By Ryan Sabalow
His 14 coyote carcasses would have won him $325 when Troy Childers headed back to Rockville to show off his kills to the organizers of a February coyote-killing contest.
But there was a problem for the 39-year-old Roachdale man. Wildlife officers say they discovered that Childers killed all of the coyotes illegally.
In doing so, Childers shined a negative spotlight onto the already-controversial world of coyote-killing contests.
Some wildlife officials argue that such contests are an important tool to keep coyote populations in check. But the contests are despised as needless blood sport by animal-rights activists. Some researchers, meanwhile, have been pushing to ban them in some states, saying they do little to actually keep numbers down.
Childers didn't return messages seeking comment.
Conservation Officer Nathan Lutz said the Rockville "Coyote Crush" derby held Feb. 20-22 was one of several completely legal competitions that have grown in popularity across Indiana in recent years.
Lutz said this particular contest had between 15 and 20 teams of contestants who could hunt solo or in pairs.
The organizers didn't return a message from The Indianapolis Star, but their website says the derby required a $50 entry fee per team.
Lutz said teams took home prizes for killing the most coyotes or the biggest. The rest of the entrance fees were to be donated to a program that takes disabled combat veterans on hunting adventures.
With his 14 coyotes, Childers came in first place at the check-in, but Lutz said other hunters cried foul. The second-place team had 13 coyotes. In total, Lutz said more than 30 coyotes were killed in the contest.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources announced this weekend they'd filed misdemeanor charges against Childers.
Lutz said that during the contest, Childers didn't have a hunting license, he sneaked onto land on which he didn't have permission to hunt, and he killed at least eight coyotes. He also "stole" at least one coyote from another trapper's trap, Lutz said.
Childers hasn't yet had a hearing or entered a plea in Parke Circuit Court in Rockville.
Coyote contests were recently banned in California, and at least two other states' have discussed banning them.
Photos of hunters standing over heaps of coyote carcasses outrage animal-rights groups who are galled at the notion of people competing to kill animals they don't eat.
However, Lutz says, in Indiana, the contests are an important tool to stop coyotes from growing overpopulated and killing farmers' livestock.
Lutz's agency, however, is neutral.
"The DNR has no position for or against coyote-hunting contests and believes current hunting regulations and state law provide ample options for dealing with coyotes," said DNR spokesman Phil Bloom.
Robert Crabtree, chief scientist with the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, said his research has repeatedly shown that indiscriminate coyote hunting does little to actually thin their numbers. Nor, he says, does it actually prevent livestock predation.
In fact, he argues mass, indiscriminate killing of coyotes actually can make things worse for ranchers.
Crabtree said with fewer coyotes around, there's more food, so females produce litters with bigger, healthier — and hungrier — pups.
Coyotes can have up to 10 pups in a single litter.
"My research shows you can kill 80 percent on a landscape," Crabtree said, "and you will still have the same number of breeding pairs, needing to kill larger packages of prey to feed their fast-growing pups."
Crabtree and some other researchers point to a rancher-supported federal coyote-killing program as proof of how ineffective such mass killings are.
They say that in spite of U.S. government agents shooting, trapping and poisoning tens of thousands of coyotes every year, they're not making a dent.
In fact in many areas the population is expanding. That's certainly the case in Indiana.
Coyotes were considered rare or uncommon in Indiana until the early 1970s.
Now, there are so many, they're frequently spotted in urban communities. Lately, suburbs in and around Indianapolis have been fielding reports of backyard coyote encounters that sometimes include coyotes nabbing pet dogs and cats as easy meals.