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Original Issue

The Battle of Pelee

"The miracle of Pelee Island," says the Rev. Theodore Brain, pastor of its Anglican congregation, "is not that the pheasants multiply like flies on a summer day but that so many hunters get out alive." Pelee Island, which lies in Lake Erie some 16 miles off Kingsville, Ont., is perhaps thicker with pheasants than any other natural preserve: there are 24,000 birds in its 36 square miles. There were, that is, up till last week, when 966 hunters arrived by plane and boat to join 200 of the island's 500 residents in Pelee's annual two-day pheasant shoot. Providentially, there were only two accidents of any consequence (see page 26).

By nightfall on Tuesday, every Pelee farmer had provided bed and board (at $30 to $50 a head) for up to a dozen hunters, each of whom had purchased $56 worth of licenses for the privilege of bagging 10 cocks.

Wednesday dawned with a drizzle, and an east wind raked the hedgerows, ravines, corn stubble and soybean fields, driving the birds to deep cover. The start of the hunt was set for 8 a.m., but to the south the barrage began 20 minutes early. Like a line of skirmishers, the parties swept the fields, dogs working back and forth in their ancient geometry. The cannonading of the guns, the shrill whistles directing the dogs, even the dour weather—all were reminiscent of the Western Front. Instinctively, whenever a bird rose, a hunter who was being tailed by another dropped to his knees. The shot fell on the caps and shoulders of participants and observers like rice at a wedding.

At the parsonage, Mrs. Brain peered anxiously out of her window. "I have two pheasant friends," she confided. "I do hope they've found a good hiding place." They needed one. If the dogs failed to rout them out, they were likely to be trampled to death. Despite the wind and rain that "made runners out of flyers," the bag was decent, and at nightfall the birds hung by their pretty necks from every clothesline.

While the Rev. Brain comforted the wounded (see above), a service he had once performed during World War II, clerks at the township office, which resembled a feudal counting house, tallied the swag: $33,000, nearly half the yearly operating fund for the island, and $20,000 more for the Province. A Pelee Island farmer's annual net income averages $2,800, and taxes are steep on the island, so the hunters' money was needed and welcome.

By Thursday morning the rain stopped. Wet ground and a heavy overcast kept the birds down. But this only goaded the hunters to greater effort, and the gunfire was intense. "Haven't heard anything like this," said one oldtimer merrily, "since Perry took Put In Bay in '13."

"For this weather it wasn't a bad shoot," said a warden tallying birds at the airstrip. "Of course, there's always a batch who catch a little shot, but what the hell—three years ago a fellow was killed."

Early-bird pheasant hunters and their dogs who flew over in private and charter planes for the two-day shoot wait at Pelee Island's airstrip for rides to their lodgings.

In the fields, a wary patrol of six hunters, shotguns at the ready, stalks through the bush after the island's pheasants, which most likely outnumber them 4,000 to one.

Bird-Dogging pastor, the Rev. Theodore Brain, points for Creighton J. Hamel, reeve, or mayor, of Pelee Island. Said Hamel: "We bought an extra 500 birds, just to be sure."

Bundled in foul-weather gear, Mrs. Fred Garling of Dearborn, Mich. totes her gun like a flagpole. At Lake Erie's edge (right) two hunters bring down two pheasants heading desperately for open water.

On the beach, Mrs. James Blake of Newark, Ohio leisurely fires from an abandoned, backless Morris chair. Many pheasants, frightened by the fierce fusillade, sought peace and quiet over the waves.