More than 161,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the end of "wildlife killing contests," a sportsmen's hobby that turns killin' coyotes into an arcade-style game, where the winner piles up the most corpses, and everyone else helps the state get rid of a nuisance animal.
Coyotes are "unprotected" in Minnesota, meaning their hunting is more or less unregulated by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). That allows for such kill-for-fun events as the "Save the Birds" Coyote Hunting Tournament, scheduled for February 19-20 in Marshall. Petitioners were hoping to get it derailed before its "shotgun start."
"The piles of carcasses at the 'finish lines' of these events show that this is not hunting, but thrill-killing on a staggering scale," reads the Change.org petition authored by White Bear Lake native and animal lover Scott Slocum.
Slocum's petition notes that such prize-awarding shooting sprees have been banned in California, with proposals to prohibit hunting contests introduced in New York, Nevada, and New Mexico.
Citing a study conducted in Colorado, Slocum says aggressive hunting of coyotes is a temporary fix to overpopulation, and will only require future killing parties. In Colorado's case, an open hunt culled up to three-quarters of the coyote count in one area. It was back up to the previous level in about eight months.
The appeal is aimed at Gov. Mark Dayton and DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. But many respondents took more of a local approach, contacting public officials in Marshall, and alerting the local newspaper, the Marshall Independent.
In a follow-up story on what some of its letter writers called a "barbaric" and "blood-thirsty" event, the Independent interviewed organizer Ty Brouwer, who pointed out their contest had no public opposition last year. Brouwer said the petition's graphic description of the hunt is "misconstrued" and inaccurate. All participants are avid sportsmen, he says, and are trying to take the most ethical kill shot possible, resulting in a quick and painless death.
Another of Brouwer's comments caught the eye of Slocum, who immediately shared it with the document's many signers.
"Some of these people, they don't like hunting at all," Brouwer said. "I've had some people say, 'Well, why don't you just shoot off their legs and see how long they survive?' That's not what we're about."
Maybe not, but Slocum took the half-threatening statement seriously enough to warn supporters not to take any "local action." That is, don't show up at Friday's hunt and try to disrupt the contest or confront a hunter, lest some angry shooter take aim at one of your legs.
"The best advice at this point is 'be safe,'" Slocum writes, adding that Brouwer's statement has been brought to the attention of the Marshall Police Department. "Don't put yourself in harm's way. Don't confront these potentially dangerous people in a way that might expose you to harm."
Brouwer, for his part, is hoping the turnout is even better this year than last, when three dozen two-person teams registered. (The contest gets its name because proceeds from the $50 registration fee go toward turkey habitat restoration.) The two-man winning squad in 2015's hunt brought in a total haul of 56 pounds' worth of coyote; this year's winners will walk with a $500 cash prize.
On Saturday, Marshall Independent editor Per Peterson wrote in favor of the previously not controversial event. He hears coyotes, "the little bastards," howling at night from his country home. "It ticks me off," Peterson writes. "Scares me a little, too."
Peterson thinks petition signers are blinded by snobbish perceptions of who's taking part in the shoot. The contestants are serious outdoorsmen doing their part to cut down on an animal that menaces area livestock and pets, not "tobacco-chewing, beer-swilling mountain men hootin' and hollerin'" like some city folks assume.
"Move on to the next cause," Peterson writes. "Or make another one up."
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