Written by E. Lang Miller, printed in 1942 issue of The A.R.P. News Year Book.
The 600-mile master successfully flew this distance year in and year out, and this article deserves our study
Grand National Positions won over nine years;
1933 - 7th, 9th, 10th, 13th, 17th, 24th, 28th, 49th - 393 Birds Competing
1934 - 2nd, 5th, 7th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 23rd, 33rd, 36th - Birds Competing
1935 - 8th, 12th, 27th, 33rd, 39th, 40th - 803 Birds Competing
1936 - 7th, 12th, 23rd, 38th - 770 Birds Competing
1937 - 14th, 19th, 25th, 28th, 31st, 40th, 44th - 988 Birds Competing
1938 - 1st, 6th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 46th, 47th - 1503 Birds Competing
1939 - 2nd, 8th, 12th, 14th, 55th - 1085 Birds Competing
1940 - 14th, 16th, 17th, 24th, 51st - 915 Birds Competing
1941 - 2nd, 17th, 30th, 46th, 50th - 379 Birds Competing
Six hundred mile racing in the past decade or so has grown to such importance in the regular schedule of our American racing pigeon fancy that any information whatsoever on the subject is worthy of consideration, this due to the fact that there are so many approaches to modern-day pigeon flying for success in the long races, and in many instances the methods and plans advocated are diametrically opposed, although finally arriving at the same end - namely, successful competition.
For the purpose of this article I wish to deal with just one phase of the many ramifications of long-distance racing, which I feel to some extent has been neglected, or I might say - not especially enlarged upon. This fact is the importance of handling young birds so that eventually they will form the nucleus of a long-distance race team, suitable for winning competition. The youngsters in the nest today are your possible champions of tomorrow, and all-important is the procedure to follow so that a fair percentage of these may arrive at the age when they can be regarded as worthy additions to a loft of long-distance racers.
At this point I wish to state that a bird to be regarded as a fully qualified member of a successful long-distance race team should be at least two, or preferably 3 years old, which implies experience and means that much thought should be given to the stages through which our candidate must go before arriving at this age. This specifically applies to young-bird and yearling ages, all-important to the development of the long-distance campaigner. I fully appreciate that this statement readily promotes comment and inquiry by a number of my fellow fanciers who even now are asking - what about yearlings for long-distance racing? Yearlings and even young birds have and will occasionally perform admirably well at long-distance racing under certain conditions in the hands of some few adept fanciers. But this is the exception rather than the rule - their reliability is very uncertain.
Some young birds and yearlings under natural conditions and with physical soundness, have been known to perform miracles in spite of their care and handling. But all this does not prove that such type of young bird or yearling lays the foundation for a successful long-distance race team. Quite the contrary. Such experiences are merely a teaser and a temptation that leads fanciers to carelessness and a habit to take chances with the hope that luck may break his way. What I mean by successful 600-mile racing is to continuously place your entries up among the first group in these long-distance races whether they are hard, easy, or only the average, year in and year out, as against that performance which spasmodically appears for a year or so while the effort depends on some unusual bird or two. and then is heard of no more.
"Fast Time" Bred and Flown by E. Lang Miller. First prize of Grand International 600 Mile Championship, Hillsboro, Ill., June 18, 1938 (distance 614 miles). Timed in same day. Liberated 6:15 AM, Clocked after dark at 9:29 PM, Velocity 1182 YPM, 1503 birds competing from 228 lofts from Canada and USA, 15 Hours and 15 Minutes on the wing. Only 3 birds home same day. Winner of the Hall of Fame Award for 1938.
At this point I wish to state certain facts that might be useful as a yardstick and the basis of laying the foundation for a successful long-distance race team. Young birds of certain strains are high-strung, precocious and temperamental so to say, and naturally subject to unusual influences at this early age of their maturity, and the all-important balance to their flightiness is age. It is a truism that some of our best long-distance racers in later years are indifferent young birds.
In the year of their birth these birds should be handled in such a manner that at the time they are ready for the first race you have a hardy flock of energetic and well-developed youngsters. At this specific time, the fanciers should give careful consideration to his old bird race team, figure its possibilities for the long-distance races for the year coming, consider the numbers, and age of birds that make it up, the various degree of ability of each of these birds, as well as the number of replacements needed to keep his team up to standard. For the purpose of this article, we are assuming that he will need a major proportion of his young-bird team to be candidates for 600-mile racing two years hence. Then it well behooves this fancier to consider just what birds in his young-bird team of today he fancies most for his purpose, taking into consideration pedigree, inherent qualities, strength and general racing possibilities.
"Claire-Ree" Bred and Flown by E. Lang Miller. Second prize winner of Grand International 600 Mile Championship, Hillsboro, Ill., June 17, 1939, (distance 614 miles). Velocity 833 YPM No day birds and only 30 birds home on the second day, 1085 birds competing from 200 lofts from Canada and USA. Son of "Little Claire", winner of second prize in National 600 Mile Championship 1934, and grandson of "Black Jack", twice winner of the 600 mile Combine Championship.
