Slow Duck Season Woes

Alright Northern US…joke’s over… you can send the ducks on South now…

No seriously….please…

 

Frankly, this duck season has been brutal.

If anyone tells you otherwise, hunt this last week with them because they know something the rest of us sure don’t.

This season has just about every hunter I know, including myself, scratching our heads. Even some of the biggest names in the waterfowl world have called this one of the toughest seasons they have ever seen. This is somewhat comforting, for lack of a better word, for the weekend warrior type like myself to hear as it provides some reassurance that we aren’t just totally worthless when it comes to killing ducks. I would never wish a tough season on anyone and for anyone reading this that has had a good year, congratulations, you must have just figured them out better than us because we have been STRUGGLING.

This year I’ve been on the water more than ever. It took a little shuffling around to get my school and work schedule in a place where I was free to hunt some mornings during the week, but luckily things worked out where I could hunt 3-4 days a week throughout the majority of the season. We were on the water every day possible and it seemed like every time we hunted, we encountered more challenges. Between extremely warm weather, slow migration patterns, uncooperative birds, an abundance of new hunters, flooding, and the most rain North Alabama has seen in nearly 150 years, hunting has been slow to say the least.

We’ve tried it all. Big water, small water, rivers, lakes, creeks, timber holes, walking in, boating in, kayaking in, small decoy spreads, big decoy spreads, even no decoy spread once or twice, motion decoys, no motion decoys, jerk rigs, everything us public land boys could think of. One of my hunting buddies even took a four day trip to Stuttgart, the duck hunting Mecca of the world, and came back with just a handful of birds.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve killed some birds, but I’ve been riding a two duck per day curse for the majority of the year. Just when we feel like we have something going with a couple birds in the boat, it all falls apart. Outside of some local birds and big diver numbers rafted up in the middle of the river by 30 minutes after shooting light, the numbers of quality puddle ducks just aren’t here. We’ve had some decent diver hunts and Woody shoots, but besides that, we just aren’t seeing the ducks we’d like to kill.

Regardless of the low numbers of birds on our straps this season, I keep reflecting on what the writer of the book of James says in Chapter 1, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Life, like duck hunting, isn’t always easy; sometimes it just punches you in the face. What’s really important is how you respond to the adversity that life throws at you. Later in Chapter 1 of James the writer says this, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him.”

While I wish this meant that since we have remained steadfast through a brutal duck season, we’ll be blessed with limits throughout this last week, but that’s not the point. Whether it’s a tough season in the blind, family problems, work issues, or financial troubles, the Father remains constant in His love for us. Persevere, remain steadfast, run the race, and the finish line will be all the more glorious.

Thanks for reading and good luck on the rest of your season. I’ll see you on the water.

 

–  Josh Vardaman

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He is Risen Indeed

As I sit here on this beautiful Easter Sunday after a fabulous church service and lunch with family, the realization struck me that I had never taken the time to read the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels for myself. I’ve been in church since nine months before I was born and could describe the resurrection story with a great amount of detail from memory, but I had never taken the time to truly read and digest all four accounts for myself.

Personally, my favorite account of the Resurrection is written by the Apostle Luke in Chapter 24 of his Gospel. Luke was a doctor by profession and is often credited with taking down the most detailed accounts of events in the life of Jesus. Most everyone, and definitely the majority of people who will read this blog, know the Resurrection story at least in a nutshell. Jesus died on a cross, was put in a tomb, and three days later He rose to life again. While that is absolutely true, the language and detail that Luke uses to describe the magnitude of what has happened is what draws me to his account the most.

Although the majority of what Luke writes about the Resurrection can be found in the other gospels as well, the main difference occurs with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the angel at the tomb. Now before we dive into this, put yourself in the position of these women. They have lost someone incredibly special to them and having accepted his death, are going to the grave to adorn the body with spices and pay their respects; much like we today take flowers to the cemetery for loved ones. In doing this, they arrive to see the massive tombstone flung aside and “two men stood by them in dazzling apparel” (v. 4). These angels appeared in the presence of the women to explain what happened here and encourage the women to spread the good news to the others.

