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Howling Grows Over Coyote Hunt

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Guy and Elisabeth Dicharry might seem like unlikely crusaders against a coyote hunting contest.

They own a gun and are fiercely protective of the horses, goats, dogs, cats and chickens on their three-acre plot in Los Lunas, which borders the bosque near coyote habitat.

“I would shoot a coyote,” said 58-year-old Elisabeth Dicharry. “If one got in here right now and started to attack my horse or my goats, I would shoot it.”

And yet, the two have been leading the charge to try to stop the two-day competition this weekend sponsored by Gunhawk Firearms, saying they believe the idea of a contest that rewards the highest “body count” is cruel.

The competition has garnered international attention, with people from Bulgaria and Italy among the more than 28,000 who signed an online petition to end the hunt.

Those who support the hunt say

it is their right to hold it and it will help cull the predatory coyote population. Those against it say it’s a promotional stunt by Gunhawk and a public safety hazard.

Mark Chavez, 50, owner of Gunhawk, said he decided to hold the contest after an Albuquerque gun shop, Calibers Shooters Sports Center, called off a coyote hunt in the face of angry calls and emails. Chavez called the decision to hold the hunt a “simple” one.

“I felt that when Calibers backed out, that they, the animal activists, basically won at that point,” Chavez said. “To me, my right to hunt shouldn’t be taken away from me.”

Gunhawk has gotten a steady stream of phone calls and visitors — both for and against, including at least one written threat, Chavez said.

Sixty teams of either one or two people have paid the entry fee of $50 for the statewide hunt. Contestants will be able to hunt from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sundown Saturday — hours dictated by the state’s hunting rules — and until 2 p.m. Sunday. The winner, whoever bags the most coyotes, will get either a Browning Maxus 12-gauge shotgun or two AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.

Because Gunhawk does not have a permit to hold the contest on Bureau of Land Management land, Chavez said he will be advising contestants to stay off BLM land.

There is no coyote hunting season in New Mexico and hunters do not need a license to shoot coyotes.

The New Mexico Wildlife Services, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, estimates that there are 120,000 coyotes in the state pre-whelping — or before they have their young — and about 320,000 after. USDA officials estimated that coyotes killed about 855 cattle and 4,303 calves in 2010 in New Mexico, based on data provided by ranchers. Together, the losses are valued at about $2.3 million.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association is not involved in the contest, but executive director Caren Cowan said coyote hunting is helpful because “it helps keep nature in check.”

“Coyotes are a predator that needs to be managed,” she said. “Cattlemen and sheepmen do their best to manage them on their own. From time to time others want to help, and that’s fine.”

Coyotes also encroach into urban and suburban areas where they pose a risk to pets and people, said Alan May, state director of Wildlife Services.

They are a common sight in many parts of the Albuquerque area — from the Rio Grande bosque to the foothills, but it’s illegal to shoot within city limits.

The Dicharrys say they understand that ranchers need to protect their livestock against coyotes, but they object to the idea of holding a contest. They say it’s a publicity stunt; that it’s a public safety risk because it’s unclear where the hunters will be; and that it attracts more negative media attention to Los Lunas, where authorities are already weighing animal cruelty charges against a livestock business.

Guy Dicharry said the contest is inconsistent with what he values about hunting: killing animals for a purpose.

“It’s going to be a body count,” he said. “It’s not the same thing where if you’ve got a coyote causing problems to livestock, you kill that coyote and make sure it’s dead. This is just saying, ‘let’s go out and we’re going to use these animals, pile them up as many as we can to win a prize.'”

The Journal has received dozens of letters from all corners of the state expressing outrage over the hunt.

“Kill because it is fun? Kill for the sake of killing? We already have enough young people killing or threatening to kill each other,” wrote one reader.

But that doesn’t deter Chavez.

He acknowledges that the contest has been good for business, and says he will likely hold similar events in the future.

“It’s turning into something different than just a coyote hunt,” Chavez said. “It’s more about rights. It’s more about hunting.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal