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Hunting or killing? Controversy over coyote contests fuel emotionally-charged debate in southern Wisconsin

Hunters and animal rights advocates go head-to-head over this controversial practice
Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 6:30 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Controversy is swirling over competitions that deal in death. Animal rights advocates are calling for an end to what they call “coyote killing competitions” happening right here in southern Wisconsin. These contests are completely legal -- and hunters argue these animals need to be kept in check.

Depending on who you talk to, the very name of the event differs. Hunters call them coyote hunting competitions, while those against the practice call them killing competitions.

“This has to quit. It’s barbaric, it’s sadistic,” said Julie Dybevik. Dybevik says she’s an animal activist living in southern Wisconsin. She recently paid to have a billboard put up on Highway 14 between Janesville and Evansville to let people know this practice was taking place in the area.

There are seven other states that have banned killing contests, wildlife killing contests, and Wisconsin you are next,” said Dybevik. Washington state is the most recent state to ban the practice. It’s also illegal in Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Vermont.

NBC15 News confirmed coyote contests take place in our rural parts of southern Wisconsin. The events are often hosted by bars and taverns on a weekend.

In Wisconsin, there are very few regulations in place to hunt coyotes. According to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), a small game license is required. You can hunt coyotes year-round, day or night. There is also no limit on how many you can kill.

The DNR does not have a population estimate when it comes to coyotes in the state. But their population appears to be thriving. The DNR did tell NBC15 News that coyotes can be found in all 72 counties and in both rural and urban settings. Currently, their population is stable to increasing, according to the DNR.

“They will be able to scratch out a living anywhere you put them,” said Matt McHugh. McHugh is a member of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. He’s an elected delegate who helps advise the DNR on rules and regulations. He’s also the organizer of “Moondog Madness” – calling it Wisconsin’s largest coyote hunting competition.

“Largely, there is ignorance outside of our community as to what we are doing, why we are doing it, and who we are doing it for,” said McHugh.

In Moondog Madness events, teams of two hunters pay an entry fee to compete. Hunters gather on a weekend and go out and try to kill as many coyotes as they can. Prizes are awarded for most kills and heaviest coyote. In McHugh’s events, competitors use only calling techniques to attract the coyotes. McHugh says hunters also use high-powered rifles and high-tech equipment to ensure coyotes are killed swiftly and do not suffer. A Moondog Madness event recently took place in Merrimac March 5th, 6th, and 7th.

Piles of dead coyotes at a competition in Merrimac on March 5th, 6th, 7th
Piles of dead coyotes at a competition in Merrimac on March 5th, 6th, 7th(Wolfproject.org)

“We love these animals,” said McHugh. “There’s no hatred for the critter in what we are doing.”

McHugh says oftentimes, landowners will contact him to come to their property to help get rid of coyotes. These landowners are trying to protect their livestock and livelihood because they have been known to attack calves and even pets, according to McHugh.

“For someone who has a garden and is trying to grow a garden and is trying to grow carrots out there and two weeks after they get the seeds planted and the dirt all worked up and the fertilizer down, then the weeds start coming. What are they doing with those weeds in response to growing their carrots? They are pulling them out, right?” McHugh said drawing an analogy.

“They (coyotes) are quite resilient. People have been trying to manage coyote populations for a long time unsuccessfully,” said Dr. Michelle Lute, a wildlife biologist based in New Mexico. Dr. Lute works with Project Coyote– an organization dedicated to banning wildlife killing/hunting competitions.

“The old saying is you kill one coyote and two will show up to her funeral,” said Dr. Lute. “You’re not controlling populations by killing coyotes. You’re really just creating chaos across the landscape and across the social structures of this species. So, killing doesn’t really work.”

Jeremy Bangel is a hunter who lives in Osseo, Wisconsin. He hunts coyotes on his own land but also has permission to hunt on few thousand acres near his home. Coyote competitions usually take place around January, February, and March because they’re on the move for mating season.

“I have participated in coyote competitions. For me, it’s something to do usually around the winter months,” said Bangel.

Bangel says most hunters have a deep respect for the coyote. “A good hunter is not someone who is going to go out there and harvest an animal in a barbaric way. We want to have a good clean, kill where that animals aren’t suffering,” he said.

“It’s not just us going out there with a bloodlust to shoot these animals and leave them in a ditch,” added McHugh. “And what we are doing is not trying to remove them from the landscape. We work in terms of conservation as hunters. We want them there forever.”

NBC15 obtained video from a recent Moondog Madness hunt in Nelsonville, Wisconsin from January. An activist named Stephanie (she didn’t want us to use her last name) shot undercover video of piles of coyote carcasses on the last day of the hunt.

“I couldn’t have imagined the blood smell in the air would be that thick,” she said. Stephanie works with the organization Wolf Patrol. Their website says they are a conservation movement. Stephanie says she attended the recent event in Nelsonville to visually document what happens at these competitions. She says they set up a fake account and signed up as a hunter to get access to the event. You can watch her video from the event here.

“We are showing you what is happening and how it looks and it’s not pretty,” she said. “Until these contests actually get stopped, they need to be shown to the public over and over again until there is enough public support that we get them banned.”

McHugh says the images of coyote hunts found on social media can trigger emotional responses in a lot of people. But he also believes there is a double standard.

“It’s strange also that these pictures of people over a deer and holding on to the horns of a buck don’t illicit the same response,” he said.

Bangel is encouraging people to get outside and try coyote hunting, if you think you might want to give it a try. “Go out and give it a shot and if its not for you, don’t bash the people who are doing it because they are actually doing a service to the ecosystem,” he said.

Dybevik hopes state lawmakers see what is happening and introduce legislation in Madison to get the practice banned.

“Wisconsin we are better than this and we are going to change the law,” she said.

As far as what happens to the coyote carcasses after the event is over, McHugh says they sell the fur. This is his response to what happens to the rest of the animal: “The carcasses are properly held prior to proper disposal by a licensed fur buyer/taxidermist in a covered location so that the lead fragments in the tissues of the coyotes are not accessible to birds of prey and or other scavengers. The fur is used to make many different items of clothing, or accessories to clothing, blankets, cabin decorations and more. The rest of the meat and bones initially feed aerobic bacteria, later anaerobic bacteria, a slough of other microorganisms found in the soil profile, as well as multiple species of Fungi. Decomposition breaks organic matter like coyotes down to their original elements before eventually providing nutrients to the plant life drawing from the same soil.”

Reporter note: You may have noticed in the story that aired on NBC15, Julie Dybevik was wearing a fur coat and hat. NBC 15′s Tim Elliott asked Dybevik about her activism and wearing fur. Her response is as follows: “This is fake fur. I will never, ever wear fur. And that’s another thing. The fur companies are going right down the tubes too because people are becoming more conscious of animal cruelty, mink farms, this and that. First of all, you hardly ever wear coyote. You can still look fashionable without dead animal skin on you.”

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