The following verses contain my favorite words of the Resurrection story. Here are these two women awestruck and terrified at the presence of these heavenly beings, totally speechless and bewildered about what is going on and where Jesus is, and the angel says to the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (v 5b-7).

How good is that??? “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you…?” To me, this is when these women finally GOT it. The very next verse, (verse 8) “And they remembered His words.” This moment of clarity made them remember all the things that Jesus had spoken about and realize the weight of the truth He told them. He WAS the Son of God. He WAS sent to be the ultimate sacrifice. The battle WAS won. It WAS finished. All of this became clear to them in that moment and they immediately ran back into town to tell the others what they had seen and heard.

Although Good Friday, the day of the Crucifixion of Jesus was a very dark day both from a literal and spiritual standpoint, as Christians, we are not called to see it this way. Easter, Resurrection Sunday, would not have been possible without the Crucifixion.

While Luke contains my personal favorite account of the Resurrection, the Gospel of John holds my favorite account of the Crucifixion, again because of one verse that I believe people tend to overlook and not think about beyond the surface. John chapter 19 verse 30 says this, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished,” and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” 

The greek word translated to English “It is finished” is τετέλεσται (or “Tetelestai” as written in English) and it actually appears only twice in Scripture. The Apostle John uses it both times in chapter 19 of his Gospel but you actually have to go back a couple verses to find the first usage of the term. It is found in verse 26 where John writes, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 

Most people read this phrase “It is finished.” as His time is done, His life is over, the Crucifixion is complete, etc. However, when I read these three words, it is so much more than that. Jesus is not saying that His time or His life is finished, because we all know neither of those is true. He would rise again three days later and spend more time on Earth before ascending to the right hand of the Father. While it is true that the Crucifixion was finished at this time because this was Jesus’ last breath, I don’t believe that is solely what He is saying. Throughout Jesus’ time on Earth, He often said things that although true in the moment, most people would not realize the magnitude of until later and I believe this is the case here.

I read Jesus’ last words on the cross not as “this moment is over,” but as “the BATTLE is over.”

In that moment, the war was won.

The ultimate sacrifice had been given.

The ransom for our earthly sin was paid IN FULL.

The Son set us free from our bondage.

He broke our chains.

He took the weight of the world and the weight of our sin on His shoulders.

He made us new.

And most importantly, He made us His.

It was this moment that the Bride of Christ, the Church, God’s people, were eternally wed to the Groom. The veil was torn away. NOTHING could separate us from His Great Love, ever again.

This is what we celebrate on Easter. Not only the Resurrection, but also the Death, because the Death brought forth new Life. Don’t go through the day looking for the living among the dead. Instead, look at the new life Christ freely gives to all of us not only on this day, but every day.

Problems in Hunting Today

Although I usually start this off with a Bible verse, this post is going to be a little different. This time I’m probably just going to bore you with a 500 word rant but maybe y’all will gain something from it, so here we go.

First and foremost, I love the outdoors and hunting with all my heart.  At least once a day I’m calling or texting one of the guys I hunt with about something hunting related. It could be anything from trying to get together one day this week to hunt or where we should set up next time or that I found a new spot we should check out, honestly it could be about literally anything because I’m always thinking about something hunting related. I even texted a guy yesterday just so we could think about names for a buck he got on camera that we are going to try to get after this year.

I can’t tell you how many times I open my laptop to do an assignment and realize 20 minutes later that I’ve been looking at new duck calls or new tips or tricks for my next hunt. The internet is a great tool for us hunters because we can look at new places to hunt, new gear to buy, check the weather, and often times in the process find exactly what NOT to do. Nothing makes me more mad than seeing hateful comments about someone’s deer because they may have hunted or killed it in a way different than other people. Guys, hunting is hard. Why wouldn’t you give yourself every (legal) advantage that you could?

