Marriage, A Couple of Geese, and Compromise
A zookeeper married to an avid hunter comes as a surprise to many, and certainly seems an unlikely pairing at face value, but when you dig in to the principles behind the passions it starts to come together. We both strongly believe in conservation, wildlife protection, and the right to pursue game in the manner set forth by our state and federal wildlife agencies. Where we apparently differ, is where those rights can be exercised...
It was a cold, somewhat non-typical, morning in North Florida near the end of the 2016 duck season. I woke up to the sound of gunshots coming from the river behind our house. This was not a completely foreign concept, as I had hunted just down the river from my house a few times that season. The difference was the proximity, as these shots were obviously much closer that the area I typically hunted on my backyard river. Here in Florida you can hunt any “navigable waterway” so it’s not that surprising to see duck hunters on waterways near wilderness abutting residential areas. That said, these particular hunters were brushed in against the marsh opposite my residential area, which I always felt to be an unspoken “no man’s land.” Is it legal? Yes. Are you inconsiderate for hunting it...ehh, probably.
The river is residential on one shore, then separated by about 200 yards of water with piney flat- woods/marsh on the opposite shore. These particular hunters were set up on the marsh side, shooting back across the river towards the residential area. To be fair, no person or property was in danger, since the distance was far outside the range of birdshot. So here I am, watching other duck hunters reap the fruit of our “backyard,” and I have not taken a single bird since we’ve lived here. Then, as if the stars aligned, a pair of geese slowly make their way to our shore...This is it, I finally have a chance to jump shoot geese right in our back yard! With my wife still sound asleep I race downstairs, shotgun in hand to greet my father, who was living with us at the time. He had heard the shots as well, and was very interested in the prospect of goose for dinner. So, as dad held the dogs and provided encouragement, I slowly made my way through the marsh in pursuit of the geese.
The northeast wind was just right, pushing all sound and scent in my face and right over my shoulder. The geese were completely oblivious to my approach, as I was shielded by cattails and marsh-grass, making this the perfect jump shoot scenario. I stealthily approached the geese anticipating a kill and retrieve for the record books. Finally I waded in to range and shouldered the gun. The geese began pumping their wings in an attempt to retreat, and I opened fired on the nearest bird. Bam! It collapsed to the water and for all appearances was dead on the water. I called and sent my dog, hotly anticipating a first goose retrieval for my young lab. It was almost immediately apparent that something wasn’t right...suddenly the bird was upright and swimming away from the shoreline at an alarming rate. Legs pumping my dog made his way to the bird, but he was being outpaced. My dad’s more experienced dog had made his way to the action so I sent him in next, but it was again apparent the goose was swimming too fast for the dogs. After calling both dogs in we decided the only option was to launch the boat and track down the bird.
Long story short we never did find the goose. We even stopped to chat with the other hunters, who had not seen any wounded birds in the area. We pulled the boat into the marsh and stomped around for an hour hoping to come across a dead goose, but no such luck. I returned home expecting my wife to be somewhat perturbed by the surprise shotgun blasts, but not much else. Turns out, she was much more disturbed by the fact that I targeted wildlife from our backyard. I learned that morning that we had very different definitions of “fair game.”
It was on this day we enacted the Cove Wildlife Protection Act. Well, to be fair I only called it that in retrospect, as it was originally the “I don’t want you shooting wildlife from our backyard” clause prior to the official naming. The gist of it was my wife fully supported (and still does) my hunting passion, but drew the line at shooting animals from our backyard. It’s probably a good time to mention we live in a neighborhood on less than an acre of land. I don’t want to paint a rural picture that makes my wife look unreasonable. We have neighbors on both sides, but again we back up to a navigable waterway, so the legality of my “hunt” is not in question.
Basically it boiled down to “I appreciate the fact that we live somewhere with access to wildlife viewing, and I don’t want you messing that up by shooting at things.” I’ll admit at first I was indignant and adversarial to the idea of relinquishing hunting rights around our home, but upon further consideration it started to sink in that this was not an argument worthy of our energy. Did I really care that much about shooting geese from our backyard? We lived there for 3 years and never had geese come in that close, so who’s to say it would ever happen again. I quickly realized this was not a fight worth having. From this day forth we enacted the Cove Wildlife Protection Act (CWPA), and no wildlife has been harmed on our property since (except fish because you have to draw the line somewhere).
Compromise is something a lot of people seem to fear these days. It’s as if finding a middle ground is seen as immediate failure. Everyday you are put in situations that require some form of compromise. Whether it’s your spouse, child, boss, or even something as trivial as a pet; there are times where we have to compromise for the best outcome. It seems like everyone is so concerned with getting their way and obtaining the approval of others, that they forget how important it can be to sit back and just communicate.
On the day I shot that goose I learned a lot about my relationship with my wife, as well as her range of approved hunting practices. Was I frustrated about the moratorium on hunting from our backyard? Absolutely. Did I get over it quickly? Absolutely. The ability to hunt one-off geese from our backyard is not going to make or break me, and sacrificing that capability for a happy wife is well worth the compromise.
-Kevin Johansen, Fall Obsession Pro Staff