Ban on hunting contests proposed, wouldn’t affect fishing tournaments

A bill submitted in the state Assembly and Senate would ban hunting derbies in New York, and would penalize those who organize them with a fine or even jail.

“In animal killing competitions, individuals compete to kill the most animals, the heaviest animals, or the largest animal,” the justification for the bill says. “Competitions or contests such as these are inhumane and provide incentive to killing animals for glory, prizes or titles.

“In many cases, these competitions are conducted in a party-like atmosphere and are more like slaughters or massacres and are unsportsmanlike.”

The bill, A722, has been introduced in the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee every session since 2003, but this is the first year there is a companion bill in the Senate. The Assembly version was introduced by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick and has nine co-sponsors. Glick, a Democrat, represents parts of New York City. Most of the co-sponsors are from the Long Island or New York City area, with the exception of Deborah Lifton, who hails from Ithaca. The Senate bill is identical and has one sponsor, Sen. Monica Martinez, a Democrat from Long Island.

“This bill will make it unlawful for any person to organize, sponsor, conduct, promote or participate in any contest, competition, tournament, or derby with the objective of taking or hunting wildlife for prizes (or) other inducement, or for entertainment,” the bill says. “Any wildlife injured during the course of a contest … conducted in violation of this subdivision shall be transported to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian for treatment or humane euthanasia if best efforts to rehabilitate and release the animal fail.

“The remains of any wildlife killed … in violation of this subdivision shall be forfeited … and the remains of such wildlife shall become the property of the Department (of Environmental Conservation). Each such misdemeanor shall be punishable by imprisonment for not more than one year or by a fine of not less than five hundred dollars nor more than two thousand dollars, or by both such imprisonment and fine.”

In a voicemail, Glick said — and the DEC confirmed — that fish are defined separately from “wildlife” in state law, and therefore fishing and ice fishing tournaments, such as Tupper Lake’s Northern Challenge and the Colby Classic in Saranac Lake, would not be affected.

“‘Wildlife’ means wild game and all other animal life existing in a wild state, except fish, shellfish and crustacea,” state Conservation Law says. DEC does not comment on pending legislation, but provided that relevant section of law in an email.

Wildlife that would fall under this proposed law include big and small game such as deer, bear, squirrels, coyotes, fox, turkey, grouse and rabbits.

Dustin Martin, president of the Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club — which organizes the Colby Classic and often holds a big buck contest during hunting season — said the bill would take away an opportunity for families to get together. He said contests often draw more casual hunters.

“I think it’s going to affect New York state a lot; it’s not just individual people going out and doing these types of contests,” Martin said. “A lot of this is fathers and brothers, getting together with their kids and younger siblings, going out and enjoying some time in the outdoors. Some people look forward to this stuff; they’re not an everyday hunter. A lot of these guys look forward to these contests, especially because they can take their kids with them.

“I’m opposed to it,” he said of the bill. “I think it’s going to hurt these outdoorsmen more than it’s going to do anything.”

The Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club did not hold a big buck contest last hunting season, but Martin said it has in the past and plans to do so again.

Martin added he is concerned that the bill could be amended to include fishing tournaments. He said the club’s Colby Classic drew almost 400 anglers from around the country earlier this month, compared to the couple dozen people who registered for the last big buck contest.

“There’s people who enter big buck contests, rabbit hunts, coyote hunts that come from out of state to do these things,” Martin said. “So I think, in turn, it’s going to hurt smaller businesses, hotels and all your tourism. Let’s be honest — there’s not a whole lot going on in this state during hunting season other than hunting, and you (can’t) start taking stuff away that brings people in.”