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The recent “Dog Days of Winter Coyote Derby” in Dillon was an embarrassment to the great state of Montana, and a stain on our hunting tradition of sportsmanship and fair chase. In these wildlife-killing contests, participants compete for cash and prizes for killing the most coyotes, foxes, bobcats and wolves. Most Montana hunters proudly stand by the fundamental sportsman's ethic of fair chase, which is inherently absent when the goal is mass killing for killing sake.

And participants often use high-tech equipment creating an unfair advantage almost always ensuring an easy and unethical kill. One of the most chilling aspects of these events is the use of electronic calling devices (which imitate the cry of another coyote in distress) to attract unsuspecting coyotes into rifle range. Coyotes, like humans, feel a strong bond to other members of their species, and when they hear this cry for help, they come to investigate. Manipulating the natural compassion of animals to lure them into gun range is not sporting, and is a reprehensible practice condemned by ethical hunters.

Making it worse, dependent young may be orphaned during derbies and left to die from starvation, predation or exposure. Killing contests also are out of step with the principles of modern wildlife management. Research has demonstrated that they don’t reduce coyote populations and often even lead to an increase in coyote numbers by destabilizing family structures and increasing reproduction. Studies also have shown that randomly killing native carnivores does not protect livestock or game species, either.

We need to ask ourselves if we really want Montana youth to learn that hunting is just about killing for fun, prizes and bragging rights. Our state can do better in promoting its hunting and outdoors tradition, starting with putting an end to these embarrassing spectacles.

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Jennifer Hickman