Unlikely Friends

Early teal season here in Alabama has been a grind to say the least. In addition to triple-digit temperatures by 8 am, the Early Teal opener happened to coincide perfectly with the Thanksgiving Day celebration of the local hordes of mosquitoes. After a couple days of only killing two or three birds, we knew we were going to have to hit the water and burn some gas to figure out where these birds were and where they wanted to be if we were going to have any type of success in these three weeks.

Because of my work schedule, sometimes my buddy Russell ends up putting a few more miles on the boat by himself than I do, and luckily he doesn’t mind too much as long as I grab him a biscuit every now and then to make up for it. One afternoon, Russ went to one of our usual boat ramps to drop the boat in and check a new hole and upon arriving, noticed a beat-up, old Dodge van parked near the ramp. After he parked the truck, an older gentleman approached him and they started making conversation. The man’s thick British accent and dread locks made it apparent that he wasn’t a local of our Northwest Alabama stomping grounds and after a quick discussion, it was apparent that he also knew nothing about ducks.

He said his name was Nick and he was traveling the US in that van. He had boarded a one way flight from the UK to America, bought that van for $400, and took off to experience America. Nick and Russell talked for nearly half an hour about what we do, why we hunt, and how we hunt them and despite his lack of experience or knowledge about it, Nick was extremely interested. Eventually, Russell took off from the ramp and went to try to locate a few birds for the following morning.

Upon returning to the ramp, Russell realized Nick was still there and they once again struck up a conversation. Finally, Russell invited Nick to come hunt with us the next morning and surprisingly, he accepted right away. Russell told him to meet us right back there around 4:30 the following morning and Nick assured him that he’d be there.

When we arrived at the ramp the following morning, we realized that Nick was so serious about hunting with us that he actually slept in the van at the ramp to make sure he didn’t miss us. We gave him an extra pair of waders and some camouflage to wear and he hopped right in the boat like he’d done it countless times before.

All morning we answered questions about decoys and different species of ducks and how we hunted and in exchange, Nick answered questions about the UK and his life up until now. He was a career military man and spent much of his adult life in the British Special Forces. After the military, Nick worked all over the world caring for those who he felt needed it most. He spent time working with African conservationists to help save the White Rhino population from poachers in addition to working with West African rebels trying to gain their freedom from oppressive leaders. After all this, he decided to travel the world and experience all that it has to offer. In fact, he had just recently left meeting the guys from the TV show “Moonshiners” in Tennessee, and heading down to Louisiana to meet the “Swamp People” and, coincidentally, also the Duck Dynasty boys.

Although we didn’t fire a shot that morning, it was far from a waste of time because we got to meet a new friend and teach him about something we loved. All morning he was sending his friends back home pictures and videos of us and the boat and things we were doing. He absorbed information like a sponge and even though I’m not sure he knew what to think about a couple southern boys in camo with guns trying to shoot a few birds, I think Nick genuinely had a good time because this was a true American experience.

I say all of this to say, never judge a book by its cover. Don’t make judgements on people based on things you think you know. Anyone else that pulled up at the ramp that day would have probably written Nick off as a dirty drifter in an old van just loitering around a public place. Instead, because Russell took the time to have a conversation and get to know the guy, we were able to introduce him to our way of life and show him a small part of our culture while simultaneously learning about his. The outdoor community focuses a lot on taking kids hunting, which of course is a wonderful thing; however, sometimes adults just need to be introduced to the sport as well. Introducing people to our sport and teaching them how to hunt the right way is our job as sportsmen, regardless of their age, and its by far one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in the woods.

Give people a chance. Sometimes, they just might surprise you.

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Preparing for Rain

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows beautifully will also reap beautifully.”   2 Corinthians 9:6

 

That time of year is upon us folks. Spring and summer crops are ready for harvest and the tractors and combines are rolling all day long. For us duck hunters, that’s a welcome sight. It means the days of hot, muggy weather are dwindling, and cold fall air filled with whistling wings is on its way. It also means that summer work is about to pay off for those that have put it in.