I saw a comment last night on a video about one of the largest bucks ever taken on video, The Joe Franz buck from Iowa, and people were commenting “Oh it had corn in it, you shouldn’t bait deer, ” “He killed it with a muzzleloader, what a shame…” Uh… excuse me? First of all, the farm had corn fields planted on it…it’s Iowa… half the state is corn fields. Of course the deer are going to eat it, that isn’t baiting deer. Also, as long as corn is placed out of sight and at least 100 yards away, it’s perfectly legal to use as an attractant if you choose to use it. Second of all, a muzzleloader is about as primitive as it gets in today’s time outside of using a longbow or a spear. Muzzleloaders have come a long way from a flintlock musket sure, however, you get one shot before the deer runs off and it’s going to take nearly a full minute to reload. Instead of hating on fellow hunters for doing things differently, why don’t we build up the people who share our interests and congratulate them?

I see people who go a little too overboard in hunting these days too. Just because Michael Waddell or Mark Drury has a certain grunt call or decoy, they think they have to have it to kill deer too. While these things can certainly be effective, you don’t have to go to your local sporting goods store and buy the newest model or edition of everything they have in stock. The best tools you can take into the woods are preparation and patience. Scouting, putting time and work in, and proper herd management will help your property hold bigger and better deer than anything you can buy in a store I promise.

Okay sorry, rant over now. Just do things the right way and build others up instead of tear them down. We outdoorsmen have to stick together to preserve our passions and that can’t happen if we don’t work together.

Peace

Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

So as most of you reading this have read my other posts and you well know, most of the time when I post these I have a pretty direct topic and a plan of what I’m going to write about. This time isn’t exactly like that. As opposed to describing a situation or recount a story per se, this post is to make you think and maybe even feel a little something.

Although I can’t see you while you read this so we’re going to have to go off the honor system here, take 20 seconds to close your eyes and imagine the single place in the world where you have felt the strongest sense of peace. Remember the sounds, the smells, what you could feel with your hands, the temperature of the place, try to place yourself back in that one moment.

Maybe this little exercise took you to the beach while you watched dolphins emerge from the water and playfully jump around just offshore. Maybe it took you to the mountains where you sat on a wooden deck and listened to the birds wake up with the sun to start their day. Maybe it even took you to the side of a hospital bed where you’ve been praying even after you ran out of words but the Father took your hands in His and overwhelmed you with his peace and love.

There is no right or wrong answer to where you find peace, but for me it’s different than most people. Over the course of my 20 years on this Earth, there have been two places where I feel a true sense of peace, and if you know me at all you probably know where they are.

The first place is 60 feet 6 inches away from home plate, 10 inches off the ground, next to a two foot long strip of rubber. When I was on the pitcher’s mound, regardless of how stressful the situation, I was in control. Now of course I’m human and I feel pressure and stress just like anyone else, especially trying to get the last three outs in a state championship game. However, when on the mound, I always found and extraordinary sense of peace. I loved the fact that what I did on the mound every pitch dictated the rest of the game.

The next place, as I’ve written about many times already, is in the woods. My favorite place on the planet is a shooting house in the middle of my family’s farm. The large wooden shooting house splits the middle of two food plots with a foothill of the Appalachian mountains behind me, and a deep river bottom cut by the Paint Rock River in front of me, surrounded by fields of native grasses as far as the eye can see. The mountain and river bottom are covered in thick hardwoods and a small cut corn field sits to the far left corner of the food plot. Watching deer frolic and roam the field and woods and seeing the sun rise over the trees or set behind the mountain and paint the sky with every color on an artist’s pallet will never get old to me. This is where I find peace because I know the artist. This is where I find peace because I know that the artist loves and cares for me. And He cares for you as well.

