By Nicole Rivard 

It’s been five years since I witnessed the atrocity of an animal-killing contest. However, the images of children, teens and adults waving the bodies of dead squirrels in the air right next to me and other protesters remain vivid.  

I’ll never forget a young girl “proudly” carrying a pizza box filled with dead squirrels as her dad grinned alongside of her.  

The crudeness, violence and lack of respect for wildlife inherent in that contest, known as the “Squirrel Slam,” a fundraiser for the Holley Fire Department in New York, left me literally sick to my stomach—I remember laying curled up on my bed when I got home hoping sleep would take away the pictures in my head. 

I didn’t know such barbaric animal-killing contests existed before I came to work at Friends of Animals. That this cruelty towards wildlife is allowed in most U.S. states still astounds me. Animal killing contests—which target wildlife such as squirrels, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, raccoons, crows, prairie dogs, and even wolves, for prizes and fun—are particularly merciless acts of animal abuse. 

Proponents of such contests, typically the ranching community, will say that they are saving doomed livestock and deer from “varmints” and doing what is necessary to keep wildlife populations in check.  

Fortunately, their propaganda seems to be falling on deaf ears these days as these savage events get more public scrutiny through social media, and that’s heartening. Even people in the hunting community are embarrassed by the bloodshed.  

Just as the demise of Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus reflects a change in what people view as family entertainment, finally there seems to be a groundswell of opposition to the reckless, rampant murder of wildlife for fun and prizes having a place in a civilized society.  

Bans gain momentum 

Most recently, a bill banning coyote killing contests for prizes passed the Vermont State Senate and became law in May. California was the first state in the nation to prohibit animal killing contests that offer rewards in 2014. And legislators in New York and New Mexico have denounced the mass slaughter events and are fighting for bans as well.  

 “I think if a state like Vermont, that is very, very hunting centric, can actually do it, then other states can do it as well,” said Brenna Galdenzi, president of Protect Our Wildlife Vermont, which campaigned vigorously to help get the bill passed. “I would have liked to see a ban on all wildlife killing contests. But in Vermont where coyotes are really demonized because we are a farming state and they get blamed for everything, for people to rally behind this, was really monumental.”  

Unfortunately, there is still an open hunting season on coyotes in Vermont, California and New Mexico, which means they can be hunted at any time of the year and in any number, often leading to their dependent young becoming orphaned and left to die from starvation, predation or exposure. They can be hunted Oct. 1 through March 31 in New York with no bag limit. 

Rep. David Deen, who sponsored Vermont’s bill, believes that public outreach and education was key in getting the legislation approved. Knowing people don’t want to protect a species who they fear or don’t like, Protect Our Wildlife spread the message about how similar coyotes are to dogs and highlighted their attributes that endear them to people, such as how they are monogamous and mate for life and are family oriented. 

Deen pointed out that people were coming up to him in the state house asking, “When are you going to do something about this?” 

“I know how hot an issue is in my world by the number of people who stop me in the hall,” Deen said. “When the advocates finally hit their stride and provided the education at the community level, community members got on their representatives.” 

Deen admitted a cultural change within Vermont Fish and Wildlife may also have contributed to getting Vermonters to understand how amazing the coyote is. 

“Vermont Fish and Wildlife has taken on the position that we have a new top predator, and has begun talking about it. You won’t hear them use the word vermin anymore to describe coyotes,” Deen said. 

On its website, Vermont Fish and Wildlife now describes coyotes as important to maintaining ecosystem integrity because of the vital role they play as predators, so holding the agency accountable for such words publicly is important when seeking help from legislators.  

“They talk about how they protect and conserve and they use science in their wildlife management policies. The agency can’t say all that while simultaneously supporting wildlife killing contests because they are contrary to everything that the agency should support,” Galdenzi said.  

Other states forge ahead 

A few states south, New York Assemblywoman Deborah Glick is poised to make another push to pass a bill that would impose a ban on all animal killing contests, and Friends of Animals will be lobbying for its success.  

The legislation states that it will be unlawful for any person to organize, sponsor, conduct, promote or participate in any contest, competition, tournament or derby with the objective of taking or hunting wildlife for prizes or other inducement or for entertainment. It comes with fines and potential jail time for violators. 

She felt compelled to do something when she found out about crow killing contests in western NewYork. 

“Crows are among the smartest birds. As a wildlife lover, it struck me as profoundly dehumanizing for there to be these contests to kill the largest number of crows,” Glick explained. “These contests were generally held in association with bars, so on another level it concerned me that there were these connections between unrestrained shooting and alcohol. Why would anybody think this is ok? 

“And this notion that these creatures are unfeeling…I would like people who are going to have children to watch birds and how they care for their young until they leave the nest.” 

The bill will be reintroduced in January 2019, and she encourages New Yorkers to call and write their representatives in the Senate and Assembly and tell them to cosponsor the bill. If their representative serves on either Environmental Conservation Committee, they should not only support it in committee but solicit the support of the committee chairs as well.  

Likewise, in New Mexico, state Senator Mark Moores is urging people to call or write the state Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, who he says is responsible for holding up a bill in the House of Representatives that would ban coyote killing contests. In March 2017, the state senate voted 26-15 in favor of the bill. 

“He decides what bills are heard and not heard,” said Moores, who sponsored the bill. “Despite us standing up to protect wildlife twice now in the Senate, he has refused to have a vote on the House floor. I encourage your readers to contact him directly and tell him to hold a vote on this legislation.” 

The campaign for the legislation started after a family driving through the desert in December 2014 found 39 dead coyotes scattered among the sagebrush. In their mouths were blocks of wood inscribed with the date of a recent killing contest.  

To show support for a statewide ban, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller signed a bill in March, which was sponsored by City Councilor Diane Gibson that condemns animal abuse in the form of coyote-killing contest within the city. The resolution also calls upon the New Mexico State Legislature to prohibit the slaughter statewide. 

“We are taking a stand in Albuquerque to oppose gratuitous coyote-killing contests,” Mayor Keller said in a press release. “Cherishing the outdoors and treating animals humanely are core values of our city. Coyote-killing contests defy the principles of conservation and wildlife management that will allow us to continue enjoying our mountains, rivers and wildlife for generations to come.” 

Glick concurs: “It’s the notion that there are too many of them or so many of them that it doesn’t matter that has disturbed me. There are people who think there are resources that are infinite, and they are not. One is reminded of passenger pigeons. People thought there were endless numbers of them in the wild until there were no more.” 


Take Action 

If wildlife killing contests are happening in your state, now is the time to approach legislators to get them to introduce bills that would make them illegal.  

Start a movement in your state to ban wildlife killing contests. You can read California and New York’s legislation here and use it as a model: 

If you live in New York, call and write your representatives in the Senate and Assembly and tell them to cosponsor the bill. To find an online directory of assembly members, click here: Find your state senators here:

If you live in New Mexico, write or call Speaker of the House Brian Egolf and tell him to bring the coyote killing contest ban bill to the full House floor for a vote. Email: Address: 123 W. San Francisco 2nd Floor, Santa Fe, NM 87501. Phone: (505) 986-4782