When I got Tooter in the early 1950's, he was an 8 week old, part German shepherd pup. He had a black and white cross on his chest. I carried him, resting on my forearm, the two miles back to our farm. As Tooter grew, he learned quickly. He became my constant companion as we hunted, fished, and trapped – or just roamed the bottoms and mountains for the fun of it. He quickly learned to “stand,” “heel,” and “back up.” Once learned, he obeyed perfectly. If I needed help getting up a muddy creek bank after setting a trap, or looking for mink sign, I had only to say, “back up.” Tooter backed into position, waited until I grasped his tail, then pulled me up the bank. Tooter was a world class sprinter, by human standards. Using the “stand” command, I timed him at 7 seconds flat in the 100 yard dash, eclipsing the world record by two seconds or so – for a man.
Tooter saved me more than once. One hot summer day, walking barefoot down an overgrown lane to fish at Lilly Pad Lake, Tooter was in the heel position. He suddenly stepped ahead of me, then jumped aside. Looking down, I saw a large Moccasin, coiled and fangs bared, lying where my next step would have taken me.
Tooter became a good squirrel dog, though not in the normal sense of the term. He did not trail squirrels, but ran, crashing through the underbrush, scaring any self-respecting squirrel into movement. His sharp eyes caught the flash of fur, and another squirrel was treed. Once he had him in sight, he would follow him when he jumped from tree to tree. We worked well as a team. While I waited quietly on one side of the tree, Tooter crashed to the other side to turn the squirrel. They were an important source of meat for my family. The only meat we ate was either salt pork, which got old after awhile, or meat that I hunted or fished for.
One balmy autumn day, when I was in the eighth grade, I packed my tow sack hammock, food, water, my .22 rifle, and Tooter and I set out to climb Main Mountain. This was the tallest of all the mountains around, seven or so ridges over from our farm. We followed Stowe creek up the holler, avoiding most of the climbing until we reached the big one. It was a hard, tiring climb up the mountain. We reached the summit at sundown. The trees on top were mostly knotty, gnarled Oaks. Fox squirrels abounded here, but many trees were hollow. It was a real challenge, getting a mess of squirrels on top of Main Mountain. I set up camp, we shared the water and food, and I crawled into my hammock. Excited about our hunt tomorrow, I finally dozed off.
I awoke with a start. The moon was up, and an ominous wind blew through the tree branches. An owl hooted in the distance. Although it seemed I had been asleep a long time, the moon told me it was not yet midnight. My major concern, however, was Tooter. I had never run onto anything in the woods that frightened Tooter. But here he was, whining, crying softly, pressing against me, staring into the darkness. A faint rustling in the leaves came from the direction of his attention. I picked up the .22, releasing the safety. The rustling, about 100 yards out, slowly circled us. With Tooter following every move with his nose, whining, we strained to see through the darkness. The circling continued, at intervals, throughout the long night. Tooter and I pressed closer and closer together. As a faint light appeared in the east, the rustling disappeared. We found no tracks in the freshly fallen leaves, never knowing what had stalked us throughout that long, fearful night.
The hunting was good, and with the sun heading toward the horizon, we headed down the mountain with a full pack of Fox squirrels and memories of a night that the passing decades have not erased.
The good hunting on Main Mountain set up yet another adventure to Wing Hollow. My buddy, Bob Rice, wanted to try his luck with those Main Mountain “foxies.” One Saturday we set out up the holler. After a long hunt, we had a few, and the sun was dipping low, so we turned toward home. Tooter thundered through the underbrush, in his customary manner, a hundred yards to the right. Suddenly, a large gray shadow flashed across the trail in front of us. Bob and I both glimpsed the animal, a large wolf or coyote. I glanced at Bob, noticed his chill bumps were as big as mine, and we picked up the pace.
As we neared the last turn in the trail before Turner's Store came into view, I realized my hunting knife was missing. Remembering the last place we had used it was where we field dressed the squirrels, my concern for my Marine Combat Knife overcame my concern for the wolf. As Bob stretched out on the trail soaking up the last rays of the late evening sun, I started back up the trail. Tooter and I quickly found the knife. On the way back down, a sinister plan began to form in the dark recesses of my mind. Perhaps Tooter and I could use the wolf episode to have some fun with Bob. Just before we came into sight of Bob, I gave Tooter the “stand” command. I went around the curve, saw Bob stretched out on his back, hands behind his head, chewing on a weed. I softly called Tooter, then began running, screaming, “Bob! The Wolf!” I saw Bob glance up, just as Tooter, alias the great gray wolf, burst from the timber.
Under normal circumstances, there is a process to be followed in getting to one's feet from his position. I have never been able to explain or understand exactly what happened in this situation, although I have thought through it many times in the past 50+ years. One moment Bob was glancing up, the next he was leaning into the wind, fairly flying down the trail to Turner's store. His feet seemed to scarcely touch the ground. A small cloud of dust marked his disappearance around the bend. When I reached the bend, there was no sign of Bob. Tooter and I set off down the creek toward home. Moments later, a car came speeding up the trail, a large dust cloud boiling up behind it. As it approached me, I made out a wide-eyed Bob, Buell Turner, and some old men who often hung around the store, whittling and chewing tobacco. Guns bristled out the windows. I had some tall explaining to do. Continued