Southwestern Ontario, specifically Essex County, hasn’t had a wild pheasant population to talk about for at least 30 years and many hunters would argue that figure should be much higher. With urban sprawl and rural agricultural land being turned into residential neighbourhoods at an astonishing rate, something had to give and naturally, or unnaturally as you may see it, the wild game species took the hit. The ringneck pheasant bore the brunt of the intrusion seeing its numbers dwindle down to just a very few thousand at best. They’ve been pushed into ever smaller pockets of appropriate agricultural land where the enterprising coyotes and feral cats await them at every turn. In fact, finding a wild bird with a tail longer 12″ is quite a trophy and you can bet it would take a full days’ walk about to find one and that’s if you were looking in the right area.
Enter the “put & take pheasantry”. We have a couple operations in the Essex County region, one of which is the New Breed Game Farm owned by Ken Collenutt in Essex proper. Ken raises elk and buffalo for the game meat, not for hunting, that is sold locally to the public and a handful of diners. His pheasant operation is the best known catering to hunters looking for a great day afield with friends and for the chance obviously to take a few pheasants and/or chukars. It’s not a cheap proposition at about $16 a bird, more or less, but it’s still a hunt that involves a fair bit of walking and of course a good shot, something I’m personally working on.
Hunters are allowed to bring their own dog for their hunt or a guide with a dog can be supplied for a charge.
On this day in early December ’07, I had the opportunity to hunt the private pheasant hunting preserve New Breed Game Farm with a good friend of many years, John Sim. John’s springer spaniel Astro (aptly named for his boundless energy) accompanied us this day and I truly think we would have been lost without him. Not only that but given the fact that John and I are up in years, the sluggin’ through knee high corn and sorghum crop would have done us in much earlier in the day.
The hunt started at a conventional 10:00am after a coffee, breakfast and heaping helping of lies from past exploits and accomplishments. The birds were “dropped” throughout our first corn field a half-hour before us entering the field. At first you think that all you have to do is walk up and down the rows of stubble and the birds would automatically jump up for you but nothing could be further from the truth. I was beginning to doubt the fact that there were actually birds in the field for the first 15 minutes. Astro was quartering beautifully about 15 yards out in front of us with his held high trying to pick up a scent. We had walked approximately 70 yards before he started acting “birdy”. John cautioned me to cover my left while he positioned himself for a right angle shot opportunity. Astro stopped dead on command then leapt into the sorghum tangle at John’s instruction. The big cock bird busted out in full cackle to John’s right and with one shot from his Browning Auto 5, the bird dropped in a heap 30 yards out. Now that’s how I remember hunting pheasants 40 years ago. It still makes your heart skip a beat when explode from cover like that and it’s something you never forget.
These birds wake up a few minutes after being dropped in the field and some will hold tight while others get up and run for better cover than what they were placed into. It was another 50 yards down field before Astro ran headlong into a pile of corn husks and stubble on my edge of the field and kicked out a nice bird that fell, amazingly enough, to my second shot pulling straight away from me. The “big boy” retrieved my bird to hand, thank you so much and saved my knees for another couple of hours of more hunting. Another 5 birds were taken on first pass of the field in various degrees of shooting difficulty, man made and natural. I would guess that’s about average, 7 of 10 birds shot for the pot. Occasionally you get lucky and shoot all of your birds but with the amount of land and cover for these pen raised birds to run to, more get away than into your game bag, but that’s part of the experience.