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Let's share unforgettable outdoor memories

By Frank Galusha
12/16/13 -- I missed my first opportunity to go duck hunting because Uncle Walt didn’t shake me hard enough that Saturday morning in 1942. I was eight years old, going on nine. My Aunt Marie told me he had tried to wake me but I didn’t respond. I was so disappointed I waited all day for them to return. “Pouting,” was how my aunt described me. That night I made my uncle swear that he would shake me harder for Sunday’s trip. The next morning as my uncle came for me I sprang from my bed before he could even touch me. I’ve never overslept before a fishing or hunting trip since. To this day I’m usually awake when the alarm sounds.

On the way to Isleta (south of Albuquerque) that morning I saw ducks for the first time. My uncles had stopped the old pick-up before the bridge just at first light. Quietly, they stepped out with shotguns in hand. There was a steep embankment ahead and the river was moving slowly past nearly ten feet below. “Curly,” Uncle Walt’s huge American Water Spaniel, hung back at heel. When the first shots were fired Curly hurled himself into the air at least six feet and landed in the water with an enormous splash. Within minutes he was back with a duck. “It’s a darned spoonie,” said Uncle Walt with disgust as he tossed the dead bird into the brush. “I swear I thought it was a mallard hen,” he said, spitting a chaw in the same direction.

But I wasn’t interested in the duck. Seeing Curly leap recklessly over that cliff was etched in my mind. He retrieved many more ducks that day and somewhere a seed was planted. I would one day own an American Water Spaniel, and I did.

American Water Spaniel, Refuge

<< [Note the first American Water Spaniel registered by the AKC was named "Curly Pfeifer." To read more about this interesting American-bred dog, visit Wikipedia. Photo courtesy of Refuge]

“Canoe” came from the best breeder in the upper mid-west and arrived by air when I was 45. He was not as big as Curly but he was a roughneck. As hard-headed as a dog could be, nearly untrainable, and one who left many scars on sofas and chairs because he would lift his leg on anything. But like old Curly he also leapt from the canoe I still own with total abandon. He was my treasured companion for nearly nine years before cancer got him. On our last hunt together we were after dove. I got a double with the .410 and he retrieved them both from thick cover. Two days later he was gone. I don’t have a photo of Canoe (he looked like the one in the photo above) but I do have a painting by Owen J. Gromme, which has hung near my bed for over 18 years. You can see this painting by Googling “Duke American Water Spaniel.” What is the price? The Art Barbarians are asking $375, exactly what I paid for Canoe.

During the rest of the hunt that morning along the Rio Grande my job was to retrieve all the shell casings, which in those days were made out of paper. I carried a small bag for that purpose and walked behind my uncles as they jump-shot ducks along oxbows and other backwaters. When my uncles fired a shot Curly retrieved the ducks and I retrieved the casings. When we got home there were a couple of dozen ducks to be plucked and twice that many shells to be “re-processed.” My aunt saved a few of the feathers for pillows, my uncles saved specific feathers for tying flies and when that was done, they set about cutting the paper hulls off the metal bases of the shells. Since it was wartime, in order to buy a new box of 25 paper shells my uncles had to return an equal number of metal bases. Those bases were then being returned to the ammo manufacturers for reloading.

It wasn’t too long before paper hulls became obsolete but I shot a few in my day. My father shot many but like many of his contemporaries he was quick to get in on the shotgun shell reloading craze once plastic hulls and reloading components and machines became available. I also began reloading shells first with hand loaders, then with a variety of reloading machines. Reloading kept the price of a box of shells well below $5 for many years for those of us who couldn’t afford new shells. Recently, I Googled “Old Shotgun Shells” and found, among other things, an old shell box that once held 25 Peters High Velocity Blue Winged Teal 12ga. shells. The box was in very poor condition and had only 10 smokeless rounds left in it but the asking price was $89.95. Hmmmm! I’ve thrown away hundreds of empty shell boxes. Maybe I’ll start saving them again.

If you like reading about old memories, maybe I’ll have some more to share with you. Better still, if you have old memories to share with me and our readers, email them to

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Website Design Photo Credits: thanks the following individuals for contributing photographs for use on our Home and Section pages: Anders Tomlinson of, Casey Allen of Bayside, CA; Jason Haley of Medford, OR; Steve Breth of Burney, CA; Tracy McCormack of Eureka, CA; Grant Thompson of Grand Junction, CO; Richard Bott of Shingletown, CA; Ron Loftus of Yreka, CA; Scott Caldwell of Montague, CA; Lorissa Soriano of Alturas, CA and the late Dave Menke, formerly with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

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