlife is in peril, I think we should look at these animals differently and understand that they have families, feelings, and relationships. Let’s honor them by celebrating their lives instead of their deaths.”

The hard-wired hatred of predators that Medwid cited was documented in a 2014 article in Vice by writer Christopher Ketcham. He’d gone undercover as a supposed participant in Idaho’s Coyote and Wolf Derby sponsored by Idaho for Wildlife. He even shot when he saw a wolf, purposely missing.

Ketcham and his three co-conspirators showed up for the derby dressed for the part — camo pants and jackets, wool caps, heavy boots and impressive ordnance, including an assault rifle. A contestant named “Cal” bought them drinks.

Cal is quoted as follows: “Gut-shoot every goddamn last one of them wolves.” Ketcham goes on to report that Cal recommended armor-piercing bullets, explaining that gut-shooting with these rounds, rather than aiming for the heart or lungs, has two advantages: First, they’ll pass right through instead of mushrooming; so the animal will suffer, running in panic for a mile or so before it bleeds out. Second, if you’re hunting illegally (as recommended by other contestants), game wardens won’t find a bullet.

The public revulsion generated by such reporting is a major frustration for wildlife killing contest promoters. That’s why reporters and photographers are banned from competitions like the Coyote and Wolf Derby.

“Contests all over the country have been shut down over the past few years… and event coordinators are being hassled both in the media and at their events,” laments Coyote Contest.

It further laments that contests requesting to be listed on Coyote Contest’s website (a tiny fraction of those held nationally) declined from 56 in 2014-15 to 30 in 2015-16 to 17 in 2016-17. It’s not clear if this drop indicates a reduction in killing contests or merely the promoters’ desire to evade public attention.

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Correction, May 25, 2018: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Colorado and South Dakota pay bounties on coyotes. Colorado and South Dakota no longer have coyote bounty programs.


What's the point of killing coyotes? ›

The practice of coyote hunting protects livestock, controls populations, and helps farmers and ranchers, along with the ecosystem as a whole. To deer hunters, coyote hunting challenges hunting ability, promotes hunting practice in the off-season, and protects vulnerable wildlife.

What states have banned wildlife killing contests? ›

Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington have now outlawed killing contests for coyotes, foxes, bobcats and other species, and several other states are considering similar action. There is simply no place for wildlife killing contests in modern society.

What do hunters do with coyote kills? ›

While it is legal to kill coyotes, the proper way to dispose of them is to bring them to a landfill.

Can coyotes take down a deer? ›

As the photos reveal, coyotes are persistent and work systematically when they kill a deer. As documented in previous issues of Deer & Deer Hunting, coyotes will sometimes kill younger deer by cornering the animal to the point where one coyote will move in and bite down forcefully on the deer's muzzle.

Can you shoot a coyote in your yard? ›

Unlike game animals and endangered or protected species, coyotes have no special protection. Anyone can kill them without tags or permits.

Will a coyote come back if you shoot at it? ›

Second, most coyotes will run a short ways and look back, presenting a second shot opportunity at a stopped target. Lastly, with a one-shot policy, that coyote will return sooner if missed. It may even come back that very night, or it may be in the near future.

What is the most illegally hunted animal? ›

This is estimated to be up to 80% in some species over the past 20 years, with a further 80% decline predicted over the next two decades. As such, pangolins are now believed to be the most trafficked mammal in the world. The rate at which these animals are traded across international borders is staggering.

What state has the most deaths by wildlife? ›

According to the study, annually across the United States, eight people fall victim to wildlife, with thousands seeking medical attention following bites each year. The study found that Texas was the leading state for attacks having over 200 more than California, which came in second.

What is the most hunted game in America? ›

1 | White-Tailed Deer

The white-tailed deer is the most common and hunted big game animal in North America. Mature bucks in the South weigh as little as 100 to 125 pounds and bucks in the North can weigh upwards of 300 pounds.

Why killing coyotes doesn t work? ›

They are ineffective.

It is extremely difficult to ensure that the problem-causing coyote(s) will be the one(s) located and killed. Coyotes removed from an area will quickly be replaced by others. Coyote pairs hold territories, which leaves single coyotes ("floaters") constantly looking for new places to call home.

How much is a coyote pelt worth? ›

Wood's Trapping Today website includes a 2022-2023 fur price market forecast where he predicts best-quality heavy western coyotes to bring in approximately $30-$40 per pelt, while lower-quality eastern coyotes may only bring in $10-$25 per pelt. Good-quality raccoon pelts may bring in $10-$15.

