The Pointing Dog Journal: “Bird Dog Man”

Wild Wing Lodge is one of those places that’s so far off the beaten path that you’d never find it if you didn’t know where to look, and even then it takes some doing. But I got there, finally, and with a couple hours of daylight left to burn on this bell-clear February day, I went in search of Ed Rader.

I’d been told that I’d find him “workin’ dogs in the bottoms.” But as I eased down this one-lane road tucked back in the hills and hollows of western Kentucky, a ridge of starkly bare-limbed hardwoods rising up on my left and shaggy fields of broomsedge stretching along the creek to my right, the figure I spied in the distance seemed, well, wrong. Striding smartly through the russet grass, a black headed setter quartering ahead, he had the easy, loose limbed gait of a much younger man.

It’d been a decade or so since Ed and I last crossed paths – and he was no spring chicken then, if you catch my drift.

In fact, he’d told me during one of the conversations leading up to this trip that he was 78. My mind was having a hard time resolving the idea that the guy I was looking at now – trim, angular, slightly bow-legged – could be pushing the big eight-oh.

But you know what they say about looks. When I drew closer and he turned at the sound of my car, there was no mistaking that sharply drawn, deeply wind- and weather lined face. Even behind a pair of wraparound yellow shooting glasses, it was a face that seemed graven in stone – the kind we see staring back at us, steely prideful but kindly, too, in sepia-toned photographs of long-departed kin.

He was looking sharp, as he always does, wearing high dollar rubber knee boots and a lightweight quilted suede jacket. Make no mistake: This is a man who knows, and appreciates, the finer things in life, whether it’s well-tailored clothes, class dogs, handmade shotguns, custom cars, or mellow sippin’ whiskey. (His brand, should you ever have the opportunity to pour or buy him one, is Wild Turkey.)

“Mr. Ed,” I said, stepping out of my car and walking up to greet him. “It’s been awhile since we were on that hillside in Arizona, and your ears were between me and the only covey of Mearns’ we saw all day.”

“Good to see you, too, Tom,” he said, smiling broadly and engulfing my hand in his. Like many of the great dog men I’ve known – Bob Wehle and W.C. Kirk spring to mind – he has big, expressive hands, their knobbily enlarged knuckles testifying to decades of hard use. Rader has been wrangling animals all his life (he grew up on a farm in southern Indiana), and at various times he earned his livelihood running an auto body shop, building homes, and training dogs professionally. For fun he restores cars and crafts furniture.

And those are just the hobbies I know about. Read the entire article by Tom Davis here.