Predator hunting and hunting tournaments, often referred to as “contests,” are time-honored traditions that have recently been subjected to extensive scrutiny by the anti-sportsmen’s community and misinformed general public. Across the nation, both practices serve legitimate and effective purposes towards fish and wildlife conservation efforts. Hunting tournaments are effective management tools of varmint species, such as coyotes, whose overabundance results in increased human-wildlife conflicts and attacks. Unfortunately, predator hunting and hunting tournaments have both been misrepresented by “animal rights” organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and Project Coyote, who have been spreading emotionally-driven misinformation to the general public, elected officials, and state fish and wildlife departments, seeking the ultimate goal of completely eliminating predator hunting and hunting tournaments.
Over the past decade, predator hunting and hunting tournaments have been the focal point of relentless attacks by animal rights groups. These organizations often argue that the future of certain predator species, such as bears, cougars, coyotes, wolves, and bobcats, are at risk due to insufficient or inaccurate population data by state agencies and subsequent overharvest. These groups continually petition elected officials and state fish and wildlife departments to consider banning the hunting of predators, prohibiting hunting tournaments, and restricting certain methods of take. In so doing, animal rights organizations rely on emotionally-driven arguments and blatant misinformation – both of which completely disregard the science-based management information used by the respective state wildlife management agency, the beneficial effects that sportsmen and women have on state and local economies, in addition to the critical role that the outdoor sporting community plays in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and providing the necessary funding for the conservation of all species through the American System of Conservation Funding.
On average, predator populations are stable or increasing throughout most of the United States – not decreasing to the point of extinction, as some animal right groups often claim. A perfect example of this trend is the coyote, a species that once only roamed the American West has experienced significant range expansion and can now be found throughout the United States, including urban America. Wildlife professionals need to assess a multitude of factors in managing all wildlife populations including habitat availability and connectivity, food abundance and diversity, disease, environmental conditions, depredation, reproductive success, human conflict, social tolerance, public safety, and more. There is no question that predator and prey populations are intrinsically linked, but the specifics of these relationships are extremely variable depending on the species involved, location, habitat, environmental conditions and more. Wildlife management is a complex topic and one that should be left to state agencies who have the most current and accurate scientific data to be able to assess all contributing factors to ensure healthy and sustainable populations of both predators and prey.
On a smaller scale, predator control measures employed by local governments can be controversial due to the diversity of perspectives related to predator management commonly found in urban and suburban settings. In addition to the political challenges, county and state governments often do not have the flexibility within their budgets to allocate funds towards predator control. As a result of both the political and monetary considerations, predator hunting is an effective option to assist local authorities and protect residents.
A misnomer that the anti-hunting community commonly spreads is that participants of hunting tournaments are not required to abide by wildlife regulations. Hunting tournament participants are held to the same state regulations as every other sportsman and woman in the state. In preparation for hunting tournaments, sportsmen and women are required to purchase any necessary licenses, and often support the local economy by purchasing additional hunting-related equipment, such as ammunition – which contributes to the American System of Conservation Funding.
Hunting tournaments can be effective management tools for localized issues of overabundance of predator species or invasive species and can help mitigate a variety of human-wildlife conflicts in specific areas. It has been proven that short-term removal mechanisms, such as tournaments, can provide immediate relief to farmers and ranchers by helping reduce livestock losses due to depredation.
Points of Interest
- Several states (AZ, CA, CO, MA, MD, NM, VT, and WA) have outlawed hunting tournaments in recent years.
- In 2014, California became the first state to implement a hunting tournament ban for nongame mammals including coyotes, foxes, and bobcats. After several failed attempts to ban the contests in the state legislature, animal rights groups turned to the California Fish and Game Commission, who voted to ban these recreational tournaments.
- In 2015 and 2021, animal rights activists pushed strongly for a hunting contest ban in Nevada, but the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners rejected both petitions.
- In February 2023, Nevada proposed another bill (AB 102) that would prohibit competitions for hunting “beaver, bobcat, coyote, fox, mink, muskrat, otter, rabbit, skunk or weasel.”
- In 2019, the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board voted in favor of prohibiting hunting tournaments for predators at the onset of the 2020 hunting season. Similar efforts in Minnesota failed, and hunting tournaments remain legal.
- Contrastingly, several states have tried to implement more predator hunting to keep populations in check. In 2019, Michigan introduced SB 366 to expand hunting license rights to hunt bobcats, but it died in committee. In 2020, Utah enacted HB 125, which increased the number of permits for cougar and bear hunting in order to maintain healthy big game populations.
- Utah’s Department of Wildlife collects coyote pelts after hunting contests to ensure that these events are aligned with the tenets of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and that all animals are taken for a “legitimate purpose.”
- In 2018, Vermont enacted H. 636 and banned all “coyote-hunting competitions” throughout the state.
- California enacted AB 1254 in 2019, which limits the hunting of bobcats to only those with a special depredation permit.
- In 2019, Washington enacted HB 1516, effectively outlawing the use of dogs to hunt bobcats, bears, and cougars.
- South Dakota enacted HB 1181 in 2020, that created a bounty system to keep coyote population in check.
- South Carolina introduced legislation (HB 4317) in 2019 that attempts to accomplish a similar goal but it died in committee.
- In early 2020, California introduced legislation (SB 1041) that would make it illegal for hunters to use dogs to hunt bobcats, bears, and cougars but it also died in committee.
- On May 5, 2021, Idaho liberalized wolf hunting regulations with SB 1211 in order to reduce their effects on elk, deer, and other animal populations.
- New Jersey saw the introduction of legislation, A. 1365, in 2021 that would ban “any activity, competition, contest, derby, tournament, or other organized activity where participants are encouraged to take wildlife and are rewarded by the receipt of a prize or any kind of inducement or reward.”
- In February 2022, the Colorado legislature failed in its attempt to ban all bobcat, mountain lion, and lynx harvest in the state (SB31), despite lynx already being a federally protected species under the ESA.
- In April 2022, the California Fish and Game Commission voted 4-0 to reject HSUS petition 2021-027 that would have eliminated all bear hunting in the state.
- In 2022, legislation (HB7398) was introduced in Congress that would prohibit all hunting tournaments on public lands, even ones targeting invasive species. Fortunately, it died in the chamber.
Wildlife management decisions should be guided by the best available science and be undertaken by those best equipped to make them – the state fish and wildlife agencies. Predator hunting and tournaments represent unique ways for sportsmen and women to participate in the great outdoors, assist in achieving localized wildlife management goals, and further contribute to local economies and the American System of Conservation Funding.
Specific to hunting tournaments, the decision to allow for contests to take place should be left to the discretion of the state fish and wildlife agencies as the foremost experts. Instead of attempting in institute a complete ban on hunting tournaments to address public concerns, state agencies may consider instituting additional sideboards on hunting tournaments through their regulatory process. Such additional sideboards could include but are not limited to:
- Requiring a permit to host a hunting tournament
- Only allowing state agency sanctioned hunting tournaments
- Limiting the number of participants
- Limiting the number of animals harvested per person
- Limiting the length of hunting tournaments
- Requiring event organizers to contract with a tannery or furrier to ensure the animals are used and the events are therefore in-line with the tenets of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation