Imagine a 13-year-old in a new land, dreaming of doing what his father had done at his age. The teen arrived in the US after spending all his previous years in foreign countries and reading late-arriving Boy’s Life, Outdoor Life and Field & Streams, thinking that when he returned to the nation of his nationality, he’d get to experience what his father had been blessed with from the 1930s to the late 1940s.
How wrong was that kid!
California in the late 1970s was quickly on its way to becoming the most expensive state within which to reside. Land prices forced out family-run ranches and farms, forcing sales to foreign-owned corporations. In the process, a simple handshake and promise to leave each cattle gate as found (normally closed), perhaps a bit of the meat or fish from the day’s take to the landowner, no longer led to an automatic permission to hunt privately-owned land, i.e. most often the best land to hunt and fish in the United States.
No, no, no. Instead, large club were formed to purchase hunting and fishing rights at thousands of dollars, something a young teen couldn’t even imagine of paying then. The only options were to hunt public national forests for deer, and bear, (pigs focus on free eats and safety on private land, so were never really an option unless you had access), and the waterfowl refuges.
If my parents hadn’t stepped in to get a family membership with the now long gone American Sportsman’s Club (most of the properties went under the Golden Ram and Wilderness Unlimited domain), I probably would have spent years on public land getting skunked like so many neophyte hunters experience on public land. What was more important wasn’t the access to private land, but the education available from the much more experienced hunters and anglers on the membership roles, and, too, the hunting seminars.
There are some people in life that you meet who just have that charismatic quality about them that makes an impression on you. When it comes to duck hunting, the one who made the best impression on me was Billy Gianquinto.
The next time I met Gianquinto after that instruction in 1977, was right after I had returned from hiding out and healing in Alaska to find that my old friend, Mark Eveslage, a cameraman well decorated with awards like the Emmy and just last year the Edward R. Murrow, was working on a new show, called the Charlie West’s Outdoor Gazette TV show. Better known for ducks, Gianquinto was their hunting host, and went off well with his own Billy and Buck waterfowl hunting show that I would enjoy regularly during the 1990s.
Nowadays, Gianquinto and I both write and host for e4outdoors.com. And all this time, he never knew that I was one of those kids he taught way back, until just a few weeks ago.
…That’s Billy Gianquinto’s gift: working with and teaching young hunters how to get their ducks—making sure the hunting line doesn’t die out with each succeeding generation. In all honesty, with all the “master” duck hunters I’ve interviewed and hunted with, my knowledge of duck hunting always ends up coming back to the tried and true teachings of Billy G.
From him, I learned how to call pintails and whistle widgeon and teal. With his knowledge I got my mallards. Though he no longer teaches it, because he can’t reach those notes anymore; I can still call in honkers with my voice. And when steel shot first came in, he taught me to “open up that choke!”
With an initial knowledge of hunting built through reading and rereading classics like Hunting the Lawless and The Outlaw Gunner, and formed by great writers, many long dead, like Nash Buckingham, Ed Neal, and Walt Christensen, Billy G’s hunting history reaches back to when he was eight years old and saw a film starring matinee idol Errol Flynn, called “Robin Hood”. With a full costume like his favorite character and a bow, he ventured by bicycle to Golden Gate Park for the squirrels and pygmy rabbits hiding in the trees and brush. Soon, he went on a “real” hunt, a duck hunt with a boss at the Boy Scout camp he worked at during his youth.
The article on that life forming event, shows exactly that mad, yet endearing, quality that duck hunters have over other hunters: who else actively anticipates the worst weather of winter and fall, and talks to themselves all the rest of the year with a duck call in their hands, and spends untold amounts of cash on the latest piece of waterfowl hunting equipment, and risks divorce just to get into a blind when the birds are in?
Personally, my own waterfowl madness started with a friend from high school in Belmont, who pestered me to join him in the sucking San Francisco Bay mud flats and islands off Redwood Shores, right after I learned to call from Billy G. I can really relate to Billy G’s conversion to duckhood—with all its pain and self-questioning. There’s just something about seeing a bright greenhead cupped and floating down into your dekes, or my favorite, as I’m at heart a goose hunter, flagging a distant flock of Canada geese that break off the main flock and almost land on your head as you lay on your back in a dry barley or wheat field, waiting to make a clean headshot.
And that doesn’t even call up memories of great meals prepared with the waterfowl taken over grain and green pastures that make me think of mallard and honkers as “filet mignon the wing.”
If you’d like to be converted to sitting in bad weather (though that can be a myth, too: many a mallard has fallen to guns on blue birds skies), and learn the tricks and tips that keep you from coming home cold and skunked, check out Billy G’s seminars at ISE Sacramento this weekend, and check out his website full of useful information and articles. And if you want to get a pintail whistle that will actually pull ducks away from others calling (it’s made of metal which is why it’s so loud), I can’t say enough good things about Billy G’s pintail whistle!
The days of having a relative teach you how to hunt and fish are sadly going the way of the California condor. Thankfully, there are still shows in California and around the country that provide that education by experienced professionals. Waterfowl, big-game, trout, salmon, steelhead, and most of the equipment you need to actually go out and do it with are available for purchase and or trying out at shows like the International Sportsmen’s Show—no, the traditional name doesn’t just mean for men, as the quickest increasing population of hunters are women!
While chatting at our mutual friend, Michael Riddle’s Native Hunt booth; black cowboy hat-wearing, fellow pig fanatic of The Hog Blog, Phillip Loughlin, shared the same hope that these shows will keep the hunter’s torch blazing and lighting the way for new hunters to get hte right information and a solid opportunity to hunt private lands locked off from the public.
Every year I wait to see what’s new and interesting and to see what new guiding operations are out there to provide the best bang for your buck experience: I’m always for a newbie hunter or angler signing up with a guide or outfitter for their first time, especially in an area that you might want to try on your own-why in the world would you want to spend more money reinventing the wheel, when overall, you can pay much less for a trip with a guide that takes care of all that time lost on trial and errors, so that you can be in the field as someone who is an important component of wildlife management and conservation?
While the San Mateo ISE show is a week over, Sacramento is still raging well: where else can you get the opportunity to meet in person outfitters that can make your dream of hunting or fishing in lands of wonders, like New Zealand, Alaska and Africa?