Over the weekend, 125 hunters poured into the small town of Salmon, Idaho, to participate in the Predator Hunting Contest and Fur Rendezvous, better known as a “hunting derby.” The end result? Thirty coyotes were killed during the three-day hunt, and—for the second consecutive year—zero wolves.
The derby, organized by executive director of Idaho for Wildlife Steve Alder, was created to help curb predator populations and teach hunting and survival skills, but the event has attracted much controversy in its two-year lifespan. More than 50,000 complaints were sent to local officials after the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gave the event’s organizers a permit to use public property for this year’s hunt, permission that was later rescinded. James Townley, an official with BLM, told Newsweek the permit was pulled due to “uncertainties about the details of the Predator Hunt” and “operational changes,” though Alder believes it was because of the numerous complaints. As a result, this year’s derby, like last year’s, was held on U.S. Forest Service lands and private property volunteered by local ranch owners.
Much of the controversy surrounding the derby has to do with its mission: hunting wolves. The Humane Society has twice called the event a “wolf massacre”—the hunters’ lack of success in killing any notwithstanding—and a number of animal rights activists have spoken out against it.
Idaho legally allows each hunter to kill up to five wolves per season and trap five more, but Alder told Newsweek that hunters were unable to kill, track or even spot a single wolf this year. Consequently, a $1,000 reward for the hunter who bagged the most wolves went unclaimed yet again. The prize money will be donated to a local food bank instead.
“Nobody even saw a track. We had fresh snow, and we were just in shock,” Alder said. “No sightings, no tracks.” He noted that there was an increase in coyote captures this year—30, compared with 21 during last year’s derby. One team of hunters killed 12 coyotes over three days and sold their pelts to a fur buyer who attended the event. The team walked away with a $1,000 cash prize for most coyotes killed.
Alder also believes mother nature may have interfered with the derby: A 4.9 magnitude earthquake was felt throughout the Salmon region on Saturday morning. “After the earthquake, it was difficult to call in the animals,” he said.
Philip Jackson, owner of local business Salmon Woodworks, participated in the event with his son and a friend, but the trio had little luck. “I was looking for both coyotes and wolves, but because BLM pulled their permit, we were forced to hunt mainly in the forest and that is more difficult,” Jackson said. “The BLM territory is less wooded, more open and on a lower elevation more conducive to hunting wolves.”
While wolves are not daily visitors to Jackson’s property, he has in the past spotted tracks about a half mile from his home. “The wolves are getting closer all the time. Sooner or later, there will be some more sightings closer to town,” he said. Although he was hoping to bag a wolf, most of Jackson’s hunting is dedicated to supplying meat for his family. “As a hunter, I don’t like competing with the wolf,” he said. “I would rather be out there hunting and finding animals, but the elk and deer are harder to hunt now. I hunt to feed my family, and of course, there is a sense of sport in it. But it is kind of a necessity with the price of meat the way it is.”
Two of the event’s other hunters, girls ages 9 and 10, “weren’t quite fast enough to shoot coyotes, but they both took some rabbits,” Alder said. The duo, daughters of another derby hunter, received a .22 rifle as a gift from Idaho for Wildlife for their participation.