Fruits of the Spirit or Fruits of the Harvest?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22)

If you were raised in a Christian home like me, you’ve probably heard of the fruits of the Spirit. These are qualities and characteristics that should be displayed by those of us who call ourselves Christians. All of these we should exhibit because the Father first exhibits them toward us. When we mess up, He is patient. In times of hardship, He gives us peace. In everything, He is gentle and loving. If we are to be more like Christ, then we should show these characteristics to others.

Often times, these fruits of the Spirit are seen in the woods as well. Although deer and duck hunters were not the direct target of Paul’s letter to the church in Galilee, these words are just as important and applicable now as they have ever been before. Here is the way I notice the fruits of the Spirit in the woods, and maybe after reading this, you’ll begin to see them too.

Love: Although it may not seem like it, true outdoorsmen love the animals we hunt. Yes, our goal is in fact to kill them, but that is far from the most important thing. We hunt for food, population control, ethical wildlife management, and to commune with our Creator in a way that He designed.

Joy: One of the top 3 happiest moments of my life was taking my largest buck with my grandfather. Not only were we joyful over the kill, but also the time we got to spend together and all the hard work finally paying off to reach this milestone.

Peace: As I’ve written about before, nothing in the world is more peaceful than watching the sun rise over the water or through the trees on a cold clear morning. These times are when I feel closest to the Father because I am experiencing his untouched Creation exactly how He intended for me to.

Patience: You will never be a successful hunter if you are not patient, bottom line, period, end of story. Although it’s hard to sit through wind, snow, sleet, rain, freezing temperatures, and everything else we deal with, especially without seeing anything, the times that we are successful make everything worth it.

Gentleness: Although we shoot animals, we should be trying to do it in the most ethical way possible. We never want animals to suffer and should be doing the best we can to make clean shots.

Goodness: Genesis tells us that after everything was finished, our Creator looked down and saw that “it was good.” Fun fact, it’s still good today too. Creation has taught me more about how big our God really is than any Bible Study ever did. Now, don’t get me wrong, Bible Studies are fantastic ways to pursue Jesus and incur spiritual growth and you absolutely should be a part of one. However, I’m a very visual and experience based learner and when I’m in the woods is when I feel closest to the Father.

Self-control: In order to build up healthy deer populations, we have to let border line shooter bucks walk all too often for my patience level. Deer that are 3.5 years old but look like wall hangers are incredibly hard to say no too. However, for the future of your land and deer population, it sometimes has to be done.

The Fruits of the Spirit that Paul writes about in Galatians are applicable in all areas of life. Whether it be in the classroom, at work, or in the woods, these values and characteristics of how we should be hold true. Regardless of where you are or the situation, practice these and show someone else the love of Christ today.

Decisions, decisions…

Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Decisions, both big and small, are simply a fact of life. Not all decisions are life altering or “make or break” decisions, however the decisions you make directly affect your next step in any given situation. My dad always says, “Your decisions don’t just affect you, but they affect everyone around you,” and more often than not, that is exactly the case. Granted, whether you eat a salad or a burger for lunch doesn’t exactly affect your family or friends, but it’s a good principle to live by. For example, choosing to sleep in instead of going to class can impact not only your immediate grade, but also your grade on the next quiz or test because you could miss something important.

Hunting is full of decision making. Where you want to hang your stands, what crops you want to plant fields with, where you should place your duck blind, where you should set your decoys, which calls to use, which camouflage pattern to buy, and many many more variables that you have to choose from when you get in the woods or on the water.  You have to decide when to call ducks, when to shut up and let them work, when to shoot, when to wait for them to get closer, and on and on and on. More often than not, because we are human and impatient, we jump the proverbial gun and make the wrong choice. I know for me personally, and my hunting buddies will agree, I’m the king of shooting too early. I see that flash of green on the head of a mallard and before I realize it, I’ve wasted all three shots at a duck 50 yards away and he flies away without a scratch and definitely without any interest in being within 5 miles of my duck blind.

