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Controversial coyote hunt under way
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ALTURA, Modoc County (AP) — Hunters were tromping through the countryside of a remote Northern California county over the weekend as they competed in a controversial contest to see who could kill the most coyotes.

Organizers of the hunt remain secretive of the event, but opponents estimate about 200 hunters were taking part in the seventh annual hunting contest near tiny Adin in Modoc County.

Opponents of the hunt — which began Friday evening and was scheduled to run through Sunday afternoon — said the contest is inhumane and that the killing of what's expected to be dozens of coyotes contradicts wildlife management practices.

"We feel the killing of coyotes or any other wild animal as part of contest is unethical, ethically indefensible and contrary to sound science," said Camilla Fox, executive director of Project Coyote, a group that promotes what it terms "educated coexistence" between people and coyotes.

The organizers of the event, Adin Supply Co., — described as the only store in the tiny town — and the Pit River Rod and Gun Club remained tight-lipped, so it was not clear exactly how many coyotes were expected to be killed.

The winner of the contest would get a silver belt buckle.

The owner of Adin Supply, Steve Gagnon, did not return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment about the hunt. Attempts to reach the Pit River Rod and Gun Club were unsuccessful.

Backers of the event say it benefits ranchers, because coyotes kill about $4 million worth of livestock every year.

The California Cattlemen's Association did not immediately provide comment Sunday, but the group has said in the past that the ability to hunt predators was important to ranchers.

One longtime resident of the area, and an opponent of the contest, Roger Hopping, said he had once stumbled on carcasses of a winning team during a previous hunt.

"I'm opposed to a killing contest, I'm not anti-hunting," Hopping said. "I used to hunt ducks in the Bay Area," the former Alameda resident said.

Hopping, 72, said most of the residents of the sparsely populated area were either in favor of the hunt, or accept it.

Opponents of the hunt also expressed concerns about a wolf — known as OR7 — that wandered across Oregon into California about a year ago, the first wolf in California in nearly a century.

Though based on a GPS tracking collar attached to the wolf, the animal is believed to be about 100 miles away from the main hunting area.

But opponents point out that there are no specific boundaries for the hunting area, and they fear if hunters saw the wolf, they would not be able to tell it apart from a coyote.

"We learned about the hunt and where it is and have grave concerns in regards to OR7," Fox said.

The hunt comes after opponents last week failed to get the state Fish and Game Commission to stop the event.

State Fish and Wildlife spokesman Mike Taugher said Sunday that because the hunt is legal the agency had no role in organizing or administering the hunt.