ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The terms of the competition are simple: Hunters in New Mexico have two days this weekend to shoot and kill as many coyotes as they can, and the winners get their choice of a free shotgun or a pair of semi-automatic rifles.
But the planned two-day coyote hunting contest has sparked an online petition that has generated tens of thousands of signatures worldwide. The FBI is investigating a death threat to the gun shop owner who is sponsoring the hunt. And one protester has even vowed to dress like a coyote to trick hunters into accidentally killing a human.
But none of these episodes will likely stop the owner of Gunhawk Firearms from holding the scheduled two-day coyote hunting contest this weekend, despite the international attention the idea has garnered.
“I’m not going to back down,” said Mark Chavez, 50, who has faced two weeks of angry phone calls and protests — and even a threat to his life. “This is my right to hunt and we’re not breaking any laws.”
Under the rules of the contest, the winning team will get its choice of a Browning Maxus 12-gauge shotgun or two AR-15 semi-automatic rifles from the Los Lunas shop, and a hired taxidermist will salvage any pelts and hides from the dead coyotes for clothing.
“I’ll even give the furs to the homeless if they need it,” Chavez said.
The competition — which opponents are calling a “coyote killing contest” — has sparked thousands of angry emails, social media postings and a petition signed by activists from as far away as Europe who have demanded that the hunt be called off. Last week, a small group of protesters held a rally outside of Gunhawk Firearms and waved signs denouncing the event as cruel and “bloodthirsty.”
People are upset over the idea of making a contest out of killing an animal that usually lives peacefully alongside residents, said Susan Weiss, 74, who leads the Coexist with Coyotes group in Corrales, N.M.
“There’s a tremendous amount of arrogance in conducting this hunt,” Weiss said. “(Chavez) is damaging the reputation of ranchers. He is damaging the reputation of legitimate hunters.”
But some New Mexico ranchers have complained about the large population of coyotes, estimated to be around 300,000 in the state. Coyotes are blamed for thousands of deaths of calves annually, and aren’t protected under federal or state laws, ranchers say.
“People are trying to portray these animals as something they’re not. Coyotes are predators. They survive in the wild by killing what they can, including livestock and pets,” said Rex Wilson, president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association. “The people protesting this contest have obviously never seen a calf chewed up by a coyote, or watched a mama sheep try to revive a dead lamb.”
The controversy began last month when the Albuquerque-based Calibers Shooters Sports Center announced plans for a similar contest. Calibers canceled the event after pressure from Weiss and other activists and attention from national media outlets.
That’s when Chavez, a former rancher and construction worker, took up the cause. He said 60 teams have signed up for the contest, set to begin Saturday on private land of willing ranchers. “I felt that Calibers backed down to the pressure,” he said. “We can’t let that happen, especially since it’s our right to hunt.”