LAS CRUCES, N.M.—Animal right activists protested a hunting convention in Las Cruces on Saturday to express outrage over an unrelated coyote hunting contest late last year in New Mexico.

Organized by the Animal Protection of New Mexico, around 65 people picketed outside the "2013 Predator Masters Annual Hunt & Convention" at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum. Protesters also wanted to bring attention to a state proposal that would ban predator hunting contests.

But Predator Masters executive director Jeff Mock said his nonprofit organization is not having an organized hunt nor are they holding a contest.

"It's not a commercial hunt. It's a convention," Mock said. "If (attendees) decided they want to legally hunt in New Mexico, that's up to them."

Southwest Environmental Center director Kevin Bixby told the Las Cruces Sun-News that (http://bit.ly/XCKTJS) he doesn't see a distinction between the convention and any wildlife killing contests. Bixby, who organized the protest, called such hunting contests "morally reprehensible."

The protest seems to be fueled mostly by animal rights advocates' distaste for the Predator Masters' mission to "promote the sport of predator calling," according to its website.

On another page, the Predator Masters founder wrote that the coyote "is the number one target of the predator caller" before adding it is "the most intelligent animal on the face of the earth .


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.. worthy of the highest respect."

Bixby and fellow protesters also see the Predator Masters event as an opportunity to show support for House Bill 316, which representative Nate Cote, D-Las Cruces, introduced recently in Santa Fe. Cote's bill aims to ban animal killing contests, such as one held in Los Lunas last year.

Mock maintains that Predator Masters does not hold contest hunts or even organize hunts at its convention. This is the fourth consecutive year that the convention has come to Las Cruces. However, Mock said if convention attendees choose to hunt, they do so on their own whim.

Guy Dicharry, a Los Lunas attorney who headed protests of last year's coyote killing contest there, doesn't buy it.

In an email to the Sun-News, Dicharry wrote that Predator Masters' "claim to be a 'loose association of hunters' defies credulity."

But Mock said his organization's detractors are making Predator Masters out to be something it's not.

In December, a New Mexico Game and Fish spokesman said he has never had any problem with hunters that attend Predators Masters events.