CHLOE - Four for four.
That's precisely the sort of statistic Nathan Kirk hoped to create when he and his family purchased a 130-acre hunting camp in rural Roane County.
Four hunters, four trophy bucks.
Last fall, Nathan, his son Nathan II, his stepson Andy Yerrid and neighbor Ed Parkins all killed bucks with eight- to 10-point racks, long antler tines and handsome spreads between the racks' main beams.
"All of those bucks came off the property," Kirk said with a satisfied smile. "They represented a lot of work."
That's work, as in combing the West Virginia hills for years to find just the right piece of land; work, as in clearing the land and making it more attractive to wildlife; and work, as in putting in the time needed to have successful hunts.
Before his work with the power company brought him to West Virginia in 1995, Kirk had always hunted in his home state of Kentucky.
"I thought the hunting in Kentucky was pretty good," he said. "And then I came to West Virginia and found out how much better it was here."
He immediately began looking for a piece of land to set up a hunting camp. The process took longer than he imagined.
"We looked for 10 years," he said. "We put four-wheelers in our trucks so we could ride the properties to check them out. We knew what we wanted - a place at the head of a hollow that wasn't easy to get to.
"We found places that had good wildlife habitat but were too accessible. We found places that were isolated enough but didn't have good habitat. We just stayed patient and kept looking."
In 2005, a real estate agent in Jackson County called Kirk and told him she had found the perfect place, a 130-acre former farm near the Roane-Calhoun line. He drove out, took one look at the property and made an offer.
"We had a lot of work to do," he said. "We had to remodel the existing house, which wasn't in very good condition. We had to clear away brush and create food plots. It's taken us six years to get the property the way we wanted it."
When the Kirks bought the old farmstead, less than half an acre of pasture was free of brush or trees.
"We've cleared between 12 and 15 acres," Kirk said. "We've planted a wildlife-friendly mix of chicory, clover and grasses. We've put in a pond. In addition to the pasture, we've put in three wildlife food plots. We've turned a network of old logging roads into a trail network that allows us to travel anywhere on the property."
As the improvements took hold, the hunting got better and better.
"That first year, we only took one deer. My stepson, Andy, took a small 5-pointer," Kirk said. "The next year, I took a small 7-pointer for the meat and Nate II took a respectable 8-pointer."
The hunters agreed not to take any does for the first couple of years. After the 2006 season, they decided to kill a few does, and to limit the taking of bucks to specimens with at least eight antler points.
"The rule of thumb is not to kill a buck you wouldn't want to have mounted," Kirk said. "In addition, we limit ourselves to just one buck per hunter per year."
In 2009, Kirk killed a nice 9-pointer with his bow. A couple of weeks later, Nate II killed a fine 10-pointer. They were the biggest deer either man had ever taken.
Last fall, the four men enjoyed their finest season ever. Parkins got the ball rolling during bow season with a wide-racked 7-pointer that tipped the scales at a whopping 215 pounds. A week or so later, Nate II killed a large 8-pointer from the same stand Parkins had used.
Yerrid visited the farm the following week and, after a long day in his tree stand, took another 8-pointer.
Kirk had to wait until the second week of the firearm season before he scored. On Nov. 29, shortly after dawn, he downed yet another wide-racked 8-pointer. In keeping with their agreement, all the men had their bucks mounted.
After six years, the farm is almost fully developed. Kirk said he wants to put in one more food plot and call it done.
"There's still a lot of work, though," he added. "The food plots have to be planted and maintained, and the trails have to be kept clear. But it's a labor of love. We've put a lot of money and time into this place. When you factor it all in, the deer we kill might cost $30 a pound - but it's worth it."
Reach John McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org