Weather Alerts 3 View »

Controversial varmint hunts raise debate in Nevada

Darcy Spears

Controversial varmint hunts raise debate in Nevada

CREATED May. 23, 2012

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- There's a bounty on the heads of some Nevada wildlife.

Some call it cruelty, some call it sport. But no matter what you call it, it's controversial.

Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears takes us inside the world of varmint hunters.

They call.  They wait.  They kill.

Varmint hunters in search of a prize to the one who claims the most lives.

"The first prize this year was about $5,000 worth of guns," says Kyle Stinnett, who facilitates and puts on Las Vegas' only varmint hunt.

Varmint hunters proudly pose with their trophies online. Sometimes carcasses lined up by the dozen.

Stinnett makes no excuses for what he does.

"I have as much right to do the hunting, to do the animal trapping, to do any of that, that I want to do just like anybody else has the right for gay marriage, for trans-gender or anything that anybody says is not right."

Varmint hunts are organized killing sprees where teams pay a fee to enter what they consider a social, competitive game.

Darcy: "These are organized hunts where people come in from other states to pay their money to kill our animals?"
Kyle: "Yes."

Kyle says there's at least one varmint hunt every weekend across Nevada from September through March.

At his annual September hunt, "We had approximately 60 coyotes killed total.  The winning team had 21 coyotes killed.

Coyotes aren't the only animals considered to be varmints.  Jackrabbits are too. Varmints can be shot at will -- no permit or hunting license required. And the hunts themselves are not regulated.

"I don't think it makes it right just because it's legal to do that," says Karen Layne of the Las Vegas Valley Humane Society.

Layne disagrees with the whole concept.

"I think this kind of hunt is very inhumane."

But Stinnett claims they focus on ethical kills.

Coyote hides only go for between $30 and $40 a piece, so the varmint hunts are hardly about the money. 

"People need to know that without these coyotes being shot that you're going to end up with them in town, eating your house dogs, on your golf courses, eating your cats," Stinnett says.

He also kills coyotes to preserve other wild animal populations like deer and elk.

Darcy: "And is it saving them so you can shoot them later?"
Kyle: "Um, no... deer and elk population -- everything has to be kept in check with the amount of feed and such that's out there."

County Commissioner Tom Collins adds that too many coyotes can cost taxpayers in the long run.

"The State of Nevada has for many years paid for damages to livestock throughout the state caused by too many coyotes."

He supports varmint hunts, but he's got a big problem with what Action News exposed in February: carcasses strewn along a dirt road in Apex, which were part of the aftermath of Stinnett's September hunt.

"There's always questionable things done in hunting," Stinnett cautions.  "The pile of coyotes that were found. That particular hunter decided he didn't want to do anything with them so he took them out and dumped them."

Stinnett -- a licensed trapper who sells coyote pelts -- says he and his fellow hunt organizers don't condone the carcass dumping and have cautioned the guilty hunter that he may be banned from further competition.

Collins says that's not good enough.

"That's totally wrong," Collins says.  "They should be prosecuted for not disposing properly, whether it be by the State Department of Agriculture or our Animal Control here at the County."

Though Stinnett has no plans to turn that hunter in, he knows who did the dumping because of the team number on wood blocks tied into the coyotes' mouths.

They're placed there and secured with zip ties or wire shortly after death to keep track of kills and to prevent cheating.

"On the back of it you would have written the time and date that the animal was killed and taken a picture of you with that animal and that block," Stinnett explains.

A grim image for some but not as grim as the big picture, says Karen Layne.

"Coyotes serve a really important function because they kill some of the smaller mammals that may carry disease."

Stinnett thinks it's much ado about nothing.

"They get off with very little knowledge of what really goes on and tear off into the inhumane treatment and the senseless killing of animals and it couldn't be further from the truth for 90% of the sportsmen I know here in Las Vegas."

The nation's biggest killer of wildlife is our own federal government. 

In late April, an animal welfare organization filed a federal lawsuit here in Las Vegas against the USDA, seeking to prevent them from killing natural predators, like coyotes. 

The lawsuit calls the government's wildlife services program an unnecessary and unlawful slaughter that may have a significant impact on the environment. 

We'd like to know your thoughts on this story. Is varmint hunting proper predator control or overkill?

Send an email to or post on our Facebook page.