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8/19/2003: C5: Billy Gianquinto and his black Labrador, Buck, are the stars in two shows on the Outdoor Life Network. Gianquinto is a former Piner High football coach.

Santa Rosa's Gianquinto in Outdoors Hall of Fame

When Billy Gianquinto was told the news two weeks ago, he began to cry. It wasn't that he had lost anything or anyone. Rather, it was something he acquired, something so extraordinary, in fact, that the news would place anyone in front of a mirror and ask the reflection, "Me? With them? Obviously there's been a typo."

Gianquinto, a Santa Rosa resident since 1973, now can say with a straight face that he could mention his name in the same breath and in the same sentence with naturalist John Muir and nature photographer Ansel Adams - and not be thought the fool. The naturalist, the photographer and ... the duck caller. Does sound a little quacky, I admit.

Last Saturday, Gianquinto was inducted into the California Outdoors Hall of Fame at Cal Expo in Sacramento, elected on the first ballot, the 44th member chosen. Since there are probably more sports halls of fame in this country than grains of sand, the significance of the California Outdoors Hall of Fame might have slipped your attention. But this is no lame let-them-in-if-they-hiked-Half-Dome list.

Explorer and mountain man Jedediah Smith is in there, as well as geologist Josiah Whitney, who has a mountain you might have heard of named after him. Maybe the best color nature photographer of all-time, Galen Rowell, is a member as well. Then there's the real heavy hitters, the icons of the outdoors, who literally and figuratively frame the California landscape - Muir and Adams.

If you ask Gianquinto, he'd probably respond, that yes, he would ask permission to speak if he was in their presence.

"I had no idea this was coming," said Gianquinto, 65, Piner's head football coach from 1975-85.

Of such modesty and humor it began. Fifty-five years ago, Gianquinto was a 10-year kid in San Francisco dressed like Robin Hood, exploring Golden Gate Park, on a bicycle with a bow and arrow, looking for squirrels and rabbits. Never hit anything, except for maybe a parked car.

"I was infatuated with Errol Flynn playing Robin Hood, so I dressed like Flynn, all the way down to the green tights," said Gianquinto.

At 18, Gianquinto was asked to go on his first duck hunt, at Suisin Marsh.

"I almost drowned," he said. "I shot a duck and went after it. I stepped into a boat canal and went completely under water. I sat in a duck blind for two hours in my birthday suit while my clothes dried. When I got out I told the guy who invited me that I had it. I was never doing this again."

But Gianquinto did return - for only one reason.

"The guy who invited me was my boss," said Gianquinto, who was a rowing and canoe instructor for the Boy Scouts.

But what if the guy wasn't Gianquinto's boss?

"I would have never gone back," he said.

If that had been the case, you could make a case that California's wetlands would have been the poorer for it. Over the last 38 years, Gianquinto has led dozens of fundraisers for wetlands protection, conducted thousands of seminars for the California Waterfowl Association, all the while hosting outdoor television shows on three networks from 1985 to 2006 - his reputation as a duck caller the hook to all of it.

Inventor of distinctive duck whistles, Gianquinto advertises himself on the side of his red truck as a "Professional Duck Caller." It is nothing to quack about because his expertise with that waterfowl has taken him and his television crew to all 50 states, New Zealand, Australia, Uruguay, Argentina and Canada.

His tireless work as a conservationist might seem to conflict directly with his skill as a hunter. Gianquinto estimates he has shot and killed 10,000-15,000 ducks in the past 37 years.

He is not a contradiction.

"I don't kill anything I don't use," Gianquinto said. "That's why I don't hunt geese. I don't like to eat geese."

The notion there are hunters out there who kill just for the sport it - to mount that animal head on a wall for bragging rights over a pint - is laughingly absurd to Gianquinto.

"That is so far removed from anything I know," Gianquinto said. "For me, that might as well take place on Pluto."

But before he got the news two weeks ago, Gianquinto would have said connecting him to Ansel Adams would have been like linking Pluto to Earth - that would have been a stretch as well. Yet here they are in the same hall of fame, each of them getting there one step at a time.

In Adams' case, it is one black-and-white picture followed by another and then another. For Gianquinto, it was one honk followed by another and then another. They both were outdoorsman, masters of their craft, who arrived at the same place, only from different directions.

For more North Bay sports, go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blog.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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