Illegitimate Killers: The Symbolic Ecology and Cultural Politics of Coyote-Hunting Tournaments in Addison County, Vermont


  • Adapted from A Matter of Life and Death: Hunting in Contemporary Vermont (2009), by Marc Boglioli; University of Massachusetts Press.


Although I have conducted ethnographic research on hunting in central Vermont since 1996, one important issue has remained conspicuously absent from my field notes: organized hunting protest. That all changed one cold February day in 2005 as protesters from a home-grown animal rights group stood along a country road in Whiting, Vermont, to voice their opposition to the first annual Howlin' Hills Coyote Hunt. This coyote-hunting tournament was characterized by a broad assortment of local residents—including hunters—as a morally corrupt departure from traditional hunting ethics and from that day forward Addison County has been caught up in a social drama that may forever change the face of hunting in Vermont. As deep philosophical differences were revealed between not only hunters and antihunters, but between hunters themselves, a small window opened for a more general moral critique of hunting. Drawing on testimony from hunters, animal rights activists, Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel, and my own experiences at coyote tournaments, I explain the perspectives of the various actors in this drama as they struggle to define the meaning and ethical place of hunting in the 21st century. [Keywords: human–animal relations, symbolic ecology, hunting, rural America, coyotes]