Readers may remember a column I did a few weeks ago about my friend William Davis, who was a brilliant artist and sculptor.
His time with us was cut short, but he left a great number of beautiful pieces of bronze art, and dazzling watercolors of game.
Today, I am going to tell you about another long-time friend of mine who is also a master at what he does. His name is Joe 'Puggy' Freitas, and he has been one of the finest carvers of waterfowl in the west for a great number of years.
I first met Joe when he came to Bakersfield to attend the Ken Barnes Skeet Shoot back in the early 80's. We became fast friends and over the years I was able to amass a collection of all the different species of ducks and geese that he carved.
Joe first started carving back in 1972 when a friend of his showed him some carvings that he had done. Joe thought, "You know, I think I could do that." He went out and found an old redwood fence post, and from that he carved a pair of Green Wing Teal.
Joe was not sure if his painting was up to standard, but his friend thought they were good enough to take with him to a show in Santa Ana to be entered. Not surprising, Joe won his class. He laughs about it now saying, "I was no longer in the novice class."
Since that time, Joe won countless awards with his entries all over the west. Many of his decoys were donated as prizes at a number of skeet shoots throughout the state. He also has donated a number of them to Ducks Unlimited auctions over the years.
After 20 years working as a butcher, Joe took the perfect job for himself with the state of California as a bridge tender on the Sacramento River. He did that for about 20 years, also. He always said, "I would just sit, carve, and smoke cigarettes waiting for a boat to come by."
Joe was always a very heavy smoker, but that all changed during duck season in 1987. I was a smoker at the time too, but I had decided to quit at the end of season. Joe told me that if I quit, he would quit too. And it happened. Neither of us has had one cigarette since the end of January 1988. Very proud of him for that, because he told me he was smoking about two packs a day. Tough guy!!
Joe still carves a little bit these days, but nothing like the past. He just turned 90 years old, but can still be found every Wednesday shooting skeet at the Stockton Gun Club, which is a short drive from his home in Rio Vista. Stay well, pal. You have a lot of friends.
ONE FINAL NOTE: Don't forget California Waterfowl's "Kern County Sportsman's Night" dinner tomorrow night taking place at Hodel's restaurant. Social hour at 5:30 P.M. and dinner at 7. Tickets available at entry, and at most sporting goods dealers.