A bill introduced by two Nevada lawmakers would ban “coyote killing contests” that are widely unpopular with the general public but have staunch support from some landowners and hunting groups. Assembly Bill 102, sponsored by Assemblyman Howard Watts and Senator Melanie Scheible, would prohibit any “contest, tournament, derby or any other type of competition that includes the taking of a covered animal for prizes.” The bill defines a covered animal as a coyote, beaver, bobcat, fox, mink, muskrat, otter, rabbit, skunk or weasel.

A February poll found that 66 percent of respondents opposed these contests, which eight western states (including Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Washington) have banned or restricted. Besides Nevada, four other states are considering legislation that would end the practice. Federal legislation to ban such contests on public lands has been introduced in Congress.

At a March 15 hearing before the legislature’s Natural Resources Committee, sportsmen’s groups martialed a range of arguments against the proposal, citing the positive impact such contests have on controlling predators that might reduce the state’s game populations and decrying what they see as meddling by animal rights groups and urban Nevadans.

“[AB 102] pits urbans against rurals simply because of a different way of life,” said Larry Johnson of the Coalition for Nevada’s Wildlife. “This bill is just part of a national campaign by animal rights groups to chip away at our rural culture, our outdoor way of life.” Neil Teeny of the Nevada Trappers Association noted the “massive amounts” spent by the state on predator control and said coyote hunting contests are cost-effective and efficient. “It simply makes sense to get the work done for free.”

Assemblyman Watts (D-Las Vegas) denied that the bill is intentionally divisive. “It’s a difficult conversation. It’s not meant to spur regional divide,” he said. “I’ve heard from folks all over the state and urban and rural areas on both sides of this issue.” 

The bill does not ban the hunting of coyotes or other predators, only contests that offer cash and other prizes. The contests are not part of any state-sponsored management plan and are not endorsed by the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW).

In November 2021, the Nevada Wildlife Commission narrowly defeated an effort to ban the contests, despite what one report called “a rare, impassioned plea” by NDOW director Tony Wasley. “In my ethics as a hunter, I hope to defend a deeper and more profound sense of hunting than what I fear coyote contests say to the general public about hunters and our ethics,” Wasley told commissioners. “Hunters need to be conscious of the public image we project and the way in which the public perceives us.” The commission voted 5 to 4 against the ban. A 2015 petition to end the contests garnered only one yes vote from the commission.

Wasley, who retired in 2022 after 25 years with the state wildlife department, 10 as director, said in 2021 that “contests do not and will not replace the need for strategic predator control for the benefit of other species, nor do they save the agency any appreciable amount of money.” Ban proponents are sounding a similar note this time around. “As a former state wildlife biologist in New Mexico where wildlife killing contests are banned, I can confidently state that contests serve no legitimate wildlife management purpose,” Michelle Lute, now the carnivore conservation director for Project Coyote, said in a press release. “In fact, studies show that indiscriminate killing such as these contests only serve to create chaos in the social order of wildlife and increase the potential for conflict.”