blood sport

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“I find it exhilarating,” says his wife, who appears to be one of the only female team members here. “I turn on the lights and wait.” Her voice rises an octave: “When the lights shine on the animals and I can see their eyes, that’s what’s exciting. I don’t even care about the murder part.

Her husband looks up from his ticket, his number still not called. “Before, it was a little guy thing to help breeders. Now it’s a massive sport. As if feeling he might be getting into bad territory, he adds, “PETA people don’t get it. It’s fine for them to live in their cities with their little poodles, but they don’t know the real issues people face with predators killing their livestock.

It’s true: it’s easy for those with a limited perspective to criticize contests. Yet even some breeders say killing contests aren’t the answer.

THE WINDING ROADS OF Hillingdon Ranch, located in Texas Hill Country and continuously farmed by the Giles family since 1887, winds through rolling hills filled with sheep and flat meadows with goats, cattle and deer, and leads to several outbuildings where various members of the Direct family. The ranch contains over 13,000 acres of carefully and sustainably managed land.

It’s the Monday after the Big Bobcat contest, and I’m having lunch with the Giles family, discussing how they deal with livestock predation and what they think of kill contests. Siblings and grandkids, sons, daughters, spouses and a friend or two join in a lively conversation over sandwiches, fresh lemonade and homemade cookies, a pre-Covid luxury. Cowboy hats hang from stakes throughout the entrance; the thick stucco walls are adorned with family photos in sepia tones and old maps.

“We are people of the land,” says Robin Giles, grandson of ranch founder Alfred Giles. “I don’t think a lot of people understand that. When you have lived there all your life, taken care of them, made them your life, then you become an inhabitant of the earth.

Giles and ranchers like them across the country experience the depredation of their livestock, sheep, goats, horses and domestic dogs at the hands of predatory species, especially coyotes. Lethal predator control has long been part of their ranch management strategies.

The nature of predator hunting contests seems to run counter to traditional hunting ethics.

“Our small stock is very susceptible to predation by our most common predator, the coyote,” adds Giles. “I have so much respect for their cunning and their ability to make a living off of me. But we have to control our numbers. If we have a killer coyote on our property, we have to deal with it. We’ve learned many times that if we don’t control, then we are bankrupt.

While Giles considers predator control a necessary part of his business, he says they normally only hunt one problem animal at a time. Wildlife competitions represent something different. “[They] At first it was control, but now it’s sport,” he says. “What worries me the most about predator contests is that it might give a bad connotation to what we do. We might be demonized for what we do.

“Their prizes are getting so big that contests attract a totally different kind of person and a totally different kind of attitude,” he adds. “It’s a question of money. [They are] just get out of hand. It seems like a gross kill.

Indeed, the nature of predator hunting contests appears to run counter to traditional hunting ethics, which denounce gratuitous waste and uphold the principle of “fair hunting”, meaning that the hunted animal must have a chance to escape. At these contests, however, the animals are often killed by any means possible – including the use of decoys and distress calls – and most of the carcasses are discarded after the hunt.

But many hunting organizations – and hunters themselves – make a distinction between hunting “game” animals like deer and moose and killing “vermin” like wolves, coyotes, rabbits and crows. Under state rules and regulations, animals classified as nongame have few protections and can often be killed at any time in unlimited numbers, with no bag limits or seasons.

Even the Boone and Crockett Club, one of the oldest and most influential hunting organizations in the country, which describes in detail its guidelines for the ethical behavior of its members, does not consider predator hunting contests as the hunt. In a statement to the 2017 NRA Hunters Leadership Forum, club marketing manager Keith Balfourd noted that sportsmen “hold themselves to a high standard of fair hunting when hunting. Game animals and Game bird.” He added that “the Club encourages athletes, when participating in predator and pest reduction, to do so with a humane approach.”

While Boone and Crocket may still consider wild animal killing contests to be somehow free from traditional hunting ethics, elsewhere the tide is starting to turn.

CONTEST SPONSORS regularly and correctly point out that their activities are protected (and in many cases encouraged and supported) by state and federal laws. They say they are simply misunderstood victims of vocal animal rights activists. But this argument is starting to show cracks.

Thanks in large part to the dedicated campaigning of groups like Project Coyote and the HSUS, policymakers accept that these contests are not in line with scientific and ethical wildlife management practices. In recent years, several states have taken regulatory or legislative action against contests. More recently, Maryland, Washington and Colorado banned wildlife slaughter competitions, joining California, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Vermont and Arizona. Similar bills are pending in New York and New Jersey.

Wildlife advocates hope their campaign to end killing contests will also foster a broader discussion about predator control policies.

Government officials are also increasingly denouncing this practice. New Mexico’s Stephanie Garcia Richards, the first woman, first Latina, and first educator to serve as New Mexico’s commissioner of public lands, signed her first executive order as commissioner to ban hunt contests on the nine million acres of State Trust Lands in January 2019. At the signing, Garcia Richards said, “It is the position of the State Land Office under my leadership that all wildlife is sacred and that all wildlife plays a vital role in our environment. This action does not limit a rancher’s ability to humanely remove or kill an animal causing damage to agriculture or domestic animals on state trust land. What we are talking about is the blood sport where participants kill dozens of animals without valid justification and play for money and prizes.

Other policymakers also weighed in, as they move to ban slaying contests on public lands in their states. According to former Montana State Senator Mike Phillips, a hunter and wildlife biologist, “Predator kill contests are an abomination, an insult to the history of life on this planet. If you’re going to eliminate wolves or coyotes because there are identifiable problems, okay, do it if necessary, but be strategic. Predator slaying contests reverse that. When is unnecessary and reckless murder ever justified? »

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