Washington has just outlawed wildlife killing contests—the seventh state to do so in the past six years. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 7-2 this morning to pass a rule ending these gruesome spectacles where participants kill large numbers of wild animals simply for the thrill and for cash and prizes.
The new rule prohibits contests for animals like coyotes, bobcats, crows, foxes and raccoons. That is significant as these animals typically have few protections under state laws and are the most common victims at such contests, where winners are decided based on who kills the most, or the heaviest, or even the smallest animals. In Washington, for instance, contestants killed at least 1,427 coyotes between 2013 and 2018 during events that offered prizes for killing the “smallest dog,” and awards for participants who “Can’t Shoot ‘Fer S**t.”
The ban in Washington is the latest in a string of victories against wildlife contests nationwide in recent years and it shows that both concerned citizens and wildlife management officials no longer have the stomach for these vile events. The Humane Society of the United States has been on the frontlines of this fight, turning a red-hot spotlight on the problem with undercover investigations of wildlife contests in the states of Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Maryland. Working with other organizations, wildlife advocates and our dedicated volunteers, we have helped ban such contests in Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Vermont.
Supporters try to rationalize the blood sport by claiming that by randomly killing coyotes they are protecting livestock or saving deer for hunters. But that argument is based on falsehoods. Far more cattle and sheep deaths are caused by weather, birthing problems and disease, and deer abundance is determined by the availability of good habitat. Scientists and state wildlife agencies have also stated time and again that wildlife killing contests provide no credible wildlife management service and can make problems worse by disrupting stable breeding structures, increasing conflicts and leading to an increase in the numbers of the animals who are targeted at the events.
What these contests do, however, is promote the sadistic notion that it’s fun to kill animals for a chance at prizes like cash, a champion belt buckle or an AR-15 gun. During one of our investigations in New York State earlier this year, a contestant bragged to our investigators about killing and cutting open a pregnant coyote. At a Maryland contest, also this year, children seemingly inured to the violence played among piles of dead foxes and even helped drag them to the judging area. Organizers have at times encouraged children as young as five years old to participate in the killing.
While thousands of such contests are still held around the United States, we now see a clear and positive trend among states to end them. Kudos to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for proposing the rule that passed today, and Commissioner Barbara Baker for supporting it and seeing it through to victory. The HSUS backed the rule all the way along with our allies, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Project Coyote and Wolf Haven International. Our focus will next move to other states that are considering similar measures, including New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maryland and Oregon. Rest assured we will be on the job until these gruesome wildlife killing contests are a thing of the past.