What gun is best for a coyote? ›

223. One of the most popular and all-around calibers for predator hunting is the . 223 Remington. It is arguably the most used caliber for predators such bobcats, foxes, and primarily coyotes.

What animal gets rid of coyotes? ›

Get a dog. Dogs are very territorial animals, and they would bark at or chase other intruding mammals. A large-sized dog is your best bet in getting rid of coyotes.

Are coyotes good for anything? ›

As the top carnivore in some ecosystems, coyotes provide a number of benefits including regulating the populations of smaller predator species, such as skunks, raccoons, and foxes, which helps boost biodiversity.

What are coyotes afraid of? ›

In truth, coyotes are afraid of people, objects thrown in their direction, loud noisemakers and sounds, bright lights, and predator urine. All of these can help to repel and deter coyotes from your property.

Are coyotes afraid of barking dogs? ›

Barking can pique a coyote's interest, although it is more likely to scare it away after they notice a human is present. However, if your dog shows signs of eagerness to meet wildlife, try to distract with treats or change direction to reduce interaction and communication, preventing further escalation.

Will a coyote run at you? ›

Coyotes rarely attack people. However, they may see your pet as a threat or even prey, so it's always good to keep an eye on these canines if they're near your property. If coyotes find food in neighborhoods consistently, they may slowly start losing their fear of people.

Does dog poop attract coyotes? ›

Pick up after your pet. Dog feces can attract coyotes into your yard.

What to do if a coyote runs at you? ›

Don't run away from a coyote.

If you're approached by a coyote, make and keep eye contact with the animal, leash any dogs or pick up smaller dogs, and make some noise. Yell, wave your arms, throw something at the coyote to get it to go away. If it doesn't, leave calmly.

How do you get coyotes to leave? ›

  1. Yelling and waving your arms while approaching the coyote.
  2. Noisemakers: Voice, whistles, air horns, bells, “shaker” cans full of marbles or pennies, pots, lid or pie pans banged together.
  3. Projectiles: sticks, small rocks, cans, tennis balls or rubber balls.

What is the only animal that will hunt humans? ›

Although humans can be attacked by many kinds of non-human animals, man-eaters are those that have incorporated human flesh into their usual diet and actively hunt and kill humans. Most reported cases of man-eaters have involved lions, tigers, leopards, polar bears, and large crocodilians.

What is the most secretive animal? ›

They are the Aardvark, African Wild Cat, Cape Porcupine, Civet, Large-spotted Genet, Pangolin and Serval. These 7 creatures are difficult to find. They are rare, shy, cryptic, secretive and nocturnal. If these creatures are so rarely seen, how can one monitor or research them?

What is the number 1 threat to wildlife? ›

Habitat loss—due to destruction, fragmentation, or degradation of habitat—is the primary threat to the survival of wildlife in the United States.

What's the deadliest animal on earth? ›


The mosquito is the single deadliest, most dangerous animal in the world and also one of the smallest. Mosquitoes are estimated to cause between 750,000 and one million human deaths per year.

What animal kills the most Americans? ›

While larger animals like sharks or hippos may seem a likely culprit, the animal that kills the most humans per year is actually the mosquito.

What US state has the best hunting? ›

1. Alaska. If you're already a hunter, this choice needs no explanation. It's the Jurassic Park of big game hunting.

What state has the most animals to hunt? ›

Alaska: Best State for Really Big Game

However, very few states have the abundance, diversity, and magnitude of quality game animals that Alaska offers. For this reason, it very much deserves a mention. Alaska has a reputation built around its apex predators, but it's the ungulates we want to highlight here.

What states do the most hunting? ›

The Most Popular States for Hunting and Why
  • Alaska. Alaska is easily the number one dream hunt location for many people, largely due to the variety of different animals you can hunt there and how hard it is to actually make it there to hunt. ...
  • Texas. ...
  • Montana. ...
  • Colorado. ...
  • Wisconsin. ...
  • Wyoming.
Jul 15, 2021

What are coyotes weaknesses? ›

Swift, tough and wily, the coyote has only 2 known weaknesses: it sleeps heavily and looks back while fleeing, both of which the savvy hunter can take advantage of. Coyotes are, on the whole, monogamous, and couples remain together for many years.

Why do farmers not like coyotes? ›

The biggest problem with coyotes for humans is predation of livestock. Coyotes will attack a variety of livestock, with sheep and fowl being at the greatest risk. The other two problems of most concern are the predation of pets and the concerns for human safety.

