ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The contests have names such as Predator Slam, Squirrel Scramble and Final Fling for Fox, sometimes challenging hunters to bag the heaviest coyote or the heftiest bunch of squirrels to win a cash prize.
While participants seek prey in the name of fundraising, animal rights advocates are training their sights on contests they see as senseless slaughters. With bans in eight states, activists are now looking to New York, where Gov. Kathy Hochul is considering a proposal recently approved by the Legislature.
“It’s wrong that fringe groups in these extreme contests can use our wildlife resources for money,” said Brian Shapiro, New York state director of the Humane Society of the United States. “I can’t think of any other natural resource that is used that way.”
Opponents want to put an end to annual events held around upstate New York that target wildlife like coyotes, rabbits, raccoons and foxes.Campaigns against the competitions often feature pictures of coyote carcasses in a pile or other grisly scenes.
But the proposed ban illustrates the cultural chasm between its supporters and those who see the contests as an unfairly demonized part of rural life.
“When it comes to this stuff, it’s all about emotion. They throw logic out of the window,” said David Leibig, a rural upstate resident and executive director of the New York State Trappers Association.
Leibig said the events draw families and raise money for fire departments and other community groups. He bristles at the charge that they’re “just a blood fest.”
These types of contests have been held for decades around the nation. Animal advocates were able to track 22 last year in New York, though there may be more. Shapiro believes only a “small minority” of the roughly 580,000 people with New York hunting licenses participate in the contests.
Contests for coyotes or a wider range of wildlife already are prohibited in eight states, including California, Colorado and Arizona, according to the Humane Society. Massachusetts wildlife regulators noted public concerns, such as encouraging indiscriminate killing, when it prohibited hunting contests for certain predators and furbearers in 2019.
Oregon is expected to vote in September on a proposed ban.
New York’s proposed law would make it illegal to organize, conduct, promote or participate in competitions involving wildlife being taken for prizes or entertainment. People would still be able to hunt the animals, just not as part of those contests.
The measure would not apply to contests involving white-tailed deer, bear and turkey. Animal advocates say existing hunting regulations, which include bag limits, tend to protect those creatures.
Assembly sponsor Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat, said her bill targets contests that are “gruesome and wasteful.” Though many of the animals can be eaten and coyotes are valued for their pelts, opponents say animals killed during the contests too often are thrown in the trash.
One annual event that has drawn criticism — and hundreds of participants — is a three-day coyote hunt held in largely rural Sullivan County, northwest of New York City. Organizers offer a top prize of $2,000 for the hunter who brings in the heaviest coyote.
The competition raises as much as $12,000 to help fund youth programs and the local fire department, said John Van Etten, president of the Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs of Sullivan County.
He sees opposition to the competition as misguided.
“I think the people that want to ban these contests don’t really understand them,” Van Etten said.
“They don’t understand hunting and why people would kill coyotes,” he said. “Whether there’s a contest or not, they’re still going to do so.”
The contests also have been defended as a way to keep wildlife populations in check — especially for coyotes, which are viewed as livestock-killing nuisances in some areas.
Ban supporters say the best available evidence does not support casting the competitions as coyote control. Instead, the ban advocates claim contests can actually spur coyote reproduction by destabilizing packs.
Hochul, a Democrat, is reviewing the legislation, according to her office. The measure is among bills she’s considering whether to sign this year.
The legislation passed the Democrat-controlled Legislature in June, over Republican arguments that it represented an attack by urban interests on a rural practice.
“This anti-hunting bill is yet another example of out-of-touch, big city legislators imposing their will on our constituents,” Republican Assembly Member Steve Hawley said in a press release.
Proponents say the ban takes aim at wasteful contests, not all hunting. Wildlife regulators in other states have said the controversial contests could potentially undermine the public’s support for traditional hunting.
Shapiro disputes the rural vs. urban framing, pointing to supporters in rural areas, including hunters and farmers.
“These are people that are upstate,” Shapiro said. “I live upstate. This is an imaginary divide.”