By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
It is a bloody scene at the Texas weigh-in of the “De Leon Pharmacy and Sporting Goods’ Varmint Hunt #1” on a cold January morning this year. Participants in this wildlife killing contest are unloading the bodies of bobcats, grey foxes, coyotes and raccoons from their trucks, which are expensively outfitted for the killing with raised decks, comfortable chairs and gun mounts. Sixty or so animals have been slaughtered over the contest’s 21-hour period, using assault rifles and other powerful weapons.
Our undercover investigator is on site, documenting the goings-on. The animals have gun shot wounds in their heads and bodies, with their organs spilling out and faces partially destroyed.
One participant stands over a row of animals he killed. He casually nudges a coyote with his foot, telling our investigator: “I shot this one up here in the throat from high up and it blew out the whole bottom of his chest.” The weapon he used, he says, was a high-end, custom-built rifle that uses .22 Creedmoor cartridges. “They’re like a .22-250 on steroids” and “not very fur-friendly,” he notes. “In these contests, it’s not about—like, you know, I wouldn’t use something like that if you wanna save the fur.”
A team of three men, calling themselves “Dead-On,” are the winners, having killed five coyotes, two bobcats, a raccoon and a fox. Contest organizers hand out more than $3,000 in cash prizes.
Earlier, on December 6, our investigator documents similar cruelties at another wildlife killing contest in Warren County, Indiana. At the Williamsport Fire Department, where the winners are determined, participants pile up dead animals, some already stiff, to be judged for prizes. They discuss the barbaric ways in which they killed the animals and they punch holes into their legs so they can hang them upside down and weigh them.
Like the Texas contest, this one allowed the use of high-tech equipment to kill animals, including electronic devices used to lure them into the open by mimicking the cries of dependent young. The adult animals who approach are quickly mowed down. The guns used are so powerful, they obliterate the animals' fur.
“I enjoy it,” says one participant, about the killing. He says he is a regular coyote hunter and uses an AR-15 rifle with night vision to shoot animals. He and his team killed 128 coyotes last season, he brags.
The apparent winners of this contest are four men who dub themselves the “Midwest Predators.” They wear matching team jackets. Together they have killed about 16 of the approximately 60 coyotes slaughtered during the two-day event.
Cruelty such as this is hard for most of us to fathom. Unfortunately, it is very real and it is happening all around us, in nearly all of the 43 states where wildlife killing contests such as these are still allowed. They encourage the killing of wild animals like coyotes, bobcats, foxes and raccoons for fun and for cash prizes, and they are held at the most innocuous places, like fire departments, pharmacies, restaurants and even churches, completely unregulated by state wildlife agencies. Children are often present, and sometimes even encouraged to participate.
In most cases, the bodies of the animals killed have no use after they have been weighed and the prizes handed out. They are sometimes tossed into large dumpsters or left in the woods to rot in piles.
Over the past three years, the Humane Society of the United States has documented the carnage at wildlife killing contests from coast to coast—in Oregon, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and New York, and now in Indiana and Texas. Our goal is to wipe them out—and the senseless cruelty they endorse and encourage—for good.
The reason we turned the spotlight on Texas and Indiana this time is because wildlife killing contests are rampant in these states and in the rest of the nation’s heartland. Texas, in fact, likely has more wildlife killing contests than any other state in the country—around 50 every year. The contests target a broad range of species, including bobcats, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, badgers, jackrabbits, ringtails, opossums and even mountain lions and crows.
One such event, the nation’s biggest, is the West Texas Big Bobcat Contest, held in San Angelo every year between January and March. During its first leg this year in January, 644 teams competed for $148,000 in prize money. The winning two-man team that killed the biggest bobcat raked in $45,080, while another team collected $6,440 for killing 81 foxes in 23 hours.
At Indiana’s Coyote Showdown contest held in Greenfield in January 2021, roughly 45 teams killed 109 coyotes and 10 red foxes, according to social media posts.
Participants and those who seek to keep these contests alive falsely claim that they help prevent wildlife-livestock conflicts. There is no evidence to show that this is true and our own analysis of federal data has shown that numbers commonly offered to back such claims are grossly overestimated. Most Americans are, in fact, disgusted by wildlife killing contests, and want them to end.
Fortunately, as a result of the work we’ve done to expose the cruelty, seven states now ban wildlife killing contests, and many more are working on bills to end these events in Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Oregon. This is important work aimed at ending the unnecessary suffering for thousands of animals every year who are victims of these contests, and we need your help. If you live in Texas or Indiana, please contact your state director to see how you can help end wildlife killing contests. We also urge you to call your Senators and Representative in Congress and ask them to pass a federal ban on these contests. Wildlife killing contests do nothing but promote a culture of insensitivity and cruelty against wild animals who play important roles in the ecosystems they inhabit. These animals definitely do not deserve to be blasted apart with assault weapons, and the sooner we end this cruelty, the better off our nation will be.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.