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Jeju’s colonial birdPheasant hunting in Korea gave rise to the first Western club in the late 1800s
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승인 2010.10.01  15:55:38
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▲ Port Hamilton Game Club, circa 1886. Photo courtesy Robert Neff

Early Western visitors to Korea often commented on the abundant wild fowl that graced the peninsula and its surrounding islands. Often these birds were admired not for their plumage but for their taste. Visiting Western naval ships, always desperate for fresh meat, often sent parties of sailors ashore to hunt for ducks, geese, pigeons, swans and pheasants. Occasionally, the sailors brought their dogs with them. For the British navy, the most popular breed appears to have been the Cocker Spaniels.

Pheasant hunting was also responsible for the first Western club in Korea. From 1885 through early 1887, the British navy, concerned about perceived Russian intentions in Korea, occupied the Korean island group of Komundo and promptly dubbed it Port Hamilton, in honor of a British admiral. Life at Port Hamilton was exceedingly dull for the sailors and they were left to their own means to entertain themselves. Tired of tennis and gardening, a group of officers formed the Port Hamilton Game Club – a rather pretentious name considering the island, despite being located relatively near the Korean mainland and Jeju Island, had no wildlife except crows, hawks and poisonous snakes. The officers decided to remedy this by importing pheasants from China.

Importing pheasants was not a new idea. In 1880, Judge Owen Denny, the American consul at Shanghai, had a number of ring-neck pheasants sent to Port Townsend in the United States but unfortunately they all died.

Undaunted, two years later he shipped 30 more pheasants to Oregon. These birds are largely responsible for the huge ring-neck pheasant population in North America.

The British officers at Port Hamilton pooled their money and then selected one of their fellow officers, a “Wast Country Spartsman,” to go to Shanghai and bring back nine pairs of pheasants. The officer soon returned with the 18 birds but, much to his chagrin, it was soon discovered that 17 of the birds were males. Like Denny, the officers were persistent and by October 1886, more than 200 pheasants and a large number of quail had been introduced to the islands where they rapidly began to reproduce – almost too quickly.

A British officer reported that the islands were in danger of becoming overstocked by the game birds because the Koreans “do not touch them, and their only enemies being the egg-stealing crows in spring, and the kites and hawks that migrate over to the island in the autumn … In the month of October there is an annual invasion of quail; and with a smart dog, it is quite possible to make exceedingly good bags of these little birds; as many as five hundred have been shot by one gun, in part of a season.”

Pheasant hunting by the Western military has a long history on Jeju Island. In 1950, during the Korean War, American soldiers serving with the United Nations on Jeju Island were quite disappointed when the army quartermaster was unable to provide them with their Thanksgiving turkey. Determined to have a bird for their feast, two of them went out and bagged a large number of pheasants – 27 on one day. Later, when the Christmas turkey failed to be delivered, pheasant again was on the menu.

Even after the Korean War, American soldiers continued to operate a radar site that apparently doubled as a “hunting lodge.” In an email correspondence with Gary Martin, who was stationed there in 1963/64, he recalled that his site had accommodations for 24 hunters at a time and that there were rarely any vacancies. According to Martin:

“Aircraft would come in to the grass landing strip once per week in non hunting season, twice per week during season. Hunting took place in Fall & Winter. The first two weeks of the season were for General grade officers and dignitaries. Since we were a UN advisory force, the Generals and ‘Ambassadors’ were from several countries including US State Department dignitaries. Some Generals flew in on their own aircraft and were the only hunters that used dogs (absolutely not needed on Cheju-do but who were we to even suggest no).”

It doesn’t appear that hunting licenses were required at the time, but the NCO (non-commissioned officer) in charge of the “hunting lodge” and who served as the “game warden” limited the hunters to five male pheasants per day.

“Hunters rode to the hunting site of the day in ‘converted’ M Series military ambulances. The conversion consisted of a repainting to have a ‘Pheasant Taking Flight’ logo and the addition of comfortable seats in the back along with a gun rack for the 12-gauge shotguns that we used, and a cooler for the game. Each ambulance would typically have 4-5 hunters, a Korean Guide, and an American Guide. The location each day was chosen by the American Guide in the group. Because the ring-neck pheasants were so plentiful, we did not have to go very far from the compound to find plenty of birds.

But hunting wasn’t confined only to pheasants, so, too, were ducks and deer. Ducks were hunted from small boats along the seashore but this type of hunting required a much more skilled shooter and thus was never as popular as pheasant hunting. Occasionally, the small native deer were also hunted with shotguns – the pellets replaced with slugs.

Martin estimates that 20,000 pheasants and 100-200 ducks were taken annually. What became of all this meat? Martin recalls, “The chow hall at the site had year-round items on the menu – namely pheasant prepared in a variety of very tasty ways features every day and venison about twice per month.”

Although the American military’s “hunting lodge” on Jeju Island has been shut down for a number of years, you can still go hunting. Daeyu Hunting Grounds offers pheasant hunts with guides that speak several languages including Japanese and English. And, if you have a craving for pheasant meat but don’t want to hunt your own, there are several restaurants that can meet your needs.

If you’d like to read more about this subject, please go to our Web site and search for the Sept. 4, 2009 article by Carey Seward titled, “Jeju pheasant found in many restaurants.”

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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