SI Vault
George Laycock
November 07, 1955
That is what Pelee Island in Lake Erie offers to a select group of hunters in a phenomenal two-day hunt staged every year
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November 07, 1955

Pheasants By The Score

That is what Pelee Island in Lake Erie offers to a select group of hunters in a phenomenal two-day hunt staged every year

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Twenty miles across Lake Erie's often turbulent waters from Sandusky, Ohio lies an island which probably produces more pheasants per square mile under natural conditions than any other area in the world. Nine miles long and half as wide, Pelee Island is home to some 500 humans and 35,000 of these fine game birds. Since 60 pheasants per square mile is considered a good average population, the 2,240 pheasants per square mile—three and a half birds per acre—offered by 10,000-acre Pelee is, to say the least, phenomenal. Regional Biologist Charles Bartlett likes to keep the winter population down to about 11,000 birds, so the rest are made available to hunters in a glorious two-day shoot (usual bag limit 10-12 birds).

To hunt on Pelee Island a special township permit is needed, and only about 1,500 permits are sold. Hunters come in from the mainland on crowded ferries and in private craft. The day before the hunt (this year October 26-27) every farmhouse on the island fills with hunters, and the whole island is turned over to them. The island schools close their doors during the shoot to allow the older boys to hire out as bird drivers and hunters' helpers.

On Pelee it is possible, if you keep your eyes open, to pick up the limit in cripples and not even carry a gun. On one occasion a hunter with a broken ankle sat down on a stump. In two hours he got eight birds without moving.

Pheasants have been on Pelee Island since 1927 when Frank Voorhees, an Ohio game warden, took over 100 pioneer pheasants in return for 100 adult breeder bass which Ohio needed for experimental stocking. The first season was in 1932 and two years later the hunt was opened to nonresidents. It has been an annual affair since.

One reason why pheasants do so much better on Pelee than on the mainland is that a third of the island is planted to soybeans. The island also has no foxes, few hawks and few crows. But there's another factor—isolation. Lake Erie keeps the Pelee Island pheasant at home. Seasoned Pelee Island hunters often complain, "All I got were singles." But last year one got five birds with three shots—two doubles and a single—and all in the first half hour. Bad year or not he still had 14 fine pheasants in his game bag.

Fall tapestry, a two-day bag of 125 Pelee pheasant (one under the group's limit), is strung up on farmer's barn. The happy hunters, from left front: Richard Degener (American Metal Products Co.) William Sears ( American Motors), Henry Wiederhold (Jarecke Tool & Machine Co.), Walter Gardner (R. L. Polk Co.), Joe Muer Jr. ( Detroit restaurateur), Frank Palmer (Pres., Middle Atlantic Transportation Co.), Sherman Mar (Middle Atlantic). Back row: Al Nancarrow (Pres., Duplex Equipment Co.), Bill Boyer (Partner, Motor City Tire Co.), Ray Dasher (Owner, Dasher Construction Co.), Homer Pharis (Pres., D. P. Brown Co.), Dr. Karl Webber, Cecil Waggott (Ring Screw Works), Oscar Pharis (Board Chairman, D. P. Brown), Al Irwin (Ring Screw Works).

Pheasant downed is carefully retrieved by Mike's Lady Bell, a golden Labrador retriever. Dog's color affords good camouflage in the high, dead grass of Pelee Island field.

Pheasant on the wing, flushed by Hunter Sid Glover of Aylmer, Ontario, beats wildly into the air in attempt to soar out of range of upraised shotgun. Mike's Lady Bell, Glover's dog, follows bird's flight intently, all set to retrieve.