Now there are two available plans for him to follow. In the first instance, the birds may compete in all the various schedule of races from 100 to 300, and even 500 and 600-mile races, as the case may be, or, secondly, he may so regulate his young-bird team that as the races progress he systematically retires certain birds week by week, let's say from 130-mile stage on, with the results that whether the races are hard or easy he can set aside a few of his young-bird hatch for later use. If some of the races are tough, as they invariably are (at least one or two difficult races occurring within a spread of four to six weeks), then his numbers will be greatly reduced, and in all probability he will have no need to waste any time deciding which to keep and which to eliminate. He would hardly have sufficient birds to add to his old-bird race team.
On the other hand should he have a fair number of young birds at the time the 300-mile race is completed, youngsters that have been stopped at the 130, 150 and 200, plus those that have made the 300-mile race, he will then be in a position to select his number of youngsters required to set aside for the following season, and then he can choose and send down those surplus ones to further races. This is the plan that I myself have personally followed, with the result that I have always had a fairly strong old-bird race team, sometimes augmented with youngsters flown only shorter distances, and sometimes with youngsters as well having flown from the longer races, such as 400, 500 an 600 miles the year of their birth.
These, I want to add, were over and above those which I retained from the shorter flights, and I might state also that these birds that flew the longer races were by no means better qualified as old birds in future years than their fellow loft mates that did not have such long and severe competition in the year of their birth. However, on the other hand, if these long-distance birds incurred hard and trying races on the days of these long-distance flights, my experience has been that the physical strain which they incurred, handicapped them and made them in some instances inferior to their fellow loft mates which had far easier young-bird training.
FALCON AU 42 Buffalo 7611 Silver Wft Male. Bred by Edwin Lang Miller from import Paul Sion pair loaned to Mr. Miller by Chas. Heitzman for the 1942 breeding season. They were 37-451818 and 38-339343. Falcon sired 21056, 1st 500 mile race, Day of Toss as a Yearling.
So from the above, one can conclude that luck and the breaks are all-important in young-bird racing, and the odds are all against the fancier attempting to race his kit of young birds hard every week-end through to the long distances, because somewhere in this schedule, in all probability within the space of a month or six weeks, one or two stiff races occur (practically out of a clear sky) and wrecks his whole young-bird team, and with it goes that prop so sorely needed for his future long-distance race team, as when one year of young-bird racing is lost whereby certain fit subjects cannot be added to the old-bird team, there is a major void in the make-up of the 600-mile candidates, because that one year in age has been lost to the team and so breaks the relay and continuity of plan suggested in making up each year the subjects needed to keep a long-distance race team at its peak, and so avoid any let-down in future years.
That which is true for young-bird development is true for yearlings as well, and 300 and 400-mile yearling racing is certainly far enough for the average fancier, and only when he has an over-sufficiency of birds should he try the longer races with yearlings. So to sum up the situation, one might say that only the surplus birds should be used in attempting long-distance racing with these classes, and where one is on the ragged edge as to these two ages in his loft, he should not tempt fate which may remove this unit from his scheme of development, and thereby handicap the make-up of his long-distance racing team.
I know some will point out the many successes of young birds and yearlings in long-distance racing, and especially the percentage of yearlings being reported in race time in many of the old-bird races, and they need not go beyond my own loft to get such facts as I feel I have flown young birds and yearlings successfully in long-distance competition equal to any. However, this does not prove the rule, or disprove my statement. It just shows it can be done and what I am talking about here is laying the foundation of a strong 600-mile team that will successfully year after year keeps its owner in the forefront of successful winning, and this cannot be done by flying each generation of young birds, yearlings, etc., the limit. Sooner or later something will crack. Luck plays a mighty big factor in pigeon racing, and for this very reason many fanciers are inclined to be thoughtless and reckless and take chances, and if their thought is only for the present and not for a continuous year in and year out long-distance winning, perhaps they can get a lot of fun out of the effort while it lasts.
So in concluding, the whole thing points to this fact that the young bird and yearling stage is merely a training period toward the peak of long-distance racing. In fact, young birds and yearlings should be trained, not raced, by the fancier with fore-thought, although the trend of our present-day sport has made young-bird racing almost pre-eminent to old-bird racing. The best proof of this statement is to review the young-bird race reports. Note the many birds and many fanciers all the way thru the schedule. How many of these fanciers do you even see at 300-mile old-bird races, and then when you come to the long-distance tests of the expert in repeated 500 and 600 mile racing, half-a-dozen of these races each year and many years following, there seldom appears but two or three percent of the young-bird pigeon racers who compete yearly in this competition.
The answer is that young-bird racing to the majority of fanciers, is just a game and a pastime not taken seriously, in which all sorts may compete - the novice, greenhorn, and old time alike - and if race conditions are easy, all stand a good chance of reporting in spite of themselves, even up to the longer races, and if youngsters are finally lost, in most instances they are, the "would be" fancier can start over again next year with a new lot of young birds, and repeat his folly with plenty of zip.
But not so with old birds. Worn-out yearlings, poor in feather and health, seldom make successful candidates for high-pressure old-bird racing with champions of the local center. So in discouragement our "would-be" fancier quits the sport, all due to the lack of proper intelligence in laying the foundation of a successful long-distance team.
So in ending this subject, I wish to leave this thought with you - Train your youngsters, don't race them - sure, ship them in your local races, but don't be too concerned about taking top position. Don't be disappointed if such or such favorite young bird seems to lag or straggle. Don't get discouraged, but give them time to mature. You were not so hot as a kid - maybe you are not so hot now. But there are hopes, so give your young birds a chance.