Best Laid Plans

[Note: The following was first published in the February 2012 Alberta Outdoorsmen.]

Copyright © 2012 Don H. Meredith
All Rights Reserved

“The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,” Robert Burns, 1785

The above line from Burns’ poem, “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough” (translated from Scots), is often quoted when referring to someone’s plan to do something that doesn’t quite work out as designed. The more conscientious among us try to plan projects, trips or indeed our lives as much as possible to prevent things from indeed going askew. We realize through experience that leaving things to chance often leads to outcomes we do not desire. However, life often gets in the way of good plans. Either we haven’t considered all the possibilities or random events (such as the weather) get in the way, and things go askew anyway—like the mouse in Burns’ poem.

Others of us just don’t seem to care what happens and run lives on whims that either lead to disaster or, on rare occasions, in truly remarkable experiences. A long time ago, I had a hunting and fishing buddy that was in the latter category. Whenever I would try to get him interested in doing something in the next day, week or month, Skip would never commit, explaining he didn’t know what he would be doing at that time. We would agree if he showed up, he would go along. Often Skip didn’t show up and I would go on my own or with some other buddy who did commit to the plan. At other unplanned times, Skip would show up at my place and want me to go with him, right then and there, to some fishing stream or deer patch. Because Skip was a friend and I enjoyed his company, I would try to accommodate him if that was indeed possible.


Planning helps make the day run smoother, but always keep it flexible.

However, when I arrived at his vehicle with my gear, I would find his strewn all over the back seat in various stages of readiness, as if he had just tossed it in the way he found it in his room (which, of course, he had). On the way to the location, I would quiz him about what he brought and what we needed. Invariably, we had to stop at some supermarket or sporting goods store to purchase provisions, equipment or indeed licences.

On one occasion it was Skip’s grand idea to go spear fishing off the Oregon coast (we were both students in Oregon). Now, I had spear-fished off the California coast and had some gear, including a spring-powered fishing spear; but I did not have a wet suit, which was a survival requirement in Oregon’s cold waters. Skip had never been spear fishing in his life and planned to rent what he needed along the way and learn what he needed to know from me. As luck would have it, we found a shop that would rent all the gear needed, including my wet suit (that almost fit). So, things fell into place and we went spear fishing, dragging our gear through the rocky Oregon surf to snorkel and spear rock cod and sea bass. It was one of the best days I ever had in the ocean, with many pleasant experiences seeing various kinds of wildlife and spearing several fish. We took our catch home, invited some friends over, and had a fish fry to remember.

Such is the nature of spur-of-the-moment events. You risk some time and energy for the possibility of something special happening; and when it does, it is memorable. Is it the best way to do things? No. Properly planned events tend to work out better for all. If we hadn’t found the shop or it hadn’t had all the gear, the outcome of that day could have been quite different. Other Skip-initiated events did end in near disasters; but Skip laughed them off, looking at it all as one great adventure. He easily moved on to the next random event in his life.

Personally, I can’t live that way. I have to have at least some structure in my life. Randomness is an important aspect of life, but I like to control as much of what happens as feasible. As a result, Skip and I made quite the pair, and between his ideas and my planning, we did accomplish some interesting things.

On the other hand, trips or events should not be over-planned; or, said in another way, contingencies should be allowed for the inevitable random events nature enjoys throwing at us. Some people do get obsessive about planning and tend to stick to the schedules they have devised, despite what reality might be presenting. One time I fished with a person who was a bit obsessive about his fishing schedule. He had to know exactly where we were going to be at any particular time of the day.

Now, on fishing and hunting trips, I tend to be pretty flexible as to where we might go on any day or hour for that matter. Much like the weather, wildlife is difficult to predict as to where it will be at any time and whether it will be accessible. If we have little information about what’s happening with the fish or game, I vote for spreading ourselves out as much as possible to gather as much information as possible. If on a fishing trip and there is only one boat, then we have to agree on where to start. That wasn’t difficult with my partner, but he also wanted to know where we were going to have lunch and where we were going to fish that afternoon. I would make suggestions that he would cast into stone at least in his own mind. Sure enough, despite our luck at a particular spot, he would say it was time to move on to the next fishing spot we had discussed.

I’m a believer in the old adage, “don’t leave fish to find fish,” and argued with him about leaving a productive area just to honor the schedule he had cast in his head. I won at least some of those debates but I could see he was not happy. Needless to say, I did not fish with this guy again.

Hunting is another activity that requires some flexibility in planning. Like fishing, things can change from day to day and hour to hour. Last fall while hunting deer in eastern Alberta, we quickly learned there were a lot fewer deer in our favorite hunting areas than in previous years (like in much of Alberta). Thus, we planned to systematically cover several areas so we could get a picture of what was out there. As the days passed we began to see where at least some deer were congregating. However, we also learned the deer did not stay in these areas for long. So, when we found deer one day, we stayed with them for that day. This strategy paid off for me on the last day of our hunt when I took a nice mule deer buck.

Planning is an important part of a fishing and hunting trip. However, sometimes those plans must be laid aside to accommodate the weather or new information.

So, what’s wrong with that?

Interested in reading an award-winning outdoor adventure novel? Check out  The Search for Grizzly One and Dog Runner.


About Don Meredith

I am a writer and biologist living in Alberta, Canada. I wrote a monthly column for the Alberta Outdoorsmen magazine, and have published articles for several other magazines.
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