MARION — When COVID-19 reached Michigan, Tails A Waggin’ Acres had to do what most businesses in the state had to do — shut down.
Tails A Waggin’ Acres is a gamebird preserve that offers pheasant hunts on 400 acres of rolling hills near Marion in Osceola County.
Operator Chuck Connell said normally the season for preserve hunts ends on April 31 but when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued her Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order, it was ended prematurely in March.
Since his operation is fairly small, Connell said he would have been able to survive a severely truncated season but the breeders that supply pen-raised pheasants to preserves are another story.
Connell said many preserve operators, himself included, would have been forced to cancel their pheasant orders after the shutdown went into effect, which means that many breeders would have been stuck with thousands of birds and devastating losses in revenue.
For example, Connell said his breeder would have been stuck with around 10,000 birds (not just from his operation but also from other preserves).
When the shutdown was lifted, Connell and a number of other people involved in the industry asked the state for an extension on the season. While such an extension was good for preserves, Connell said his main concern was for the survival of pheasant breeding companies.
Soon after the request was made, the state extended the season to Aug. 14, which bookends with the normal beginning of their season on Aug. 15.
"It's worked out really well," Connell said. "We asked for a month but they exceeded our expectations."
Connell said being open in the summer has given area hunters a lot more time to work with their dogs, including two extremely excited German shorthaired pointers that Cole McMillan and Colton Miller brought to the preserve on Tuesday.
"Whenever I get some spare time, I come out here," McMillan said. "It's a lot of fun."
Each year, Connell and a group of dedicated volunteers put on a free pheasant hunt for area veterans, police officers, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders.
This will be the hunt's 15th year and Connell said they're expecting around 400 hunters to participate over the four days the hunt is held, from Sept. 25-28.
Since the preserve is large and the participants will attend in waves on different days, Connell said he doesn't see any reason they won't be able to adhere to the 250-person limit on outdoor events.
Participating veterans and first responders receive a free hunt accompanied by dogs and a guide, along with a meal.
In past years, a CH-47 Chinook did a flyby during the hunt — something that Connell hopes they'll be able to organize this year, as well.
For information on this year's hunt, go to veteranshunt.org.