Shoot Ends with No Protest, Nearly 3,000 Rodents Dispatched
NUCLA, Colo. (AP) _ Hunters bagged nearly 3,000 prairie dogs in a weekend shootout and the gleeful organizers of the event said howls of protest from animal rights activists had done nothing but attract more business.
When the shoot was announced in April it drew criticism from Gov. Roy Romer and Democratic Rep. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, but Mayor John Vanderpool and shoot organizer Mike Mehew told the pols to ″buzz off.″
On Sunday, Mehew said he was grateful for their attentions, which drew additional hunters and news media to the event. He said he planned to write thank-you notes to Romer, Campbell and Robin Duxbury of the Rocky Mountain Humane Society.
Shoot participants weren’t put off by the smattering of protest either.
″All their noise does is bring the prairie dogs out of their holes to see what’s doing on,″ said Terrye Logan, 32, of Clyde, Texas, one of three women competing in the event. ″My brothers yesterday ended up laughing so hard they had to put their guns down.″
The 106 shooters at the first Top Dog World Championship Prairie Dog Shoot slew a total of 2,956 prairie dogs in the two-day event.
The top killers were local rancher Earl Reams and his partner, Randy Calhoun, who dispatched 112 prairie dogs to win two top-of-the line Kimber rifles.
More important to local merchants, the event brought an economic boost to the neighboring western Colorado towns of Nucla and Naturita, which have been devastated by range droughts and a bust in uranium mining.
″We did enough in four days to double what we do in an entire (big game) hunting season,″ said Beulah Colcord, owner of the Yellow Rock Cafe in Naturita. ″And we couldn’t be happier with the protesters. They made the publicity that brought all these people in here.″
Among the popular kitschy items on sale were ″critter coffins,″ sold at $20-$35 each by Joe Hale and Rod Gerken of Hale & Gerken Funeral Home in Naturita.
″I’ve got this little office just fill of prairie dog caskets and we have about 150 orders,″ Hale said. Proceeds were going to needy families, he said.
The hunters, resting their rifles on car hoods or shooting from benches, popped their shots off into a desolate plain scarred by the six-inch mounds and burrows of the prairie dogs.
More than $7,000 in prizes was taken home by hunters who came from North Carolina to California for the competition.
It was billed as a way of reducing the population of the foot-tall, grayish brown rodents, relatives of the squirrel. Ranchers say the prairie dogs carry bubonic plague and ruin fields that might be planted in oats. Cattle break their legs stumbling into the holes.
Only about two dozen protesters were on hand Saturday morning, and the number dwindled over the weekend. Not surpisingly, none of the picketers stuck around for the celebratory picnic Sunday evening.
Three protesters in their early 20s appeared Sunday morning, blowing whistles and holding signs.
″If nothing else, we’re bothering the mighty hunters,″ said Jon Ellenbogen, 24. ″I don’t take their arguments about damage from prairie dogs. If the prairie dogs are ruining it for the cows, don’t raise cows. Shooting them is not much of a philosophy.″
Shoot winner Reams, president of the West End Cattlemen’s Association, said the contest had boosted local pride.
″This is a rural community where we have guns and do a lot of shooting. Some places have theaters, we have turkey shoots. This is good for the town and now we’re on the map.″