Fortunately, none of these decisions are going to alter our lives in any major way. However, decisions both in the woods and in our daily lives can quickly take a drastic turn for the worst if we aren’t careful and seek wise counsel before making them. Someone very close to me was hanging a stand one day just like he had done hundreds of times before, chose not to put on his harness, and ended up falling nearly twenty feet and breaking his back because the bottom part of the stand broke on his way up. Thankfully, the Lord had bigger plans and now he is back to normal and still loves deer hunting, but it was a long road to get back to this point.

Situations can be seen like this in our daily lives as well. As a college student myself, unfortunately I witness the repercussions of bad decisions far too often. Sure college is a time to have fun and be social and I love both of those things as much as anyone; however, especially in today’s world, you have to be careful. It’s a scary world we live in and a split second can change your life forever.

If you’re struggling with making a big decision, such as life after school, whether to take this job, or just about what to do next, consult the ultimate instruction manual that God gives to us. Proverbs specifically is a fantastic place to start. Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.” King Solomon was given an opportunity to receive anything he could ask for from the Lord in 1 Kings Chapter 3 and instead of gold, wives, land, cattle, power, or anything imaginable, he chose wisdom. Solomon knew that the greatest gift he could receive and then in turn give to his people was the wisdom of the Father. The beautiful thing about all this? We have the opportunity to have the same wisdom that Solomon received from God too. All we have to do is ask.

Life Happens

“Brothers I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  (Philipians 3:13-14)

As I’ve said before, and as you well know if we have ever talked for any span of time, I relate nearly everything to baseball. That is largely because the sport of baseball is one of the few things that has made an even larger impact on my life than the outdoors. After over 14 years, countless travel tournaments, playing for the better part of eight months out of some years, and two state championships, I’ve pretty much seen it all. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, along with every emotion in between, are nothing new to me when it comes to baseball.

My dad always said that football is the ultimate team game but baseball shows you more about an individual than any other sport. The main reason behind this? Baseball is a lot like life (which of course in my mind translates closely to “baseball is a lot like hunting”). Although the two have very little in common other than being outdoors and often very frustrating, both of these teach you how to respond to adversity more than any other potential lesson. Adversity is defined as “difficulties or misfortune,” however, in the words of Jason Anderson, “sometimes life punches you in the mouth, the true test of who you are is what you do to respond to it.” Like I said, baseball is a lot like life, sometimes it punches you in the face and this is exactly what happened to us one early April afternoon in my senior year of baseball.

Second Round of the State Playoffs, Game 3, winner moves on, loser goes home, and down 9-1 in the 5th inning. That was the scene at Shoals Christian on April 27, 2015. It felt like one of those freeze frame moments in a movie with me narrating: “Yep, that’s me. I bet you’re wondering how we ended up in this situation.” and truthfully so was I. After we finally put a few runs together that inning, Athens Bible changed pitchers and coach challenged us, asking us in a way only Coach Anderson can, if this is how we wanted to be remembered. We proceeded to rattle off 21 runs in the next 3 innings. Adversity hit us in the face and we responded.

Often times this seems to happen in the woods. There’s a giant buck coming through the woods, but he turns just short of your shooting lane and doesn’t give you a shot. Sometimes the ducks will circle but not commit into decoys. Turkeys will shut up while coming right at you while still just out of sight for seemingly no reason at all. Unfortunately for people like us, these things happen, and I know for me they happen all too often. So that begs the question, what can you do? You can change camouflage patterns, move stands, change your decoy spread, change your calling patterns, in all honesty you can change whatever you want with no guarantee of success.

So often I feel like this happens in our walk with Christ as well. You don’t get the job you prayed you would get or life happens and things aren’t good at home or a family member has health issues and it becomes so easy to get mad and apathetic towards Christ that we stray away and try to handle things on our own. What we don’t realize is that sometimes God’s “No’s” turn into the most beautiful “Yes” we could imagine. Sometimes God gives us battles we can’t handle to show his providence and grace through all things. The only thing you can truly control is your attitude and willingness to persevere through it Press on. Run the race. Run to Jesus.

“…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1b-2)