The Pelee Island Pheasant Hunt is very well organized, as you might expect from an event with such a long and storied history. The township provides maps of the island, including the primary pheasant release locations, along with a list of available accommodations. There’s only one hotel on the island, but no shortage of cottages for rent, and bed and breakfasts.
To participate, hunters must preregister and purchase a special licence; the capacity for each two-day hunt is 600 hunters, but recently the average has been between 300 and 400, so there’s a remarkable amount of terrain to choose from. Over our two days, we only once bumped into a hunter from another party. To add a little excitement to the mix, two banded ringnecks are released each week—shoot one and you receive a complimentary licence for the following year’s hunt. We met a group who’d bagged one, and they were rightfully thrilled.
On Pelee, the birds are widely dispersed and the cover can be unimaginably thick, making the hunt unlike any other released-pheasant hunt I’ve experienced. We began our second morning’s hunt on a property managed by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and had to push our way through knee-high cover that would wear you out if you didn’t take the occasional break. And that afternoon we were all but lost in a sea of doghair-thick brush that left more than one of our crew muttering expletives in frustration.
But it’s the thick stuff the birds move to after they realize the game is afoot, so if you want to put them up, you have little choice but to go in after them. When we did flush a bird in heavy cover, we had but a fleeting moment to shoulder and swing before it disappeared from sight. Finding downed birds also proved to be a chore on occasion, even with the assistance of the competent dogs. But challenge is to be welcomed, if not expected, and by nearly every standard the Pelee experience matches or exceeds the best pheasant hunting to be found anywhere.
I can’t recall exactly how many birds we shot that second day, but it was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25, bringing our two-day total to about 60. That’s a lot of pheasants to take care of, but in true entrepreneurial fashion, some island residents have established a cleaning service, and we were able to get our birds cleaned, packed and frozen for the trip home.
It’s a funny thing, but bird hunters seldom recollect many of the individual birds they shoot. Invariably, our strongest memories are of the places we hunt and the people we meet along the way. The evening after our second hunt, in a very gracious gesture, Kyle invited us to his home, where in traditional après-hunt fashion, we chowed down on shore-caught walleye fillets, poured back a few sundowners, laughed good-naturedly about each other’s misses and recalled memorable retrieves.
I don’t know when I’ll be back to Pelee Island for another pheasant hunt, but I certainly didn’t scratch it off my bucket list when I got home.
To learn more about this unique hunting experience, visit www.pelee.org.