ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Only one coyote had been shot so far and no protesters showed up Saturday at a New Mexico gun shop sponsoring a coyote hunting contest this weekend that set off howls of protests from animal activists.
In fact, television and radio reporters milling in the shop's parking lot were the biggest problem the hunt created, said Rick Gross, business manager of Gunhawk Firearms in Los Lunas.
Animal activists and the state's trust land commissioner were incensed when Gunhawk owner Mark Chavez said he'd go ahead with the hunt despite the protests.
The two-day hunt sparked thousands of angry emails, social media postings and a petition signed by activists from as far as Europe who have demanded that the hunt be called off. Last week, a small group of protesters held a rally outside of Gunhawk Firearms and waved signs denouncing the event as cruel and "bloodthirsty."
Gunhawk's Rick Grosse said Saturday each of about 100 hunters signed a pledge to only hunt on private land with the owner's permission. He said there's no shortage of hunting spots because many ranchers lose cattle to coyotes and are happy to see them gone.
The terms of the competition are simple: hunters have two days this weekend to shoot and kill as many coyotes as they can, and the winners get their choice of a free shotgun or a pair of semi-automatic rifles.
Gross said he and his partner, Chavez, decided they needed to go ahead with the hunt on principal after a large shop in Albuquerque pulled out of a planned hunt a month ago because of pressure from activists. He pointed out that hunting coyotes is legal, and noted that paid government hunters take thousands a year to cut the population.
"We care about public opinion, we care," Gross told The Associated Press by phone on Saturday. "Honestly we took this over because a big gun shop pulled out because of threats. And we just thought that was wrong.
"We're going to stick to it no matter what – much more on principle."
People are upset over the idea of making a contest out of killing an animal that usually lives peacefully alongside residents, Susan Weiss, 74, who leads the Coexist with Coyotes group in Corrales, N.M., told the AP on Friday.
"There's a tremendous amount of arrogance in conducting this hunt," Weiss said. "(Chavez) is damaging the reputation of ranchers. He is damaging the reputation of legitimate hunters."
But Gross said the controversy was overblown.
"Of the estimated 300,000 coyotes in this state, maybe 100-200 are going to be taken in this hunt," he noted.
Plus, Gross said, ranchers are crying out for help.
"We get pictures from ranchers every day – they send us pictures of slaughtered livestock every day," he said.
The two-day hunt concludes Sunday.