HYANNIS — Hunters and gun rights activists traded jeers with animal rights advocates picketing outside a gun shop on Barnstable Road on Saturday to voice opposition to what the store is calling its “first annual Coyote Contest.”
“Killing animals for pleasure is the number-one symptom of psychopathy,” one protester called into a megaphone.
The protester was among about 75 picketers who lined both sides of the busy road to express outrage that the shop, Powderhorn Outfitters, is offering prizes for the biggest coyote brought in dead and the greatest cumulative weight of animals killed, as well as a grand prize drawing for a chartered fishing trip.
Hunters said they are protecting people and domestic animals from coyotes that are encroaching into populated areas.
The animals are “extremely bold. They’re not afraid of people anymore,” said Brian Rapoza, of Fall River, who had brought in to be weighed at Powderhorn a 37.8-pound female coyote he killed just that morning at his father’s home in Berkley.
In the past couple of years, coyotes have killed 13 or 14 of his father’s chickens, Rapoza said.
“I’ve watched them take them,” he said. “That whole area’s a big problem. The farm next door’s got a big problem with them. . . . I’ve got a male that I want to get. He stands there and stares at us when we’re standing in the driveway.”
Hunting coyotes is legal for licensed hunters in wildlife management zones across Massachusetts from October through March each year, according to the website of the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. The state places no limits on how many coyotes a hunter can kill.
In front of Powderhorn Outfitters on Saturday protesters held signs with messages including, “Trophy killing upsets Mother Nature’s own balance,” and, “Coexist with our wildlife.”
“We don’t think that animals’ lives are here for us to use for our own pleasure, for us to kill them just because we feel like it,” said Dominique Ruszala, founder of Boston Animal Save, the organization that planned the protest. “We respect animals as individuals and think that just killing mass amounts of animals for the fun of it is wrong.”
The shop’s management declined to be interviewed about the coyote contest, but issued a statement saying the store “values the rights of nonhunters to express their views” but also that they “proudly support outdoorsmen in upholding the tradition of hunting.”
In a Facebook posting on Thursday, the store said it would be “business as usual” there during the protest and encouraged supporters to “come and show their support for hunting through their presence but please, do not engage these protesters.”
About 50 hunters and gun rights activists responded by holding a barbecue in the parking lot outside the store.
Some wore shirts aligning them with the Oath Keepers, which describes itself as “a non-partisan association of current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders, who pledge to fulfill the oath all military and police take to ‘defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.’ ” Others wore the uniform of the American Patriot Three Percenters, a paramilitary group that includes many veterans and pledges that, if necessary, its members will take up arms “to drive back the unjust and tyrannical with well-trained precision.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization, has said that the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers are “both part of an anti-government extremist movement.”
Some of those present to support hunting stood with protesters holding mocking signs that bore messages such as, “Coyote . . . tastes like chicken.”
Members of the pro-hunting faction said it is necessary to reduce the numbers of coyotes, but Jonathan G. Way, a scientist who studies coyotes and was present at the protest, said the animals naturally regulate their own population size and play an important role in controlling prey population sizes and maintaining healthy ecosystems.
“They are potentially removing diseased animals as we speak, whether it’s deer that are unhealthy, or more so probably rats and mice and other smaller animals like that,“ Way said.
Activists also said they don’t buy the hunters’ argument.
“This is not about population control. It’s about wanting to start a tradition of killing for fun and killing wildlife in contests,” said Louise Kane, an Eastham animal rights activist who had helped organize some of the day’s events. “It’s indefensible.”