The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) on Wednesday released what officials call the “shocking results” of a February 2023 undercover investigation at Nuggets Night Vision Coyote Hunt, a wildlife-killing contest in Mendon, Illinois.
According to the HSUS, similar hunts take place in the St. Louis region. Cities cited include Marine, Mount Vernon, Carbondale, Marion, and Carrollton. (for a list of communities, see “Background” below.)
The HSUS investigator attended the weigh-in event that followed the 45-hour killing period, during which roughly 86 participants gunned down at least 405 coyotes. At the weigh-in, participants gathered to compete for $15,000 in prize money and celebrate among piles of dead coyotes, the investigator said.
The HSUS investigator revealed that prizes were awarded to teams that killed the most, the heaviest and the smallest coyotes at just 17 pounds. The three-man team crowned champion for “most coyotes” slaughtered 49 coyotes, with second place bringing in 27 coyotes. The contest was organized by Nuggets Night Vision, a manufacturer of night vision and thermal optics devices often used in these contests, according to the HSUS release.
The investigation shows that teams brought dead coyotes across state lines from Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Wisconsin. At least one coyote from Kansas appeared to have had severe mange. The bodies were not checked for disease, and diseased animals were not disqualified from the contest. Mange is highly contagious and can easily spread to other wildlife, domestic dogs and people, according to the HSUS.
“Wildlife killing contests are an abomination and a disgrace,” said Marc Ayers, Illinois state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Destroying coyotes for sadistic fun, games and cash does not reflect our state’s values. Illinois is among the 10 worst states when it comes to wildlife killing contests, with at least 28 competitions targeting coyotes, foxes, raccoons and crows taking place in the state in 2022 …. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources must take a stand and make our state the first in the Midwest to ban this cruel, unnecessary treatment of coyotes who provide vital balance to our ecosystem.”
The HSUS investigator documented participants unloading bloody coyote bodies and hanging them upside down to weigh. A young child helped load the carcasses—at times struggling under the weight of the bodies of the animals—while other young children stood nearby and watched. Coyotes who were ripped apart by bullets were thrown into piles and laid out in rows to display so participants could revel in their win.
“Watching truck after truck backing into the weigh station, and coyote after coyote, dripping with blood, being weighed—it was like a factory assembly line,” said the undercover investigator for the Humane Society of the United States in the release.
On Dec. 22, 2022, veterinarians and 18 organizations, led by the Humane Society of the United States, submitted a petition to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources requesting that the agency prohibit wildlife killing contests. Eight states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington—have already banned wildlife killing contests, the release says.
- According to the HSUS, Killing contests take place across Illinois including in Mendon, Elmwood, La Harpe, Fulton, Knoxville, Wamac, Maeystown, Marine, Taylorville, Macomb, Sherrard, Mount Vernon, Warsaw, Mason City, Cordova, Hecker, Manito, Cedar Point, Stronghurst, Oblong, Toledo, Champaign, Prairie du Rocher, Durand, Pearl City, Marion, Carbondale, East Brooklyn, Carrollton, Alexis, Port Byron and Quincy.
- One participant told the HSUS investigator that during non-competitive hunting, he shoots coyotes and leaves them to rot where they fall. He said coyote bodies aren’t worth anything and are thrown away.
- Competitors achieve high kill numbers by using unfair and unsporting tactics including night vision, thermal imaging and electronic calling devices. These tactics mimic sounds of dependent young or prey in distress to lure animals in for an easy kill. Animals are then gunned down with high-powered rifles—including AR-15s—which rip holes in the fur, rendering the pelts useless for sale.
- Because of the chaotic race to kill the most animals, often at night, killing contest participants likely injure countless animals and orphan dependent young, who are left to die from starvation, predation or exposure, the HSUS says.
- Hunters and wildlife management professionals across the U.S. have called out killing contests as unethical and warned they are damaging the reputation of hunters and threatening the future of hunting, according to the HSUS.
- According to the HSUS, the best available science shows that indiscriminate killing of coyotes will not reduce their numbers, prevent conflicts with livestock, or boost populations of game species like deer for hunters. In fact, killing contests can increase coyote populations and conflicts with livestock by disrupting the coyote pack structure.