Congress Considers National Ban on Hunting Contests

Congress Considers National Ban on Hunting Contests

The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a bill that would ban so-called “wildlife killing contests” on all federal public land in all 50 states.

Authored by Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen, the “Prohibit Wildlife Killing Contests Act” is based on the claim that hunting contests serve no legitimate wildlife management purpose and are incompatible with the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

“America’s wildlife play a special role in the natural environment and in a healthy ecosystem. Killing apex predators and other targets for what some deem ‘sport’ is both cruel and unnecessary,” Rep. Cohen said in a statement.

The bill prohibits all contests in which participants kill wildlife for cash, prizes, or other inducements, regardless of value. However, big buck contests and fishing derbies would still be allowed since the bill makes an exception for fish, ungulates, and most types of game birds.

The official text of this bill has not been released, but a previous version of the same bill, also authored by Rep. Cohen, claims that these contests often target “ecologically important carnivores” like bobcats, coyotes, and foxes.

Along with 17 congresspeople in the U.S. House, the bill has been endorsed by the Humane Society, Voters for Animal Rights, Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the Center for Biological Diversity, among others.

“It’s shocking that these cruel and reckless contests are still allowed on our public lands,” said Stephanie Kurose, deputy director of government affairs at the Center for Biological Diversity. “America’s wild carnivores are so important to maintaining healthy ecosystems. They deserve better than to be targeted in these thrill-kill slaughter fests.”

“Wildlife killing contests are cruel events that have no place in modern civil society,” echoed Johanna Hamburger, director and senior attorney for the Animal Welfare Institute’s Terrestrial Wildlife Program. “Participants frequently violate the fundamental hunting principle of fair chase by using bait and electronic calling devices to maximize the likelihood of winning, and animal carcasses are usually dumped once the contest is over.”

The Humane Society and other animal rights groups have successfully passed similar bans in 10 state legislatures: Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and, most recently, New York. Mirroring the legislation in those states, this federal bill justifies the ban in several ways.

First, the bill’s supporters say the contests target “ecologically important” animals. Removing a large number of those animals, they imply, harms the ecosystems of which they are a part.

Second, they say that hunting contests serve no legitimate wildlife management purpose. They claim the contests do not “permanently” reduce populations of targeted species, increase populations of deer or other game species, or prevent conflict between native carnivores, humans, pets, and livestock. The contests thus go against the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which says that wildlife should only be killed for a legitimate purpose.

Finally (and strangely, given the source), these groups worry that hunting contests will erode public support for hunting more broadly.

“Numerous State agencies and officials have recognized that these contests can undermine public support for hunting and damage the reputation of sportsmen and sportswomen who abide by traditional hunting ethics,” reads the 2022 version of Cohen’s bill.

Hunters might not appreciate getting PR advice from the Humane Society, but according to MeatEater’s Ryan Callaghan, the common argument against hunting contests also contains a fatal flaw.

“I am always amused when animal rights groups take two contradictory positions at the same time,” said Callaghan, MeatEater’s Director of Conservation. “In this case, they argue both that predator contests present a threat to the environment and that these events have no impact whatsoever. If these events help control populations, they have a legitimate purpose under the North American Wildlife Conservation Model. If they pose no threat to target populations, why are animal rights groups so up in arms?”

The impact of coyotes on game and livestock is among the thornier questions of wildlife management. There is no doubt that, as longtime outdoor columnist Pat Durkin has pointed out, coyotes can be "hell on fawns." It’s also true that coyotes prey on livestock, as everyone from backyard chicken farmers to commercial sheep operators can attest.

Hunters often respond to these threats by shooting coyotes opportunistically (usually from a deer stand), but MeatEater’s Mark Kenyon has argued that this is unlikely to help a local deer population. In fact, a 2019 paper found that on a macro level, coyotes have little impact on deer numbers.

Still, large-scale efforts to tamp down predators can have a positive impact on game animals and livestock. A 1999 study found that winter aerial coyote hunting had a benefit-to-cost ratio of 2.1:1 for Utah lamb operations. Just last month, a study published in the journal Ecological Applications found that wolf culls are the best way to recover caribou herds in British Columbia and Alberta.

Whether coyote hunting contests have the same effect is unclear. Anecdotal evidence suggests that these contests can put a large enough dent in a local coyote population to give livestock owners some breathing room. But despite decades of hunting–in most states, year-round with no bag limits–the cunning little canines have tripled their population since the 1980s.

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