Rooty, part of my family
When I think of my first bird dog, a long-legged German Shorthair named, Upland Rooster, or “Rooty” for short, I can’t help but think of that famous Jerry Lee Lewis song, Great Balls of Fire, except the words are: “Goodness, Gracious, Great Jowls of Slobber.” The reason being is all the times Rooty’s dripping jowls juiced my prissy sister-in-law who won’t even eat chicken off the bone: “He is sooo gross! Get him away from me!”
My wife and I purchased Rooty from a breeder up near Spokane, Washington, after my first semester of law school during the winter of 1998/1999. His impressive pedigree repeatedly showed the name “Long Shanks” throughout the family tree, which is only fitting, given Rooty’s freakishly long legs and huge paws. To this day, he is the biggest shorthair I have ever seen. In his wiggling excitement for life, Rooty often knocked over my little two year old, Emma, but she loved him and, more than once, climbed into the portable kennel with Rooty.
Rooty Boy was a quick study and instinctively learned to point the dangling sage grouse wing as I worked to keep it away from him. He also readily retrieved any of the numerous items that were thrown for him and some that were not (i.e. shoes, dolls, hats, garden hoses, fruit trees, etc.). I’ll never forget the first time he got a nose full of a ruffed grouse that I harvested early in the fall of 1999. Pardon the cliché, but I literally witnessed a light turn on in Rooty’s head. In all of ten seconds, Rooty figured out exactly what he was bred for.
Seeds of Greatness.
Near Kendrick, Idaho, we used to hunt this gnarly covert, I called “Madman Land” because-simply put-only a lunatic would hunt there. It was extremely steep, the hawthorn trees, blackberry brambles, and briar patches were thicker than bamboo in the draws, and the only open spots were plastered with star thistle, a weed designed with torture in mind. Wussies need not apply! The great thing about this spot was that it was loaded with birds, valley quail, pheasants, Hungarian partridge, and ruffed grouse up top in the pines (not to mention turkeys, whitetail deer, and bears). Unquestionably, it is a great place to take a tireless young dog.
On one of our first hunts in this hairy spot, Rooty and I hunted together with my brother-in-law Scott T. and a few other friends. After hiking our way up to the top of the ridge without much excitement, Rooty suddenly froze, pointing into an impenetrable thicket. At that instant, quail began to rocket out of the tangle one at a time like a shooting roman candle. By watching the first few, I recognized their escape plan and took aim at the next rising buzz bomb. The shot felt good when I squeezed the trigger, but I did not see the bird fall in the thick bramble. In hopes of finding some singles, the other hunters and I gave chase to this huge covey down the wooded draw.
When the action slowed, I began to think about my earlier shot into the jungle. “I bet I hit that bird,” I said to Scott T., “I better go back up there and look for it.” By the time I made it back to the thicket, I was sweaty and winded from the steep climb. I carefully made my way into the maze of standing and fallen trees and began to look in earnest for the bird. After about five minutes or so, I could not see anything and gave up the affair as hopeless. I scratched my way out of the maze and commanded: “Come on Rooty Boy, let’s go find some more birds!” In what seemed like a long time, Rooty finally worked his way back up to me. Lo and behold, there in his mouth was the valley quail. In my excitement, I hooped and hollered about my first bird taken over my very own bird dog’s first point. I’m sure I looked and sounded like a madman at the time, but it comes with the territory!
Later on that season, while Rooty and I hiked all over Madman Land one beautiful October afternoon, we found a small seep that flowed from the steep hillside. Rooty wisely took the opportunity to drink the fresh water and to cool down. Likewise, I too found a seat against a tree and enjoyed some much needed rest. In the autumn sunlight, surrounded by the blazing fall foliage, this was the first time that I felt that special connection with a bird dog. At that very moment, we were no longer master and servant, but rather hunting partners, even buddies. The feeling is hard to explain to those who have never hunted with a dog before. I have felt that connection many times since, but this was the first time.
Rooty’s First Ruffie
By the end of the hunting season, Rooty pointed and retrieved numerous ruffed grouse, pheasants, quail, and Hungarian partridge. Indeed, he had proven to be an awesome birddog in every sense of the word.
Rooty’s life was tragically cut short in early 2000. I was devastated! However, I do not want to dwell on his loss, but rather, to celebrate his life. I will say that I still love Rooty deeply and I’m so grateful that he was my first bird dog. I sincerely hope that he can forgive me for my many mistakes and imperfections. As Ted Nelson Lundrigan so aptly stated in A Bird in Hand: “If St. Peter asks me what I want when I get to the Pearly Gates, I’ll have a question for him: ‘Do you have any pointing dogs up here?’ If he wants to know why I asked, I’ll say: ‘I want to go where they went.’” To this sentiment, I add, “Rooty, my friend, I can’t wait to see you in the eternal fields of gold.”
Rooty’s first Rooster. Notice the Great Jowls of Slobber.