EAGLE RIVER – Sen. Fred Risser of Madison floats a bill every year or so to outlaw “wildlife killing contests” in Wisconsin, claiming that folks so lust for guns, belt buckles, cash prizes and “senseless violence” that they’ll use “questionable tactics” to “kill wildlife indiscriminately.”
And then, just as routinely, Risser’s bill withers away after generating random news articles, and a few “fair and balanced” pro/con opinions on TV, radio and social media.
Yep. We all know our lines and where we stand, and we assume our opponents are misguided mopes who can’t possibly have a viewpoint or argument worth pondering.
The Legislature might never schedule a hearing for Risser’s bill, but the Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators Association held a panel discussion on the matter July 20 during its annual conference at Trees for Tomorrow. When it ended 90 minutes later, WOCA members agreed the topic isn’t as simple as many assume, maybe because the panelists gave it more thought than most folks do. The panel featured …
-- Professor Marc Boglioli of Drew University in New Jersey is a UW-Madison graduate. He studied Vermont deer hunters while earning his doctoral degree in anthropology.
-- Dave Mabie, a Wisconsin Conservation Congress delegate and hunter from Price County, has organized and/or hunted in contests for rabbits, deer, coyotes and raccoons.
-- Mikii Opahle, Baraboo, is a district leader of the Humane Society of the United States and founder of “Stop the Madness,” a grassroots campaign that opposes hunting contests.
-- Doug Duren, Cazenovia, is a hunter and member of Richland County’s citizen deer advisory council. He’s participated in rabbit and squirrel contests, and volunteers at local ice-fishing derbies and turkey-hunting organizations to raise money for conservation efforts.
-- Matt O’Brien, a law-enforcement policy officer at the Department of Natural Resources, answered questions about existing laws on hunting and trapping.
Opahle said Wisconsin isn’t the only state with policymakers who oppose hunting contests. Vermont and New Mexico banned coyote contests. Arizona and California forbid contests for predators and furbearers. Maryland and Colorado limit the number or types of animals killed in contests. And New York and New Jersey have legislation seeking bans on contests.
Boglioli visited a coyote contest’s base in 2006, where he interviewed participants and their friends and families. He said the event had a family atmosphere, with kids running around and gawking at coyotes brought in by hunters. Meanwhile, residents elsewhere were sharply divided.
“Vermont is very much a hook-and-bullet state, but coyote contests were really the first thing anyone remembers that made hunters go at each other’s throats,” Boglioli said. “The debate really drove a wedge into the community. Those who opposed the contests thought the events opened a window for anti-hunters to attack. The first protests came in 2005, and the state banned the contests 13 years later in 2018. You can still hunt coyotes in Vermont every day of the year, but you cannot hold coyote tournaments.”
Opahle said she grew up in a hunting family and is very familiar with hunting traditions, but was shocked to learn hunting contests aren’t unusual in Wisconsin. She identified 42 contests in the state, including 24 targeting coyotes. Other contests focus on crows, rabbits, squirrels, pigeons and raccoons. Opahle was so put off by the predator contests that she launched her “Stop the Madness” effort on Facebook.
“I think it’s a disrespectful way of looking at animals,” she said. “I think contests undermine the public’s overall view of ethical hunting. I don’t have a problem with big-buck contests. I don’t see that as a killing contest because deer hunting is so heavily regulated. Coyote contests are missing that element of respect for the animal being hunted.”
Mabie said he likes discussing hunting contests because his 30-year background in them provides perspectives most people haven’t heard before. “My Saturdays in winter aren’t much different one weekend to the next,” Mabie said. “I’ll probably be hunting coyotes, rabbits or something else. The only difference is that there’ll be a contest some weekends. But I still hunt the same way and usually with the same people, and we still end the day skinning coyotes. Not just anyone hunts coyotes, but nearly everyone hunts rabbits and squirrels. So it’s not like you hold a coyote contest and see a whole new group of people invading the woods. You see the same hunters in coyote contests that you see every other weekend in winter.”
Duren said he’s participated in rabbit, squirrel and big-buck hunting contests in Cazenovia, and considers himself open-minded. “When I lived in Madison, I was probably the most conservative guy in town, and now that I’m back living in Caz, I’m probably the most liberal guy in town,” he said.
Duren said he’s never participated in a coyote contest, but he used to hunt them opportunistically. “We had a rich tradition of fox hunting with my dad when I was a kid, and they had a strong tradition of hunting coyotes,” he said. “I know people who still run coyotes and call them, but I just got away from that. I haven’t shot a coyote in years. I figure they’re out there just trying to make a living like the rest of us. I don’t see the need to hunt them, but I’d never want to see coyote hunting or coyote contests go away. So I stand before you as a very conflicted person.”
Duren said he’s equally confused about why people so vehemently oppose coyote contests, but stay calm about rabbit-hunting contests.
“Some folks just don’t like seeing people hunt a member of the canine family,” Duren said. “We wouldn’t be having these debates if we just held hunting contests for rabbits and squirrels.”