Phillips County News - One Nation, Under God

By Parker Heinlein
Outdoors Columnist 

A good bird dog dies young


December 25, 2019

I never put much stock in the old saying that a man is lucky to own one good bird dog in his life. If that’s the case then that man just didn’t have enough dogs.

I’ve had a bunch, some better than others.

And I’ve been very lucky.

Baby Ruth wasn’t just good. She brought a joie de vivre to the hunt that only a young dog can.

She died last week, young and fit, only two and a half years old. Something awful, growing rapidly inside her, cut her life short.

The Monday before Thanksgiving we were hunting sharptail grouse on the CMR National Wildlife Refuge, Ruth flying through the sage and short grass like a wraith. The next week she was gone.

Ruth was going to be my last dog. By the time she reached her teens I’d be in my 80s. I thought that would probably be enough.

She’d been a very easy puppy, was great with kids, and enthusiastic about the hunt. When we first got her, Spot was still with us and Ruth loved that stinky old dog, snuggling up next to her to sleep. Jem simply tolerated her, and Ace, an old soul who was never much of a puppy even though we raised him from one, finally learned to play from Baby Ruth.

She wasn’t perfect. Ruth sometimes chased birds, coyotes, and on what would be her final hunt, even a mule deer buck. We were working on that along with her porcupine addiction. I pulled quills out of her muzzle three times this fall.

Ruth was also in the habit of racing upstairs in the morning to wake our guests, but no one ever seemed to mind.

We hunted together more days than not September through November. Most of the time it was just me and the dogs, Ruth running point and retrieving everything I shot.

Seeking solace following her death I actually turned to the Bible, a book I hadn’t cracked in years. While Ruth was named for the wife of an outfitter I used to work for in Cooke City, I’d been asked if the choice was biblical. It wasn’t, but after she died I read the book of Ruth.

I’ll just say it’s very brief as was her time with us.

A package arrived yesterday in the mail. It was photo of an old man and a couple of springer spaniels paused in a bleak landscape. The dogs look like they’re barking. A rooster tailfeather is sticking out of the old man’s vest. A candid shot taken by a good friend during a recent hunt, it says a lot about me.

I’ve been very lucky.

Parker Heinlein is at [email protected]


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