Animal-rights group ties gambling laws to Kansas coyote hunt

An animal-rights group was able to stop a WaKeeney coyote-calling contest, saying entry fees and prize money constitute gambling under Kansas law.
An animal-rights group was able to stop a WaKeeney coyote-calling contest, saying entry fees and prize money constitute gambling under Kansas law. File photo

An animal-rights group has stopped a coyote-calling and hunting contest in western Kansas by tying it to the state’s gambling laws.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, based in San Francisco, filed a lawsuit against the organizers of the WaKeeney hunt. Jordan Bleske, one of the organizers, said the suit was settled by agreeing to not hold it again and paying the organization $2,000 in legal fees.

The Jan. 9 hunt was the only one held by Bleske and two friends. He would not say how many hunters entered or how many coyotes were shot.

“It’s been resolved,” said Bleske, 24. “I’ve moved on.”

Sarah Hanneken, a lawyer for ALDF, said they cited Kansas’ gambling laws to say that the calling contest was a game of chance. Entrants paid $80 to participate in the one-day event. The grand prize of $500 went to whoever killed the most coyotes that day.

“As a general matter, anytime you have to pay to participate to win a prize that is largely based on chance, that is going to fall within the definition of gambling,” Hannekin said.

Her group represented Western Plains Animal Refuge in Hays.

“These contests are not welcome in Kansas,” said Brendon McCampbell, the refuge’s director. “We are happy this horrible event has been canceled, and we hope others like it will also be ended soon.”

A call to the refuge was not returned.

Coyote calling usually involves hunters using mouth-blown or electronic callers that mimic the sounds of a wounded rabbit, songbird or fawn to attract coyotes looking for an easy meal. Contests have been held across the western half of the United States for decades.

One of the largest, the Midwest Coyote Calling Event, was held in St. Francis in extreme northwest Kansas. The hunt’s Facebook page said its 2016 hunt was the last after 20 years. Hunters came from many states for the hunt. Landowners in at least three states volunteered their property, hoping to reduce the local coyote population.

The Facebook page said 1,700 two-man teams had participated in the event over the 20 years. It also said 4,300 coyotes had been shot.

Those familiar with hunting coyotes argue it takes more than luck. Many rate coyotes one of the most challenging animals to hunt in North America.

Charles Lee, a Kansas State University extension service wildlife biologist, has hunted coyotes for more than 50 years. First, as a ranch kid growing up in western Kansas. Professionally, he does it to help ranchers incurring damages to sheep, goats and calves from coyotes.

“I don’t know of any outdoors activities that are luck,” said Lee. “People with the most experiences always tend to do better at coyote hunting and most things outdoors.”

Lee said skills involved include knowing how to spot good coyote habitat, and have the ability to sneak into the area without being seen, heard or smelled by coyotes. The animals are, by nature, extremely cautious, especially once they’ve been called to and hunted. Shots are often long and at swiftly moving targets.

Lee said he’s seeing increased interest in predator calling in Kansas and across America. The equipment now is better than ever. But America’s coyotes must be getting smarter than ever, too.

“My observations and information would tell me (coyotes are) increasing statewide, year after year, and have been since the ’80s, and probably before that,” said Lee, who averages one or two complaints per week from livestock growers. “They’re just extremely adaptable, and really don’t have any other predators other than people in Kansas.”

Hanneken said her group has have ended contests in other states, citing gambling laws. She doesn’t think any of the cases have gone to trial and instead have been settled out of court.

Chris Tymeson, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism attorney. said neither Bleske or his lawyer contacted the agency, seeking advice before the matter was settled.

Tymeson said he wasn’t familiar with the Smoky Hill Calling Contest nor the legal action that ended it. After reading state regulations, he thinks hunters would win if such a case went to court in Kansas.

“It does take skill (for hunting and fishing),” said Tymeson, an avid hunter and angler. “Gambling is pure chance. You can’t control the card that will be dealt or what color something will land on. A contest is a determination of skill. You have to have skills to hunt coyotes, or about anything.”