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The Truth About Wildlife Killing Contests

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It may still come as a shock to many that across the U.S. thousands of wild animals are being targeted and wantonly killed during wildlife killing contests for prizes and fun – and in most states, this is perfectly legal. As part of the National Coalition to End Wildlife Killing Contests, In Defense of Animals is working to raise awareness about these cruel and wasteful events and support measures to ban them.


What Are Wildlife Killing Contests?

Wildlife killing contests, also known as drives, tournaments, or derbies, are organized events that reward people of all ages — including young children — with cash prizes, weapons, or other incentives for killing the biggest, most, or smallest animals during a set period of time. These events, which are conducted for profit, entertainment, and the fun of killing are often sponsored by hunting outfitters or equipment manufacturers and hosted by places like restaurants and bars.



Which Species Are Targeted in Wildlife Killing Contests?

The animals most frequently targeted in these contests are native carnivores, including coyotes, bobcats, and foxes — even wolves have been victims of these events. However, many others who are often considered “pests” and have no laws protecting them or regulating how many can be killed annually, or how they are killed, are targeted as well, such as prairie dogs, crows, raccoons, opossums, and squirrels; even many species of marine animals aren’t safe either.  


What Happens to the Animals Killed?

With no actual need to kill any of the animals targeted, their bodies are often left to rot or dumped like trash.


How Common Are Wildlife Killing Contests?

These events often fly under the radar because of the scrutiny and backlash they incur, but they’re still happening across the country and many thousands of animals are being killed.

Some of these events make the news, but many others don’t. However, a number of undercover investigations have helped bring what happens behind the scenes and the callous attitudes of participants into the public spotlight, such as a recent one by HSUS that brought to light the deaths of 405 coyotes who were gunned down in 45 hours during a contest in Illinois in 2023.  

Unfortunately, they’ve also been found to be held online with participants from states where these events are banned.



Why Do People Kill Coyotes?

Ignorance about our nation’s native carnivores often leads to fear, intolerance, and the perpetuation of myths about them that continue to put them in danger. Sadly, coyotes, who can be killed year-round in unlimited numbers, are frequent victims of wildlife killing contests. These events are often justified by claiming they’re “predator control” or “wildlife management” intended to protect people and animal companions, but often wildlife killing contests are driven by demands from ranchers and hunters who stand to gain from fewer predators and more herbivores, such as deer.

However, dozens of conservation scientists have come out in opposition to indiscriminately killing coyotes. When their populations are left to manage themselves they form stable social structures that are self-limiting. Indiscriminate killing, on the other hand, disrupts this social stability and leads to increased reproduction and greater pup survival. Anyone truly interested in working toward creating healthy ecosystems, protecting biodiversity, and reducing conflicts should oppose wildlife killing contests and the mass slaughter that ensues.


What’s Wrong With Wildlife Killing Contests?

Not only are these events horrifyingly cruel and ethically indefensible, they are scientifically unjustifiable and are counter to compassionate conservation, where every individual animal’s life matters. These events only serve to perpetuate a culture of violence and send the message that wild animals have little intrinsic value and are disposable.

Wildlife killing contests ignore the vital role carnivores play in maintaining ecosystems and supporting biodiversity, which is needed more now than ever.

Participants also use an arsenal of tools, such as electronic calling devices to lure curious and hungry animals, along with thermal or night vision scopes and semi-automatic rifles for an easy kill, or they may use dogs to flush out animals. Many victims may be injured and left to die slowly, and young may be orphaned to die of exposure, starvation, dehydration, or predation.


Which States Have Banned Wildlife Killing Contests?

Thankfully, many lawmakers and wildlife officials are taking this problem seriously and taking a stand against these events, which have also been successfully challenged in the courts. In the U.S., 10 states have acted to ban or restrict wildlife killing contests. In 2023, bills were also introduced in Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, and Virginia

In 2024, New Jersey’s bill was reintroduced in January. Illinois’ bill was reintroduced in February, and you can sign our alert if you live in the state


California

In 2014, California became the first state to ban all wildlife killing contests when the California Fish and Game Commission voted in support of a rule banning contests targeting predators, including coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and other fur-bearing animals.

Vermont

In 2018, Vermont lawmakers passed legislation banning coyote killing contests.

New Mexico

In 2019, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill making it illegal to organize or sponsor a coyote killing contest.

Arizona

In 2019, Arizona banned contests targeting predators and other fur-bearing animals after the Governor's Regulatory Review Council voted on a rule initiated by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.

Massachusetts

In 2019, the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board voted to ban contests targeting predators and fur-bearers, and changed the reporting requirements for killing foxes and coyotes, which was aimed at improving monitoring of these species.

Colorado

In 2020, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission voted to ban wildlife killing contests for fur-bearing animals, and smaller species, including Wyoming ground squirrels, and white-tailed, black-tailed and Gunnison’s prairie dogs.

Washington

In 2020, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to ban contests targeting members of species who can be killed in unlimited numbers, such as coyotes, bobcats, crows, foxes, and raccoons, and made it illegal to participate in unpermitted contests.

Maryland

In 2021, Maryland lawmakers passed legislation banning wildlife killing contests that target foxes, coyotes, and raccoons.

Oregon

In 2023, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to prohibit wildlife killing contests for coyotes and members of other species who are classified as unprotected mammals in the state.

New York

In 2023, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill banning wildlife killing contests that have the objective of killing wild animals for prizes, inducement, or entertainment.


What Happened to the Prohibit Wildlife Killing Contests Act?

In 2022, more than a dozen members of Congress introduced the Prohibit Wildlife Killing Contests Act, which would have banned organizing, sponsoring, conducting, or participating in a wildlife killing contest on more than 500 million acres of public lands in the U.S. Unfortunately, it did not pass however, it was just reintroduced in May of 2024. Stay tuned for an alert.


What is the National Coalition to End Wildlife Killing Contests?

In Defense of Animals is on the steering committee of the National Coalition to End Wildlife Killing Contests, which is made up of dozens of state and national animal advocacy and conservation organizations working together to raise awareness about this issue and end wildlife killing contests in states where they’re still legal.  


How YOU Can Help Ban Wildlife Killing Contests

If you live in a state where these contests are still legal, get in touch with your state legislators and wildlife commissioners and urge them to act to ban them.

  • Whether or not your state has banned them, write to your two federal senators and your one federal representative and ask them to reintroduce the Prohibit Wildlife Killing Contests Act to ban killing contests nationwide.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local or national newspaper to raise awareness and garner support for banning wildlife killing contests.
  • Watch and share Project Coyote’s award-winning documentary Killing Games – Wildlife in the Crosshairs.
  • Sign our Wild Animals alerts to take action for wildlife and get updates on ways to get involved.
  • Donate to support our work defending wild animals.

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