Proposed law would ban all hunting contests in Wisconsin

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(WSAW) -- A new bill introduced in the state Senate Thursday would ban both the organization and participation of all hunting contests in Wisconsin.

Fishing tournaments, however, would be exempt because, as the bill's author democratic Sen. Fred Risser explained, there are already state rules and regulations.

"We've heard some people that are very strongly in support of it and on the same handle we've heard some very strong objections to it," said Risser.

He said he looked at other states with similar laws for guidance, as well as spoke with hunters and conservationists when writing the bill. He explained the bill would not affect hunting laws, it would just promote ethical hunting, which is what he says is at the core of this bill.

"We don't attack any kind of legitimate hunting at all," he urged. "What we do is try to outlaw the hunting where there's sponsored competition with the objective of killing wild animals for entertainment and for the chances of winning prizes and then discarding the carcasses, this is not ethical hunting."

Adrian Wydeven, a retired wildlife biologist and wolf specialist said overall the bill would help with some conservation issues.

Coyote hunting, for example, can be done year round and it is a popular hunt to host contests.

"There are people who hunt and trap coyotes for their fur and have intent to make use of the animals," said Wydeven. "That would be different than these contests where, I guess, potentially, they could be used, but when there are a lot of animals being harvested over a short period of time by a lot of people who otherwise normally wouldn't be for fur harvesting, there's probably a greater chance that they're just going to be discarded."

He said it also puts protected wolves in danger.

"If the intent is, and there's incentive, to shoot the biggest coyote and you're going to get paid for the biggest coyote, that might encourage people to shoot at animals that end up being a wolf," Wydeven said.

Deer hunter, Erik Syvinck, said overall he is in favor of the bill. He also cited coyote contests as the main reason to ban tournaments, or if not banned, then more regulated.

Matt McHugh, an organizer of the Moondog Madness coyote tournament said the contests are not a bloodbath like many people perceive them as.

He said the who people sign up for the contest weigh in at a central location at the end of the tournament, in this contest's case Cambria, but the coyotes come from wherever the hunter is from. So, if a hunter is from, say, Farmington, Minn., the coyotes the hunter brings to the weigh in are going to be from land that hunter is allowed to hunt on usually from their local area.

McHughs said part of his job in their tournament is checking that each coyote was harvested properly, meaning they were not run over or killed in any other inhumane way. He explained the way coyotes are hunted is by calling them in and shooting them with a high-powered rifle so the kill is instant. Sometimes, dogs are used to chase and exhaust the animal, he explained, and the hunter is following close behind in a snowmobile to make the quick kill.

In regards to mistaking the coyotes for wolves, McHughs said it is possible, but very unlikely. He said he often attracts wolves when calling for coyotes, but there are numerous ways to tell the difference. He said coyotes are significantly smaller than wolves and the difference is very visible in the daylight. When hunting at night, he said the heat registers differently in the thermal vision tools used. He firmly believes because of what he said are obvious differences, largely, when a wolf is illegally poached, the poachers know what they are doing and use coyote hunting as an excuse to hide their true intent.

McHughs said coyotes are hunted for their fur, rather than their meat, though in some cultures, the meat is consumed, but it is rare. He believes that is partly why hunting the animal is looked at differently than when hunting deer, for example, where the hides and the meat can be used.

He said most often hunters are asked to hunt on land by people who see coyotes as a problem for them, whether they had pets disappear after seeing some in their yard, they have young children and have seen one, or have livestock or chickens that have been threaten by them.

Once the coyote tournament is complete, McHughs said either the animals go with the hunter to be used, or he takes them personally to deliver the furs and then ultimately buries the carcasses deep enough so scavengers cannot get to them and in an area that will not affect drinking water.

Both he and Wydeven said there is no evidence showing hunting coyotes controls the population and that there is no real need to control the species as it manages itself.

"So it's a controversial matter, which I think deserves the discussion," said Sen. Risser. "That's one reason we have a legislature is to review matters of interest to various persons and we'll see what happens."

Risser said if language needs to be adjusted, that is what the legislative process is for and he welcomes open discussion about the bill and topic.

For example, Wydeven and several hunters NewsChannel 7 spoke with believe the bill should exempt things like big buck contests or contests for animals with limited seasons because the limited season brings out responsible hunters, rather than prize seekers, anyway.