Although it’s still not familiar to most Americans, there’s a growing segment of the hunting realm that doesn’t have to do with traditional game such as deer or turkeys.
It’s called “predator hunting,” and the primary targets are coyotes.
For the second consecutive year, lots of people interested in harvesting predators gathered in Texas County during January for an organized predator hunting competition: The Connor Clifton Memorial Coyote Hunt.
The event is named after Houston High School graduate Connor Clifton, who at the age of 19 was killed in a vehicle crash in September 2018. It’s organized by Corey Groff, a close friend of the Clifton family.
“Connor was interested in all types of hunting, but he was an active predator hunter and really loved it,” Groff said. “I knew him since he was little, and he pursued that passion for as long as I can remember. I thought this would be a good way to honor him.”
This year’s two-day event took place on the weekend of Jan. 18 and 19. Participants hunt in two-man teams and must hunt together for the duration of the contest, beginning at first light on Saturday morning.
Groff said the weather wasn’t very good for hunting coyotes this year, but 52 teams took part in the competition, with 14 squads harvesting a total of 24 predators. Weigh-ins, tallying of results and awarding of prizes was done late Sunday afternoon at the community building at the county fairgrounds. The duo of Jason Long and Derek Hughston won with four coyotes, while Camron Hanson and Jacob Gettle took second with three coyotes and a bobcat and Weston Walker and Kaden Miller finished third with two coyotes.
“There are a lot of rules and guidelines we follow to make sure everything is done right,” Groff said.
Several individual awards are also presented, including “biggest dog,” “smallest dog” and “mangy dog.” Multiple “side pots” and some bounty money provided by sponsors are also up for grabs.
“We like for a lot of people to go home with something,” Groff said. “There’s quite of bit of money and prizes available.”
After completing high school, Clifton graduated from Missouri Welding Institute in Nevada, Mo., and was employed as a rig welder in the oilfields of West Virginia.
Entry fees and other donations received during the local predator hunt event go toward the Connor Clifton Memorial Scholarship fund, which annually benefits a pair of local high school seniors planning to attend a trade school. This year’s event raised $5,200 toward the cause, up from $3,700 during last year’s inaugural hunt.
“The amount of support we’re getting is kind of overwhelming,” Groff said. “But it really is a good thing to be able to help some kids move forward with their lives.”
Groff is employed at Online Metal Supply in Houston, but is also involved in the “predator hunting industry” as a representative of FOXPRO Inc., a well-known manufacturer of game calls based in Lewistown, Penn. He said the company’s electronic predator calls can imitate sounds of things like distressed rabbits or birds, or even distressed coyotes or coyote pups.
“There are a lot of sounds that might trigger a response from a coyote,” he said. “There are also numerous kinds of hand calls, and there’s a lot of history behind that because 50 or 60 years ago they didn’t have electronic calls. I have a lot of old calls and a lot of them are pretty neat.”
Groff said his stature in the industry naturally made him the right person to organize the local predator hunting competition.
“Putting it together was a perfect fit for me,” he said, “and I’m really grateful to the Clifton family for allowing me to do this.”
Since natural predators no longer exist in significant numbers in Missouri, it’s necessary for human hunters to kill tens of thousands of deer each year around the state. Otherwise, the animals would suffer dire consequences due to overpopulation.
The same thing goes for coyotes; there are no more wolves and very few mountain lions in Missouri, so human hunters are helpful in preventing coyote numbers from becoming destructively high. The Missouri Department of Conservation doesn’t designate a “coyote season” and doesn’t limit harvest numbers, but when hunting during any given designated season, predator hunters must use the same methods that are allowed during that season.
“There used to be a coyote season,” Groff said, “but now you can hunt them at any time. But you can’t necessarily just go out there with a rifle and a call.”
Night hunting for predators is allowed, Groff said, but only “by the light of the moon.”
“You can’t use artificial light or thermal imaging,” he said.
While Groff sees coyote hunting as somewhat of a necessity, he also understands coyotes have a viable position in nature.
“I don’t want to see them totally eradicated,” he said, “and that’s not the point of our contest or any other contest around the country.”