Summer months are full of planting, building blinds, getting gear re-rigged and cleaned, shooting and cleaning guns, re-tuning calls, and early scouting. Granted, where we are, there’s only local birds to be found at this point in the year. The teal haven’t started making their way down here in large groups yet, so it’s primarily just groups of local woodies, divers, and Canadian geese – but still, it’s nice to have an idea of where they want to be.

I know for the deer hunters reading this, they’ve been hard at it since turkey season ended. Planting, running trail cameras, feed sites, checking and moving tree stands – they’ve had a long summer but it’s about to pay off. Bow season is only a couple weeks away here in Alabama and it’s already getting started for our boys in parts of Tennessee.

This time of year always makes me think of the story of Two Farmers. Both of these men were lifelong farmers, this is how they put food on the table for their family, and this was the worst growing season of their lives. These men were both believers and both prayed relentlessly for rain. The difference in these men, is that only one prepared his fields to receive the rain.

Scripture tells us time and time again, you reap what you sow. Which farmer trusted the Father to provide the rain? Obviously, the one that prepared his fields for it. We, as hunters, can sit around and talk about killing ducks and deer all day – but if we don’t prepare for the upcoming season, how can we expect to be successful?

Someone is out there right now preparing to have a successful season. Someone is cutting fields, tuning calls, sighting in guns and bows, servicing motors, building blinds, hanging stands, and getting ready to have a great year in the woods. But saying all that begs the question:

Which farmer are you? 

Hunting in 2019 – Hobby or Way of Life?

For me, hunting started out as something fun to do with my grandfather when I was young. It was a way to spend time in the outdoors when I couldn’t get on a baseball field instead of sitting in front of the TV playing video games or watching a show. In short, hunting was a hobby; it was something that I did for fun. What I didn’t know, is soon enough, this “hobby” would blow up into a full-blown obsession in just a few years.

I went on my first duck hunt with my grandfather at the age of 10. I can vividly remember standing up from behind a driftwood blind we had built that morning and firing off a shell from a single-shot 20 gauge shotgun, and absolutely whiffing on the first duck I ever shot at – all while letting the recoil surprise me and promptly filling the barrel with mud as I dropped it straight into the bank of the river. I don’t so much remember hunts as I remember moments with my grandfather when I was learning how to hunt, track game, recognize animal behavior, properly clean kills, and respect/appreciate the animals we harvest.

I can remember many teaching moments with the man that taught me everything I know about the outdoors. For example, my first deer was a button-buck, that I thought (because at 11 years old I knew everything) was a mature doe. My grandfather tried to warn me of this, but in the end I was too excited and shot the deer anyway. As I approached this deer that was much smaller than I expected, I was extremely emotional as I had never taken the life of an animal before. Right then and there, my grandfather explained that anytime you take the life of an animal, and especially the first time, it’s an emotional process. Dealing with death is never easy, but it’s all about how you respect and appreciate the animal you’ve just harvested. I think it’s important that from time to time, we as hunters take a step back and think about the first time we took the life of an animal. Everyone has had that moment where the magnitude of taking a life really hit home; it’s a life-changing experience.

Fast-forward another 12 years from my first duck hunt, now I’m not sure how I lived without it. My thoughts, my actions, even my dreams are now occupied in a swamp, flooded field, or on the river. 60 days of the year, I’m duck hunting; the other 305, I’m wishing I was. Hunting, and especially duck hunting, has transitioned from a hobby when I was young, to an all-out obsession. While, of course, I love killing ducks, I love everything about duck hunting as a whole.

I even get excited about cold weather now. If you’ve ever met me, you know I’m a summer person. I love to fish, I love the beach, I love just being outside in the summer months of the year. However, walking out the door wearing 10 layers of clothes with a steaming cup of coffee and a crisp bite of cold air is a whole different level of excitement. Every day in the boat is something new. Different ducks, different holes, different tactics and strategies – something changes every day.