Which state has the most coyotes? ›

Coyotes (Canis latrans) are found through most of California. The California Department of Fish and Game estimates a population range of 250,000 to 750,000 individuals. Coyotes are very adaptable and inhabit most areas of the state with the exception of the centers of major metropolitan areas.

How many coyote pelts does it take to make a blanket? ›

For this project, I would be working with 6 pelts with a pretty drastic size difference from largest to smallest, making my task of creating a uniform blanket a bit more challenging. Knowing what I know now, I would definitely aim for approximately 10-12 pelts.

What are bobcat hides worth? ›

These bobcats, from Canada and parts of the Lower 48 outside of the top Western sections, may continue to bring averages of $60-90. However, any weakness in the market could send these prices down to the $30-50 range. Nobody seems interested in Red Fox or Greys. They'll probably fetch around $10 on average.

What weapon is best for coyote pelt? ›

Using a Bow and arrows, or a repeater, should be considered when hunting for a clean kill. Their pelt can be sold or used in crafting, and their meat can be consumed, though it is considered stringy."

What do coyotes like the most? ›

They eat rabbits, carrion (dead animals), rodents, deer (usually fawns), insects (such as grasshoppers), livestock and poultry. Coyotes eat fruit including berries and watermelons. They will also eat cats and dogs.

What time of day are coyotes most active? ›

Coyotes are not strictly nocturnal. They may be observed during the day, but are generally more active after sunset and at night. You may see and hear coyotes more during mating season (January - March) and when the young are dispersing from family groups (October - January).

Should coyotes be killed? ›

The best available, peer-reviewed science shows that indiscriminately killing coyotes is counterproductive and a threat to healthy ecosystems. There is no credible evidence that indiscriminate killing of coyotes effectively serves any beneficial wildlife management purpose.

Are coyotes helpful or harmful? ›

Coyotes play an important role in the ecosystem, helping to keep rodent populations under control. They are by nature fearful of humans. However, if coyotes are given access to human food and garbage, their behavior changes. They lose caution and fear.

Are coyotes helpful or harmful to humans? ›

Coyotes are wild animals that are potentially dangerous, but coyote attacks against grown humans are rare. Coyotes should be avoided and treated with caution. They can be very dangerous to children and pets, but following prevention tips can keep you, your family and your pets safe.

Is coyote meat edible? ›

Coyote meat is perfectly edible but something of an acquired taste. Many people refuse to eat coyote because it looks so much like a domestic dog, while its reputation as a dirty animal puts others off.

How do you get rid of coyotes without killing them? ›

Fox also recommends clearing away brushy areas around your property than coyotes may see as safe denning or hiding spots. Mow tall grass and remove thin brush and rubbish piles. Flashing lights can help to deter coyotes as well. You can install motion-activated lights on your property to keep them away.

What do coyotes think of humans? ›

Coyotes rarely attack people. However, they may see your pet as a threat or even prey, so it's always good to keep an eye on these canines if they're near your property. If coyotes find food in neighborhoods consistently, they may slowly start losing their fear of people.

Will a coyote chase a human? ›

Coyotes are losing their fear of humans, which is further worsened by people intentionally or unintentionally feeding coyotes. In such situations, some coyotes have begun to act aggressively toward humans, chasing joggers and bicyclists, confronting people walking their dogs, and stalking small children.

Has a coyote ever attacked a human? ›

We conducted an analysis of coyote attacks on humans in the United States and Canada, including 142 reported incidents of coyote attacks resulting in 159 victims. Most attacks were classified as predatory (37%) or investigative (22%) in nature.

Should you look a coyote in the eye? ›

Coyotes are wary of humans and your presence is usually enough to drive off a coyote. Maintain eye contact. Do not turn your back on the coyote and do not run. Running away can trigger a coyote's prey drive and may cause him or her to chase you.

What to do if coyote approaches you? ›

If you see a coyote during the daytime, you should exhibit caution, as that coyote may have become habituated to humans (and may be more likely to attack). If you are approached by a coyote, you should yell, wave your arms, and/or throw something at the coyote (do not run away).

Will coyotes eat cats? ›

Coyotes typically hunt small mammals such as mice, voles and rabbits. If given the opportunity, they will also make a meal of a cat, tame or feral. Dogs, especially smaller breeds, are also at risk, although attacks on them are rarer.

What is a coyote favorite food? ›

Coyotes are generally scavengers and predators of small prey but can shift to large prey occasionally. The most common food item for coyotes is small rodents.

What do trappers do with the meat? ›

Trappers would preserve their meats with salting or drying to produce bacon, smoked ham, corned beef, dried fish or salt pork [5]. This prevented spoilage and extended shelf life.


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