With New Jersey’s squirrel hunting period drawing to a close, a local outdoors group wanted to hold an event to celebrate the final days of the season. The Inskip Antlers Hunting Club scheduled a squirrel hunting contest for Feb. 16 and invited locals to join them for demonstrations on hunting, cleaning and cooking small game.

“This event was created to bring families together and educate people that there’s a natural food source out there that they can utilize,” said Tom Weeast, spokesman for Inskip Antlers Hunting Club, in an interview with the Courier Post. “What’s a better way to teach people that?”

While club members spent the days leading up to the Family Squirrel Classic prepping for the hunt, so did anti-hunting groups. Animal rights groups announced the week prior that they’d be protesting the gathering, starting with contacting local politicians to urge them to cancel the contest. Even though the hunt was permitted by the state and operated within all game laws, some elected officials expressed disdain for the hunt.

“Because of the nature of state preemption and the issuance of state licenses and permits for this type of event in the state of New Jersey, neither the township nor the county of Camden has a legal authority to ban, regulate or stop this type of event,” said Stuart Platt, attorney for Winslow Township, in an interview with the Asbury Park Press.

“While (township leaders) do not oppose legal hunting, they do strongly oppose killing contests like the one being planned for this Saturday,” Platt said. “The mayor on behalf of the township committee has issued letters and calls to state legislators to take action to limit, regulate or ban these type of killing contests.”

This sort of hostility towards sportsmen isn’t new to Garden State hunters. The state famously shut down bear season on state-owned lands last year, which closed 40 percent of the area available for hunting. The governor previously vowed to end bear hunting on all lands, whether they be state-owned, federal or private.

With no way to stop the squirrel hunt, activists pressed forward with their plan for a public demonstration. A Facebook event was created around the protest, which encouraged fellow advocates to arrive at 6:30 a.m. and stand in the road’s right of way with anti-hunting signs and pro-vegan pamphlets. In attendance were members of The Humane Society of the United States, Animal Protection League of New Jersey, Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders and New Jersey League of Humane Voters.

“We’re disturbed at the very idea,” said Jay Lassiter, a protestor, while talking to on-scene media. “It’s very disconcerting the idea of it being a family-friendly event. Look at the strong correlation of kids who commit violence against animals as children and then grow up to be violent against people. This event is abhorrent, and it doesn’t belong in New Jersey and it doesn’t belong in a modern civilized society.”

Dozens of anti-hunters joined Lassiter outside the hunting club, holding up signs that read things like “Teaching Kids to Kill is Child Abuse,” “Killing for Fun = Psychopathy,” “Pathetic Parents Raise Pathetic Kids,” “Good Job On Raising Future Serial Killers,” and “Oh You Must Be Inbred.” According to the NY Post, they also yelled “Murderer!” at children signing up for the squirrel hunt.

“To have a family event revolve around killing, and bringing children into this is unconscionable,” said Janine Motta, programs director for the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, in an interview with NJ.com. “What’s the message here? The family that kills together stay together?”

The contest ran until noon, at which time only three squirrels were checked in. Hunt organizers reported that it was a difficult day in the woods as poor weather and the beginning of nesting season had squirrels hunkered down. Although club members hoped to serve more squirrel, they were prepared with moose chili and venison hot dogs. The lack of squirrel meat wasn’t indicative of the number of sportsmen that showed up, though.

“The turnout was bigger than anticipated, and I think the antis are to thank for that,” Weeast said.

Even as New Jersey cat squirrel ladies worked to get the event shut down, spread rumors about illegal baiting, and harassed families in attendance, Weeast chose not to condemn the protesters.

“I’ve protested things myself,” he said.

Feature image via the Courier Post.