Sunrises are like snowflakes. No matter what, they never look the same as the day before. Some are a deep purple, some are a firey orange, some even as red as blood, but never the same as one we’ve seen before. God’s magnificent artwork is by far my favorite. From the first whistle of woodies through the trees, to the last group of divers taking their mid-morning seat in the middle of the river channel – it’s all a part of the Father’s eternal canvas.

At this point, my favorite part is working ducks into the spread, and watching a good dog run retrieves. Everyone likes to kill ducks, and I’m by no means an exception, but the joy comes in the little things. Duck hunters have a special bond. I haven’t figured out yet if that bond is because of shared interests and fun hunts, or just because we’re the only ones crazy enough to get up hours before dawn in the wind, rain, snow, and hail to chase these birds around regardless of weather or anything else.

At this point, duck hunting isn’t a hobby. Duck hunting isn’t just something fun we do when we get a chance. Duck hunting is full of trials and tribulations- just like life. What’s important is how you respond to those trials and tribulations and make yourself better for facing them.

Duck hunting isn’t just what we do, it’s how we live.

Trust the Process

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, plans to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6.

 

Everyone that watches even the smallest amount of College Football has heard Nick Saban speak the words “Trust the process.” This has been his mantra now for the past 12 years, which has included 5 National Championships, 6 SEC Titles, and basically every award that College Football has to offer.

I keep telling myself that if (arguably) the most successful football coach of all time believes in this phrase, I should too. Although, as a 22 year old college graduate, sometimes it’s hard to trust it. I often find myself stuck in this weird limbo of not being a college student anymore but also not being an adult either. I’m in the process of transitioning from a part-time job into a full time job but at the same time I already have full-time bills to pay. So often life seems to place you in situations where it feels like every time you take a step in the right direction, you get pushed two steps backwards and can’t seem to get out of that rut no matter what you try.

At the beginning of this year, I was preparing to finish school and graduate in May, take the LSAT, and enroll in law school to pursue a career in Corporate Law. It was a decision I often thought about and agonized over as that was the career path that I had decided was right for me years ago and never really questioned. As this became closer and closer to reality, one day it hit me that I had asked for everyone’s opinion besides the One who really mattered. As I began to pray about my future and seek out God’s will for my life I was hit with a very stark realization.

I would hate law.

I don’t want to be stuck in an office working 90 hours a week, no home life, no time to do anything but work. I refuse to allow a job to define who I am and sacrifice my happiness simply because the money is good; not to even mention that this is just not what I believe that the Lord has planned for me. There are parts of a career in the legal field that I know I would enjoy, but I realized that I was chasing a paycheck instead of chasing the Father’s will for my life and I didn’t want that to be the case. It was like Matthew 11:26 was slapping me in the face –

“For what will it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” 

So, I bailed on law school, and decided to focus on what once seemed like an unrealistic dream. I want to find a career in outdoor journalism and be able to combine my love of writing with my passion for the outdoors and be able to spread the Gospel while doing it.

Duck and Bone has provided me an amazing outlet and opportunity to be able to arrange my thoughts and express them in a way that will hopefully make sense to readers. As most of you know, I have been an outdoor fanatic for most of my life. Those of you who know me know that I drive around blowing duck calls instead of listening to the radio, and I spend way more time on a boat in places most boats can’t even go than the average person ever will. My river days in the summer center around running timber holes and shallow creeks looking for birds instead of pulling an inner tube or wake board. We train dogs and tune calls instead of riding jet skis or swimming. Some call us crazy, some call us obsessed; personally, I call us duck hunters.

The growth of this brand since it’s inception has been astronomical. I have personally watched it grow from an idea, to an Instagram page, to apparel design and production, to having a booth at Hunting Expos in major cities, and trust me – it doesn’t stop here. 2019-2020 is going to be our biggest and best season ever and we have a lot of things in the works for the next year.  The Lord has blessed us abundantly with connections and opportunities to take this brand higher than ever and we cannot wait to see what all is in store for the future.

But for now, we’ll continue to trust in the Father’s will for this company, and as always,

trust the process. 

 

– Josh Vardaman

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

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.