The owners of Gunhawk Firearms are finding themselves once again the target of animal rights groups after the announcement of a prairie dog hunting contest. Last year the Los Lunas, New Mexico gun store made national headlines after a coyote hunt drew the ire of animal lovers. Now, Gunhawk and its employees are dealing with vocal opposition to another contest.
The proposed prairie dog hunt will run through August 10 to 17 and will be judged by number of prairie dog tails taken. The participant with the most tails will be awarded a Smith & Wesson M&P15-22 rifle. It is an event that Gunhawk owner Mark Chavez hopes will drum up additional business as well as promote local hunting. Prairie dogs are sometimes considered pests because they damage crops with their burrowing habits.
Animal rights activists however, are not keen on Gunhawk holding another “killing contest.” Headed by groups such as the Prairie Dog Pals, activists are calling on the store to cancel its hunt of what they believe to be harmless creatures. Critics also call the hunt a misguided publicity stunt, pointing to the fact that the contest’s $25 entry fee also includes a T-shirt with the slogan, “You’re killing me smalls.”
“New Mexico deserves so much better than for our state to be known as the capital of killing contests,” said Laura Bonar, program director for Animal Protection of New Mexico.
Gunhawk’s employees stand behind the contest despite the opposition.
“With the coyote hunt, it was taking up the hunting rights issue,” said Josh Waters, the store’s sales manager. “After the coyote hunt, we got a lot of thanks for it. We got a lot of outpouring of support, and we want to show we are going to do it again. We’re going to be there for our hunters consistently.”
As much criticism as Gunhawk Firearms is receiving now, it pales in comparison to the events of last year. Prior to the coyote hunt hundreds of outraged emails, social media posts, and anonymous death threats targeted the store.
“It was pretty ugly stuff,” Chavez told KRQE. “They talked about our families and blowing the store up.”
The store received letters that promised to burn the building down or even threatened to follow the employees home to murder them, all because of a coyote hunting contest. The idea for the competition originally came from another gun store, which abandoned its plans due to public pressure. Chavez took up the idea because he believed that local coyotes were overpopulated, a nuisance, and even a danger to domestic animals. With the number of coyotes rising across the nation, more and more of the small predators are moving closer to human habitation.
Chavez pushed forward with the contest, despite a petition containing 28,000 signatures that opposed the coyote hunt. However, Gunhawk Firearms also gained a large amount of support from hunters who felt their rights were being threatened. Ranchers who were plagued by coyote-related problems also spoke up in support of the gun shop. In the end, 52 two-man teams participated in the hunt. Over 60 coyotes were taken during last year’s competition with the winners bagging 11.
Gunhawk Firearms also intends on having another coyote hunting contest later this year.