American Field

Profiles From the Past

Champion Pioneer

Dogs I have Won With
By Er M. Shelley | Aug 02, 2021

A PREFACE.  Er M. Shelley devoted a lifetime to bird dogs. In addition to developing and handling many field trial champions, he had the distinction of having started, developed and "trained" several of the top trainers, among them Clyde Morton.

As a trainer-handler, he achieved success early and won practically all the major stakes during the time he was competing.

He became associated with Paul J. Raney's plantation near Cotton Plant, Mississippi (just south of what is now the Hell Creek Wildlife Area near Blue Mountain, Mississippi) and was in charge of the kennels there, and it was then that Clyde Morton was added to the Raney entourage and Er Shelley became his mentor.

Shelley went to Africa with Paul Raney and developed a pack of hounds for lion hunting. After his return, he authored "Big Game Hunting with Dogs in Africa".

He was importuned earlier to put his training methods in a book and he completed "Twentieth Century Bird Dog Training" (1924).  It was sold through several printings and Shelley set about a revision, adding several noteworthy chapters.

After the manuscript had been completed, a fire destroyed the entire work.

Shelly was crestfallen and he was "not of a mind" to rewrite the manuscript. Knowing its value to bird dog people, American Field editor William F. Brown encouraged: "Don't worry, you will find the time to do the whole thing over again. You have overcome obstacles many times. This bad break will not stop you."

A few years passed, then Er Shelley announced he had completed the manuscript and the book —"Bird Dog Training Today and Tomorrow"— was published (1947).

Er Shelley's training career began in 1887 and culminated in 1957 with his election to the Field Trial Hall of Fame.

What follows is excepted from "Bird Dog Training Today and Tomorrow."

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PIONEER was sent to me to be trained by W.W. Titus of West Point, Mississippi. He had passed the year-old mark, was raised out in Iowa, and Mr. Titus turned him over to me as soon as he secured him.

He was the most pleasing dog I had ever handled. From the very start I could not find a single flaw in him, except that he did not handled game. He was the fastest, smoothest-going puppy I had ever seen. His range, for a youngster, was wide enough; he stayed out at his work and handled beautifully, responding to the whistle from the very start. He hunted at all times with a high head and the merriest kind of tail action. It was a real pleasure to see him go, but he had no thought of pointing.

His idea was to catch them, and he would chase a bird as far as he could remember which way he was going last. I would shoot every time he would flush a covey, no matter if it was a long way off. Sometimes I would manage to be near enough to kill a bird, throw down my hat to mark the place, would catch the puppy, fasten a cord to him and lead him back to the bird, always coming down the windward side.

He pointed his first bird in this way. I stroked him on the back until he became quite rigid, then let him get his mouth on the bird, which does any dog in training a lot of good. He soon got so that he would point every time I brought him up to a dead bird or crippled bird. Just before I started for the prairies, I saw him make sone nice points but some distance away, which he held only momentarily, then he would make another try at catching a bird.

For dogs of this kind it is a good plan to let them find out from their own experience that it is impossible to catch the birds, then when the time come to steady them up they will be more content to stand shot than they would be with the idea still in their heads that they could easily catch one of them with half a chance. Once a dog finds out he cannot catch the birds, no matter how hard he tries, he is ready for the check cord, and with my method of using the check cord it is ready to make him steady to shot and wing.

Pioneer did not take to chickens at first. It was some time before he could distinguish the scent of them. When he finally did begin pointing, the young chickens were nearly half-grown.

One day I saw my chance on a covey of young birds that spread out and lit in fairly light grass along the roadside. He ran into the check cord at full speed a couple of time, which took the chase completely out of him. I then broke him to drop if he flushed a bird, purposely or otherwise.

It was not long before he would drop every time a bird would flush. Then he was ready to start in the Derby, and I expected great things from him.

I think I bragged about him more than any dog I ever handled. I started him in the Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota and  North Dakota Derby and he ran unplaced in them. Many thought I had overestimated the dog.

He made his first win on quail, was placed second in the Continental Derby in Thomasville, North Carolina, and followed with third in the Eastern Derby at Thomasville, Georgia; then he really won the United States Derby at Grand Junction, Tennessee, according to the opinion of all the prominent men present, but for some reason the judges threw him out unplaced. This started a lot of talk among handlers and others, and everyone took sides against the dog. The sporting papers also gave him unfavorable reports, but in spite of all this I contended that he was the best dog I had ever seen or handled.

The next year he'd did not win heavily during the first part of the season and was not considered by the handlers as a dangerous competitor. I knew what was in the dog and was in no way discouraged.

As the season was drawing to a close, of a sudden he came out and won the Continental All-Age (1904) with plenty to spare; followed this by winning the Eastern All-Age and second in the Subscription Stake.

The next year, the dog came out and proved that my predictions were all founded. His win of first in the Continental and Eastern All-Age barred him from future competitions in All-age Stakes. That season he was eligible only for the Manitoba Championship Stake, the American Champion Stake, the Eastern Subscription Stake, and the National Championship.

He started by winning the Manitoba Championship (1905) at LaSalle, Manitoba; was runner-up to Jessie Rodfield's Count Gladstone in the American Champion Stake at Robinson, Illinois, won first in the Eastern Subscription Stake at Waynesboro, Georgia, and ended his career by winning the National Championship at Grand Junction, Tennessee (1906).

He was sold to Mr. George N. Clemson of Middleton, New York, at a long price for a shooting dog. Mr. Clemson also owned many other famous field trial dogs and several of the best shooting dogs money could buy.

After he had used Pioneer two of three years as a shooting dog, I saw Mr. Clemson and he told me that he always hunted Pioneer alone, that there was no use putting down another dog to run against him, as he would find all of the birds anyway.

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