Coyote hunting contest draws fire in New Mexico

A New Mexico coyote hunting contest has drawn the ire of opponents nationwide, many of whom have signed an online petition demanding that the hunt be cancelled. Death threats have even been received by the owners of the gun store hosting the hunt.

The coyote hunting contest was originally the idea of Calibers Gun Shop of Albuquerque, but public pressure caused the store to cancel their plans. This week, however, Mark Chavez, owner of Gunhawk Firearms in Los Lunas, N.M, told the Las Cruces Sun-News his shop will sponsor the contest to be held Nov. 17 – 18.

According to a report on Albuquerque television KRQE, the online petition against Gunhawk Firearm's coyote hunt drew nearly 7,000 signatures the first day. Comments on the petition and the store's Facebook page range from support to death threats.

"Some of them are perverse, some of them wanting to line up all the rednecks and hunt them, some of them wanting to kill us or that we should be dead telling us to burn in hell," store employee Josh Walters told KRQE. Most of the people signing the petition don't live in New Mexico.

Chavez told the Las Cruces Sun-Times the public outcry against the hunt's original host spurred him to keep the hunt going. He said decreasing the coyote population across New Mexico will benefit ranchers and recreational hunters who go after the state's deer and antelope.

"I was raised on a cattle ranch and I know the importance of keeping the coyotes in check and keeping your herd strong," Chavez said.

The New Mexico Cattlegrowers Association and New Mexico Woolgrowers Inc., say coyotes cause significant economic loss each year. In 2009, the last year reported, losses to predators in New Mexico included 5,500 sheep and 3,700 lambs. In 2010, the loss of beef cattle exceeded 220,000 head across the southwestern United States.

Despite criticism from animal rights groups and activists from across the nation, Chavez said organizing such a hunt is his right.

"This is perfectly legal. If somebody's issue is that it is slaughter, they should take it up with Game and Fish. They won't get anywhere because it isn't," Chavez said.

"I'm going to hang in there," he declared. "I've hunted my whole life. I've never seen a shortage of coyotes."

Chavez says he will require all hunters in the statewide contest to register and go through an orientation the Friday before the weekend-long hunt. Prospective hunters will be admonished to stay off game preserves and reservations, and to seek permission if they plan to enter private land.

The coyote hunt is open to New Mexico residents, and the orientation in Los Lunas is required along with a $50 fee and agreement to abide by the rules outlined during the orientation. The participants will have from dawn Saturday, Nov. 17, until 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 18, to collect and return coyote carcasses to a location near Los Lunas. The two-person team with the most carcasses will win their choice of either a Browning Maxus 12-guage shotgun or two Palmetto AR-15 .223 semi-automatic rifles.