TROUT CREEK – Registration for an organized coyote and wolf hunt in Sanders County this weekend has been moved to a still-secret location amid alleged threats to one of the original organizers and his family, while an animal rights organization says it plans to protest the hunt.
The “1st Annual Sanders County Great Montana Coyote and Wolf Hunt” is Saturday and Sunday, with participating hunters and trappers required to register Friday night at an as-yet undisclosed private ranch in the area.
The registration had previously been scheduled for the Lakeside Resort and Motel in Trout Creek. Owner John Harris was out of town and not available for comment Tuesday, but earlier posted on his Facebook page that the business was no longer involved with the event.
“The reason behind canceling this event is not because of any great debate, discovering we were wrong or the other side was wrong or the bulling (sic),” Harris wrote. “The reason for canceling is because of the threats that have been received to my family and myself.”
A post on the "Montana Outdoor Radio Show" website said new hosts had taken over the hunt “after recent death threats from anti-hunters to the former Great Montana Coyote and Wolf Hunt’s hosts’ grandchildren.”
A poster for the event says it is now sponsored by Montana Wolf Hunting and Trapping, a Facebook-only advocacy page. Another post by an official with the Montana Trappers Association says the location of the private ranch won’t be released until just before the registration “to eliminate harassment on the host.”
The hunt is legal. John Fraley, Region 1 spokesman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said a game warden would be on normal patrol and monitoring hunting and trapping activities in the area.
“It’s open to people properly licensed for wolves,” Fraley said. The state considers coyotes a predator, he added, and they do not require hunting tags.
Likewise, Sanders County Sheriff Tom Rummel said the normal number of weekend deputies would be on duty.
“I really don’t believe it’s going to turn into anything bad,” he said. “I’ll be real frank; some people are making it sound like there are going to be hundreds of hunters running around the woods, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case.”
Anja Heister of Missoula, director of the Wild and Free campaign for the animal rights organization In Defense of Animals, said she and others hope to learn where hunters and trappers are headed Saturday and Sunday and show up to protest the activity.
On Friday night, at the same time participants are to register in person for the hunt, Heister says an ad hoc group will sponsor a 7 p.m. screening of “Living with Wolves” at the Heron Community Center, about 30 miles northwest of Trout Creek.
The film discusses the ecological importance of carnivores such as wolves and coyotes, and the need for “an ethically sound relationship between humans and these wild animals,” according to Heister.
“We’ll follow that up with a discussion about what can be done to prevent these killing contests,” Heister said. “It’s important to nip this in the bud. The people engaged in this killing contest, I think they are testing the water. If there is no protest, I think things like this will spread like fire across Montana.”
Rummel said that as long as pertinent laws and regulations are obeyed, everything planned by both sides this weekend is legal.
“If people want to protest, that’s their right, as long as they go about it in a legal means,” Rummel said. “And if guys want to hunt, as long as they follow Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ regulations, that’s legal, too.”
The sheriff said he would be surprised if a wolf is killed this weekend.
“I’ve been hunting wolves since it became legal,” Rummel said. “I have yet to kill one, and I’ve tried very hard. They’re a very cagey animal, as are coyotes.”
Before he disassociated his business from the hunt, Harris had told the Missoulian plans for the hunt developed after local hunters said they noticed a lack of big game in the mountains this hunting season, and blamed predators such as wolves and coyotes.
The hunt carries a $5 registration fee, and all fees will be returned in the form of randomly drawn prizes, according to an event poster. Any wolves and coyotes turned in will be weighed and measured, the poster also says.
The event sponsor is selling T-shirts (for $20) and hoodies (for $35) to raise funds to support the hunting and trapping of wolves, saying it “looks forward to sponsoring wolf hunts where we can.”
The clothing shows a predator caught in crosshairs on the front. On the back it says: “Dead wolves make me happy, antis not so much.”
The Montana Trappers Association, meantime, posted a statement on Facebook denying it is anti-wolf, and explaining its support of the Sanders County event to opponents.
“This hunt which you oppose is NOT murder, it is a gathering of like-minded individuals who share a philosophy of hunting and trapping,” it reads in part. “(T)he MTA IS pro-wildlife management through regulated hunting and trapping. The MTA avoids monocular viewpoints such as the one you have dictated ... and encourages a multi-use philosophy as such a philosophy has resulted in the world’s greatest sustainable wild populations of countless species while maintaining social values regarding our wildlife.”
“These mass killing events are motivated by the view that some animals are inherently so worthless that contests should celebrate killing them,” she said. The Sanders County event “has definitely sparked an interest to work” to limit or prohibit what she calls “unethical and ecologically reckless events.”