By Holly Kee
For the third consecutive year, Paul Browne has organized the Southern Illinois Predator Challenge, an event in which two-person teams compete to kill the most coyotes in a 24-hour period. This year"s event is set for Jan. 14 and 15 at the Marion American Legion.
While this type of hunt is legal in Illinois, wildlife activists say it is not ethical and, in fact, can damage the ecosystem.
"Despite its innocuous sounding name, this "contest" is simply a bloodbath for entertainment," says Marc Ayers, Illinois State Director for the Humane Society.
Browne disagrees. He says holding the predator challenge helps to control the coyote population.
"There"s a lot of coyotes," he says. "If you don"t keep the ecosystem in balance, everything is affected."
Ayers says contests such as this "do not reduce the coyote population or protect livestock or wildlife from depredation."
"Even if large numbers of native carnivores are removed from an area," he says, "scientific evidence demonstrates that native carnivore species such as coyotes and foxes respond through an increase in numbers."
Ayers says the population may even grow to outnumber that in the area before the killing.
"Killing contests create instability and chaos in the family structures of animals who are killed," he says.
Browne says "that"s a common misunderstanding."
"Granted, I do not have any facts to prove this," he says, "but what determines that male and female are going to produce more?"
According to the University of Illinois Extension, coyotes typically produce a single litter each year, usually in late April or early May. Litter sizes can range from one pup to 19, but they average around six or seven.
The website also notes that coyotes, which became the largest predator in Illinois after wolves and mountain lions were extirpated in the 1860s, have no remaining natural predators. Urban coyotes typically live less than two years, with vehicle collisions being the most common cause of death. Rural coyotes typically live three to four years and succumb to malnutrition and disease.
Ayers notes that coyotes are valuable members of the wildlife community.
"They provide a number of free, natural ecological services," he says. "They help to control disease transmission, clean up animal carcasses, keep rodent populations in check, increasing biodiversity, removing sick animals from the gene pool, and protecting crops."
The UIE agrees that coyotes are an integral part of a healthy ecosystem. In fact, a collaborative research project in 2000 found that coyotes are actually an asset in the urban environment.
Browne says "hunting is part of our heritage, and organized hunts that bring friends and family together have been in existence for years."
However, Pam Sundeen, director of Second Nature Wildlife Rehabilitation in Thompsonville, disagrees.
"Don"t be fooled into thinking this is hunting," she says. "It is not. This is a blood sport, plain and simple."
Sundeen says "many respectable hunters cry foul on these contests."
"Some will tell you it is about population control," she says. "Science has proven that false. Removing coyotes from a pack will result in larger litters and earlier breeding of young females. Nature has a balance."
Browne says the first SIPC event was organized in 2015 based upon "a social media polling interest."
The Facebook page for the SIPC has 633 total "likes" with timeline posts dating back to 2014.
"We had 25 two-person teams participate that harvested 36 coyotes and three foxes," he says. "The 2016 event was changed to a 'coyote-only' event due to the declining population of foxes that we as predator hunters are observing."
That event also introduced a youth entry program where a team could include a youth under the age of 15 as an observer. The Facebook timeline for the event shows a 2016 photo of a 12-year-old holding a rifle in front of a dead red fox. The post, made by "Southern Illinois Predator Challenge," states that the child "made an absolute perfect shot."
While Browne says all animals in the event will be harvested ethically, and only legal hunting methods outlined in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources hunting digest are permitted, he admits that dishonesty cannot be avoided 100 percent in any type of event.
"Harvested animals will be inspected at the end of the event," he says. "Polygraph tests, core body temperatures and time-stamped photographs upon harvest have successfully been used to reduce unethical behavior among hunters."
Ayers says killing contests remove any notion of fair chase, the fundamental hunting ethic which dictates that the hunter should not gain an unfair advantage over the hunted.
"Participants often use high-tech equipment," he says. "One of the most chilling aspects is the use of electronic calling devices to attract coyotes into rifle range with sound that imitate the cry of a coyote in distress."
Ayers says that like humans, coyotes feel a strong bond to other members of their species and will rush to investigate a cry for help.
Browne defends his event, stating "We"re not doing anything different than in the deer hunting seasons."
Browne says all hunters are required to show a valid hunting license, firearm owner"s identification card and habitat stamp during the registration process.
"Hunters that do not possess proper licensing will not be allowed to hunt in the SIPC event, "he says. "All IDNR regulations apply."
However, he says there are no geographic boundaries on the event.
"If someone wants to hunt over in Kentucky, they can do it," he says. In fact, Browne says he has "two or three teams from New York and two from Virginia" coming to the event.
"They can harvest from anywhere in the state for this hunt," he says, "even U.S. wide. It"s not for Illinois residents only."
Ayers has contacted the American Legion urging them to cancel the SIPC event. Attempts to reach the post commander were unsuccessful, but Donna Duvall, an employee of the Post, says the Post is not sponsoring the event.
"They are meeting in the parking lot for the weigh-in," she says. "We have our monthly military breakfast that day. We told them they can come in and eat breakfast."
Once the animals are presented at the end of the event, Browne takes them to a fur buyer. He pockets the pelt fees, which he says are "about $5 each," in return for organizing the event and collecting prizes and sponsors.
"The entry fees are 100 percent payback," he says.
Browne says that over the past two years "there have been a lot of new friendships and camaraderie built due to the SIPC event, along with a strong social media following throughout the Midwest."
Ayers likens the contests to dogfighting and cockfighting.
"Gratuitously slaughtering animals for thrills and prizes is unethical and out of step with our current understanding of ecosystems," he says.