Elliott Shuler and Cotton's Cowgirl
BAD LUCK IS THE UNPREDICTABLE ENEMY in a competitive coon hunt. Maybe the coons aren’t out feeding where your dog is tracking. Maybe your dog trees a possum by mistake or roams outside the designated hunting territory. Every misadventure costs a hunter points.
Then again, as hunter Elliott Shuler of Holly Hill knows, good luck makes a welcome ally.
Shuler, a member of Tri-County Electric Cooperative, recalls a statewide competition in 2011 when he and his dog, Horse Range Kate, were stuck in second place. Time was running out—only four minutes left. Kate had treed two coons that night, but to win she needed to tree one more as the minutes wound down.
She treed two.
“Nothing trumps good luck in the end,” Shuler says, shrugging off the come-from-behind win.
But long-time friend Doug Shuler (no relation), who co-owns Kate, credits Elliott’s successes to a passion and skill that inspires other hunters.
“Elliott is respected because people know he puts in a lot of time with his dogs,” Doug Shuler, of Santee, says.
Elliott’s dogs have hunted at the Grand American for more than 20 years. One of this dogs—Coon Hammerin’ Texas Style Zippo—was the 2007 Nite Hunt Champion, and three of his dogs competed this year, one finishing in the top 20 on Friday. His top performer was Cotton’s Cowgirl, who won the Saturday nite hunt.
Pride and a commitment to drawing out the best in his dogs radiate from Shuler when he talks about the coonhounds he breeds, trains and hunts.
“I’m looking for a dog that will go hard in these deep swamps and cutovers, that has a little more in go power, heart, drive,” he says. “I’m looking for dogs that run a coon fast—if it’s not the dog’s desire to catch a coon, that’s not the dog for me.”
A member of the Orangeburg County Coon Hunters Association, Shuler, 42, started hunting deer, ducks and doves with his father and grandfather at age 3. As a teenager, he took up coon hunting with “whatever coon dogs we could beg, borrow, steal or find.” Then Charlie Brown, an experienced coonhound owner from Bowman, showed Shuler the art of handling a well-trained hunting dog.
“His dogs were on a different level than what I was used to,” Shuler says. “I didn’t realize that me and my dog was supposed to be a team. I thought the dog was supposed to do all the work.”
Shuler now shares the sport with youth hunters across the state. A wildlife biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, he merged his work and hobby to initiate an annual youth coon hunt, encouraging the next generation of hunters to appreciate the sport. His daughter, Charlotte, 12, won this year’s event with Cowgirl.
Between farming and his full-time job, Shuler has less time to hunt than he’d like. Still, he enjoys the chase (not so much the kill—“If you kill ’em, you can’t hunt ’em again,” he reasons) maybe three or four times a week, taking to the woods with one or more of his dogs in tow.
He calls it “alone time,” but it’s also an investment in his dogs—time that may pay off, soon enough, with a lucky win.