The rules were clear. We could not cross the property line until 4:00AM sharp. It was the night before the first Saturday of duck season. We were huddled up at a rented house, about thirty minutes from the water, gathered around an iPad looking at a map of the Dale Bumpers National Wildlife Refuge. Our crew spent a couple hours planning and strategizing. Buried inside this 100,000 acres of wetlands are diamonds. Little water holes in remote areas where ducks love to gather. Our plan was just a shade this side of crazy, but we felt good about the potential. We would drop the boat in the river about two miles downstream and blast north to a remote shoreline. We would wait there until 4:00AM. From there we would navigate the woods to a remote opening in the trees. This would be where the battle would be waged.
Public land hunting in Arkansas is some of the most arduous, yet most rewarding duck hunting I have ever experienced. Hunting on public land in some of the most coveted waters of the Mississippi Delta is a like gold-rush. There is a narrow dirt road that enters the refuge and leads to a gate. By law you cannot pass through that gate until 4:00AM, and you must be out of the refuge, gear and all by 1:00 PM. On the opening weekend there will be thirty, forty or more trucks lined up at the gate. Many people have been in line since the afternoon of the day previous trying to get a better position. As soon as the clock hits 4:00AM the rush is on. It’s a race from the gate to any one of the hundred timber holes and refuge lakes. Not all water is created equal in these parts. The game is to be the first crew at the best spots and claim your territory. Now, not only is it a race against the other hunting groups in the line, but it’s a race against the sun. You want to get into position and set up well in advance of the sunlight so when the ducks start flying you are ready. Our strategy on this day was different.
We would run up river and access the refuge from the main river, bypassing the stampede at the gate, and hopefully end up on the “X”, the perfect spot on the map where we hoped the ducks would be found.
Our plan was to be at the boat ramp by 3:00AM, drop the boat and run up river. I woke up suddenly when someone flipped the light on.
“Bro, get up! We overslept!”
It was 2:45AM. Somehow the entire house had over slept by forty-five minutes. Now it was a real race against the clock. Everyone geared up and loaded the trucks. We rolled through the cold fog, past grain fields, and the only small country store in town. We pulled into the boat ramp and breathed a sigh of relief when no other trucks, trailers or hunters were there. So far, so good. Everyone grabbed their gear and assembled at the water’s edge. Now it was 3:30AM. Nine guys, one dog, nine sets of gear, and five dozen decoys. We split the team into two groups. Because we were now behind schedule, the first group would hit the shoreline at just after 4AM. They would take the decoys and head straight to the hole to get set up. The boat would then return to the ramp for the second group, the dog, and the remaining gear. The warmth from our ride in the truck was beginning to wear off as my group, the second group, watched the boat disappear into the dark river fog. Then it was quiet. We waited on the ramp for what seemed like hours, fighting the cold wind and peering into the darkness.
After fifteen minutes we heard the low hum of the boat as it headed toward the ramp. The headlight came around the bend and we began to stir. A few minutes later we were loaded up and headed back up river. The drum fish jumped out of the water as the boat cut through the chop. Cold spray pierced through the wind onto my face as we carved a wake in the dark waters. It was now 4:00AM.
Even though we had overslept we were still making good time. The first group should have been able to get most of the decoys set up by now and once we had the boat unloaded we would be able to make the half-mile hike through the woods to the spot without much trouble. The boat hit the sand on the shoreline and everything lurched forward. Like trained professionals we all started moving as soon as the boat stopped. Each man jumped out into the water. Guns and gear were carried up the bank to the wood line. Every man suited up for the trek into the dark woods toward the duck hole.
We had only been walking for about three minutes when we saw headlamps moving through the trees, coming our way.
I breathed a sigh of relief thinking the first group had already gotten set up and were coming back to help us get the rest of the gear. That relief was short lived when we realized they were carrying all their gear. Someone had beaten us to the punch. We were out of options and about to be out of time.
What do you do in your life when things don’t go according to plan? What happens when you’ve worked hard to build a strategy and overcome obstacles to chase a dream only to find out that it wasn’t going to work the way you hoped?
This is the reality of life. Sometimes things don’t go according to our plans. No matter what we’ve done to position ourselves in the perfect spot, sometimes it goes sideways, and there was nothing you could do to avoid it. This is now a critical moment.
Maybe you’ve been chasing a dream that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe you’ve been trying to change something in your life but you just haven’t found the momentum you need. Maybe you’re exhausted because you know there’s more in you but you don’t know how to let it out. Whatever your situation is, the truth remains. Just because your destination changes doesn’t mean your dream is dead. Just because your plan didn’t work out doesn’t mean you kill the vision. You’ve got to make a choice. You can either pack it up and head to the house, or you can regroup, pull out the map, and make a new plan.
We sat on the riverbank that morning exhausted and dejected. As the sunrise painted the far edges of the sky, we were frustrated. Our passion was still burning but we didn’t know where to go with it. Then someone pulled out their phone and pulled up the map. We huddled around the screen scanning the map, looking for another spot. We noticed another small water hole only about 500 yards back down the river. It was close enough that we could make it before the sun really came up. If we hustled we could be set up in time. We regrouped, made a plan and executed. Later that morning we witnessed one of the most amazing sequences in nature. We worked a single duck from one thousand feet up all the way down to the water. It was epic. I’ll never forget it, and I would have never seen it if we would have given up after our first plan failed.
Be encouraged! The dreams in your heart aren’t out of reach. God put them there, and he’s given you the fuel in your soul to chase them. God is a promise maker, not a promise breaker. If we will trust Him with our plans then we can count Him to show us something amazing.
Never give up. Never quit. Keep fighting. Keep making plans and chasing your dream. You were made to be significant. You are a man who matters.