No Respect from Canada Geese

“I get no respect, I tell you. The way my luck is running, if I was a politician I’d be honest.”

The late comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, made a pretty good living as the poor schlemiel nobody respected.

I’ve had reason to understand how he felt, even if it wasn’t like his one liner about a girl telling him, “Come on over, nobody’s home.” “So I went over, and sure enough, nobody was home.”

I get no respect from Canada geese.

On a recent hunting outing I drove down a pasture trail towards a spring creek in search of ducks. The trail is right along the rancher’s property line, and on the other side of the fence were about 300 Canada geese feeding in a field.

Did the geese take off when Flicka, my Labrador retriever, and I left the truck, with me carrying a shotgun? Not at all. They continued feeding, unperturbed. They didn’t ignore me; for every goose with its head down in the snow looking for green shoots, there were probably three geese that had their heads up, ready to sound the alarm in the unlikely event I would suddenly pose some sort of threat to them.

These geese not only weren’t worried about legitimate threats from hunters, they also apparently knew they were out of shotgun range in case some hunter rushed the fence with shotgun blazing. They were all around 100 to 150 yards from the fenceline, far from where any pellets from a shotgun shell could do any damage.

Back in late October I had a similar day when I was hunting pheasants in North Dakota. I was hunting on public land and there were several hundred Canada geese peacefully feeding in a barley field across the road from where I was hunting. If they were bothered by a gun-totin’ hunter from Montana, they sure didn’t show it.

Canada geese are a big success story when it comes to survival and recovery. A century ago, Canada geese were relatively rare and one subspecies, the giant Canada goose, was considered extinct until the 1950s when a small flock of giants was found near Rochester, Minnesota.

Canada geese are in no danger these days. Canada geese can be found almost anywhere in North America, and they have definitely found a niche in and around urban area parks and golf courses, including Butte, of course, where geese keep both the Country Club and municipal golf course fairways well fertilized.

Canada geese have reached Europe on their own, joining Canada geese that were introduced over the years. In the 17th Century, explorer Samuel de Champlain shipped several pairs of geese to France as a gift to King Louis XIII. Not to be outdone, English colonists sent geese to King James II. More recently, Canada geese were introduced into New Zealand. In all these areas Canada geese often earn a new status as pests.

Canada geese are valued by waterfowl hunters, many of whom specialize in trying to lure flocks of geese to come to open fields where hunters, wearing various shades of camouflage, shiver by decoys in the pre-dawn darkness in hopes geese will fly into range. I confess that goose hunting requires a level of commitment above and beyond what I’m willing to give.

Still, Montana is prime hunting territory for Canada geese. They’re along just about every river in the state, and the numbers of geese are impressive, especially along the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana. Driving the I-90/I-94 corridor in early winter, the flights of geese in the air resemble flights of B-17s taking off from England back in the ‘40s.

Occasionally I’ll get a shooting opportunity when I’m hunting ducks, though it doesn’t happen often. Geese are sharp-eyed and suspicious of any ground movement.

Personally, if I were to choose a hunting spot without regard to legal niceties, I’d just take my shotgun to the tennis courts at Stodden Park in early autumn. I’ve even wondered if there was some way to make a tennis racket that incorporates a 10-gauge shotgun.

Then I’d get some respect.