Thousands of Predators Killed in Controversial U.S. Wildlife Killing Contests

A lone wolf standing in the snow and howling.
Wolves are one of the many targets in Wildlife Killing Contests. Photo by colfelly at Pixabay.

Trophy hunting and sport hunting have long provoked intense debate. Yet the most provocative of them all is Wildlife Killing Contests.

These tournaments take place on public land throughout the U.S. and mainly target wolves, pumas, bobcats, foxes and coyotes. Participants kill for prizes that range from engraved belt buckles to cash rewards of up to $50k and compete in specific categories such as “Biggest Bobcat”. Hunting a diversity of species is encouraged and some teams have been known to kill over 100 animals in a single contest.

The “Biggest Bobcat” may award cash prizes. Photo by milesz from Pixabay.

Shooting, sometimes at close range, is the typical method of hunting in these contests. An electronic device that emits the sound of young cubs or prey may also be used to lure predators into rifle range and into an easy kill. The bodies are later weighed as part of the competition and then discarded as waste.

Contests may even take place online. Participants kill predators wherever they live and submit videos on social media of the dead animals being weighed and measured in order to be judged virtually for prizes. These online events are sometimes held on a weekly basis and facilitates participation by eliminating the need to travel long distances to attend in-person competitions.

Those in favour of Wildlife Killing Contests argue that these tournaments are effective at protecting livestock from predators and help increase numbers of game species such as deer and turkeys. However, the United States Department of Agriculture states that in 2015 less than 1% of cattle and sheep, including calves and lambs, were killed by predators such as pumas, coyotes, foxes and predatory birds. The most common causes of livestock death are disease, birthing problems and the weather. Additionally, there’s little scientific evidence that supports killing predators as an effective way of protecting livestock.

Some research shows that killing predators can make things worse for livestock. One study found that hunting older male predators, the typical targets, increases predation because it opens up more territory to younger adults, who tend to be more aggressive. It may also force predators such as coyotes into new territories, which can increase conflicts with livestock.

Filmmaker Filipe DeAndrade, who’s film Wildlife Killing Contests explores these tournaments in-depth (see trailer below), describes these competitions as “animal genocide”. DeAndrade, who spent time with contest participants while filming his documentary, said via Instagram the hunters see animals as a target practice rather than “living breathing beings contributing to an evolving ecosystem.”

He explains that game hunters also oppose Killing Contests as it gives hunting a bad reputation. Hunting in a sustainable way, says DeAndrade, has its time and place, and is often better than buying commercial products or grocery store meat. However, Wildlife Killing Contests do not fall under this category and that “indiscriminate killing of wildlife is not wildlife management or hunting, it’s sport killing.”

Pregnant females are sometimes killed during the contests as well as recent mothers, leaving dependent young pups and cubs to die from starvation, exposure and other predators. Killing Contests also have a wide impact on the surrounding habitats as native carnivores play a crucial role in healthy ecosystems. Coyotes, for example, help control the transmission of diseases by eating carrion, stabilise rodent populations, remove sick animals from the gene pool and protect crops. 

Killing Contests can disrupt the natural balance in the ecosystem, causing game populations to boom out of control. Before the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone, the elk population grew so large that hundreds died of starvation during the harsh winters and tens of thousands had to be culled or relocated to bring down numbers. The wolf packs helped stabilise elk numbers, creating more resilient herds by picking off the weaker animals and bringing balance back to the ecosystem.

Several U.S. states have outlawed killing contests for coyotes, foxes, and other predator species, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington. Other states are considering similar action, yet there are still over 40 states left to act. Several wildlife advocates, including Project Coyote, are lobbying for a national ban both to stop mass predator killings and to protect our natural environment. As DeAndrade wrote, “at a time when our relationship with nature is more important than ever for our survival, all out war on wildlife is not helping our cause.”

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