By Dylan J. Darling

The Bulletin

In a county on edge about an ongoing armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge headquarters, the Harney County Sheriff’s Office put out a warning Wednesday about weekend gunfire. Don’t be alarmed, according to the agency, as the racket will be coming from hunters shooting at coyotes.

“Throughout the weekend, as the competition is taking place, folks may hear gunshots or see spotlights at night,” read the message posted in a tweet by the sheriff’s office. “We want to reassure you that (they) are part of the lawful coyote hunt.”

The third annual Harney County Coyote Classic is set to take place this weekend near Burns and Crane, according to the sheriff’s office. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, which is occupied by an armed group, is about 30 miles southeast of Burns and 25 miles southwest of Crane.

At least 150 people split into one-, two- and three-person teams are set to be hunting for coyotes this weekend, according to the sheriff’s office. The hunt is mainly on private land around Burns and Crane.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife classifies coyotes as predatory animals. They may be hunted year-round and there are no limits as to how many coyotes someone may kill.

Last year, the Harney County Coyote Classic drew criticism from animal rights groups that said it was a waste of wildlife. A poster for last year’s event showed participants could win guns, cash and other prizes for bringing in the highest average weight of killed coyotes each day of the contest, as well as for the heaviest and lightest animal.

The occupied refuge headquarters is along a partly paved, partly gravel road that runs east to west; the road is called by a couple of names, including Sodhouse Lane.

“The competition organizers have asked participants to stay off Sodhouse Lane,” according to the sheriff’s office.

Anyone with questions or safety concerns should call 541-573-3162, according to the sheriff’s office. The line is not monitored throughout the day so anyone who feels in immediate danger is recommended to call 911.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,

ddarling@bendbulletin.com

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