“From left to right: Bryan Walker, Brian Ertz, and Natalie Ertz” (going undercover)
This is a much-needed expose on what wolves are being subjected to in the worst of the worst wolf killing state of Idaho. Four brave souls went undercover to shine a light on this horrific “contest”. I want to thank them for their courage and dedication to the wolves and the coyotes. Predator derbies go on all over the country, often including bobcats and foxes as well. When wolves were delisted, they became a target for these “killing contests”. California is considering a ban on predator derbies.
Warning: Graphic Photos Below
How to Kill a Wolf
An Undercover Report from the Idaho Coyote and Wolf Derby
The best way to fatally wound a wolf without killing it instantly is to shoot it in the gut, preferably with armor-piercing ammunition. Unlike soft lead-tipped bullets, which mushroom inside the body cavity and kill quickly, heavy-jacketed AP ammo pierces the target and blows out the other side.
This has two advantages: The first is that, especially with a gut shot, the animal will suffer. It will bleed out slowly, run a mile or so in terrified panic, and collapse. Then it will die. The second advantage is that, if you’re hunting illegally (out of season, at night with a spotlight, or on land where you shouldn’t), there is little forensic evidence for game wardens to gather. No bullet will be found in the cadaver. Most importantly, the animal will have traveled some distance from where it was shot, so that tracing the site of the shooting is almost impossible.
I gleaned these helpful tips from a nice old man at a saloon in Salmon, Idaho, which last December was the site of the first annual Coyote and Wolf Derby. I had come to this rural town—population 3,000—to enter as a contestant in the derby. Over the course of two days in late December, several hundred hunters would compete to kill as many wolves and coyotes as possible. There were two $1,000 prizes to be had, one for the most coyotes slain and the other for the largest single wolf carcass. Children were encouraged to enter, with special awards for youths aged 10–11 and 12–14 listed on the promotional flyer. The derby’s organizer, a nonprofit sporting group called Idaho for Wildlife, advertised that the event was to be historic: the first wolf-killing contest held in the US since 1974.
Hunting for food is one thing, and in some cases hunting helps to keep overabundant species like deer in ecological check. But the reason we have too many deer in the US in the first place is simple: the steady decline of big predators like the mountain lion and—you guessed it—the wolf. The fact is that we need wolves in ecosystems. So why a killing contest to rid the land of them?
After digging into the wolf-hate literature featured on Idaho for Wildlife’s website, I wondered whether the residents of Salmon were looking to kill wolves out of spite. They hated these creatures, and I wanted to understand why.
Besides killing wolves, one of the group’s core missions, according to its website, is to “fight against all legal and legislative attempts by the animal rights and anti-gun organizations who are attempting to take away our rights and freedoms under the Constitution of the United States of America.” The website also suggested that media coverage of the event was not welcome. The only way I’d be able to properly report on the derby, I figured, was to go undercover as a competing hunter. So I showed up in Salmon a few days before the event, paid the $20 sign-up fee, and officially became part of the slaughter.
The derby called for hunters to work in two-person teams. In the weeks leading up to the competition I recruited pro-wolf activists Brian Ertz and his sister Natalie Ertz, native Idahoans who have worked for local conservation groups. Rounding out our teams was Brian’s friend Bryan Walker, a gnarled former Marine and an Idaho lawyer who has studied shamanism and claims to have an ability to speak with animals.
The nice old man in the bar, whose name was Cal Black, bought the four of us a round of drinks when we told him we were in town for the derby. Cal had grown up on a ranch near town, and his thoughts on wolves reflected those of most other locals we met. Salmon is livestock country—the landscape is riddled with cows and sheep—and ranchers blame wolves for huge numbers of livestock deaths. Therefore wolves needed to be dispatched with extreme prejudice. The derby was a natural extension of this sentiment.
“Gut-shoot every goddamn last one of them wolves,” Cal told us. He wished a similar fate on “tree huggers,” who, in Cal’s view, mostly live in New York City. “You know what I’d like to see? Take the wolves and plant ’em in Central Park, ’cause they impose it on us to have these goddamn wolves! Bullshit! It’s said a wolf won’t attack you. Well, goddamn, these tree huggers don’t know what. I want wolves to eat them goddamn tree huggers. Maybe they’ll learn something!”
“Proud derby contestants displaying a pair of coyotes”
We all raised a glass to the tree huggers’ getting their due. I fought the urge to tell Cal that I live in New York part-time, and that in college Natalie trained as an arborist and had actually hugged trees for a living. Her brother, who is 31 and studying to be a lawyer in Boise, Idaho, had warned me about the risks of going undercover when I broached the idea over the phone. As a representative for the nonprofit Western Watersheds Project, which has lobbied for wolf protections, he’d attended numerous public meetings about “wolf management” in communities like Salmon. “Salmon is the belly of the beast,” he told me. “There is not a more hostile place. It’s Mordor.”
Brian’s former boss at the Western Watersheds Project, executive director Jon Marvel, has received death threats for speaking out in favor of wolves and against the powerful livestock industry. Larry Zuckerman, a conservation biologist for the pro-wolf environmental nonprofit Wild Love Preserve, suspects that it was pro-wolf-hunting residents from Salmon who fatally poisoned his three dogs. Many pro-wolf activists across the American West, especially those who have publicly opposed the ranching industry, have reported similar threats and acts of aggression—tires slashed, homes vandalized, windows busted out with bricks in the night. Idaho for Wildlife’s opinion on the situation is made clear on its website: “Excess predator’s [sic] and environmentalists should go first!”
“more dead coyotes”
Prepping for the derby, we disguised ourselves according to the local style: camo pants and jackets, wool caps, balaclavas, binoculars, and heavy boots. When he wasn’t mystically communicating with elk, Walker enjoyed hunting them. He didn’t look out of place in Salmon, carrying his M4 rifle with a 30-round magazine and a Beretta .45 on his hip. He loaned me his bolt-action .300 Win Mag with a folding bipod, while Brian carried a .30-06 with a Leupold scope. Natalie, who is tall and good-looking, was armed only with a camera and played the part of a domesticated wife “here for the party,” as she put it.
At the derby registration the night before the killing was to commence, we were so convincing that the organizers didn’t even bother to ask for our hunting licenses or wolf permits. Instead they suggested spots in the surrounding mountains where we could find wolves to shoot illegally.
Photos: Courtesy Christopher Ketchum
Posted in: Wolf Wars, Activism, Predator Derby
Tags: Salmon_Idaho, Wolf and Coyote Derby, Undercover Report, Wolf Activists, killing animals for fun and prizes, dead coyotes, wolf wars