The nearly century-old tradition of fall pheasant hunting returned to Pelee Island this fall. After a brief hiatus in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Township of Pelee committed to three Main Hunts and four Clean Up Hunts in October and November of 2021.
Pheasants were introduced to the island by an Ohio game warden in 1926, after requests made by Pelee Island Councilor James Quick to the Game and Fisheries Department of Ontario for the birds went unanswered. The initial 24 birds multiplied rapidly, free of natural predators on the island.
Annual commercial hunts began in 1932 and were sanctioned by The Township of Pelee for the financial benefit of the township, while providing relief to farmers whose crops were being damaged by the ever-growing pheasant population.
In recent years, game pheasants are farmed and released in specific areas throughout the island. Today, it would be unlikely to spot a naturally occurring pheasant on the island.
Councillor Dave DeLellis says the biggest challenge in planning the 2021 hunt was pulling the details together after a year with no hunt at all. Uncertainties associated with COVID-19 forced an evaluation of the administration of the hunts. The municipality introduced non-refundable licenses required to be purchased by April 1, 2021 to prevent potential loss that could be incurred if another province-wide lockdown was introduced in the fall.
DeLellis views it as a successful move. “Early pre-sales helped us establish numbers and know what to expect,” he said.
The three main hunts resulted in sales of 724 licenses with Clean Up Hunts adding another 225. Each Main Hunt license is priced at $250 while Clean Up Hunt licenses are offered at a reduced rate of $125.
Additionally, adult birds were purchased from Royal Game Birds in Drumbo and Creekside Pheasantry in Millbank, instead of raising the birds on the island at the Pelee Island Pheasant Farm. This further delivered cost efficiencies for the municipal hunts.
Pheasant hunting on Pelee Island is a tradition near and dear to the heart of Virginia Rymal, whose first hunt was in 1998, alongside her father Larry, whose first hunt was in 1951. Rymal feels it is a privilege to be able to hunt upland birds on an island in Southwestern Ontario.
“It’s quite a sport that requires lots of stamina and technique,” she said. “When you start to master not only your skill but that of your dog it can be one of the most satisfying and enjoyable types of hunting.”
Dale Mathias, an ambassador for Ramakko’s Source for Adventure came from Lively, Ontario for the 2021 hunt and agrees that watching the dogs do their thing is a highlight.
“This experience as a whole is one that every hunter should experience at least once!” said Mathias.
He offers advice for fellow hunters. “A hunter new to this hunt would do well to contact the town office as they are able to provide everything from a license to a ferry schedule, names and numbers of local establishments and rules and guidelines.”
The Main Hunts and Clean Up Hunts take place from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays over the course of seven weeks. Some residents say that is simply too long to give way to open hunting on trails and hedgerows.
Islanders don bright orange toques and safety vests while doing routine tasks like gathering mail or mowing the lawn, though hunting in residential areas is considered off limits. The Pelee Island school opts to keep the children indoors during hunting days as an added precaution.
Though some residents are not supportive of the hunts, the revenue generated contributes to municipal services. DeLellis says that planning for 2022 has already begun. “We’ve been open to making adjustments to the hunts as needed. So far the feedback from hunters has been positive.”
To learn more about Pelee Island Pheasant Hunting visit pelee.org
To learn more about the island visit www.pelee.org/whatsopen/
Pelee Island is supported by the Windsor Essex County Health Unit. COVID-19 measures and data can be found at www.wechu.org