PLEASANT VIEW - A stroke of seemingly bad luck gave Jonah Adkins the chance he needed to kill the buck of a lifetime.
Dawn was starting to break on the opening day of West Virginia's 2011 firearm buck season when Adkins found himself between a log and a hard place. A tree had fallen across the four-wheeler trail, and Adkins instantly knew he had no chance to make it to his chosen hunting spot on time.
"It was time to get hunting," he said. "I grabbed my tree stand, walked about 200 yards, and set the stand up so I had a good view of an adjoining flat."
Such things hadn't often happened to Adkins, a Lincoln County native who went on his first deer hunt at the tender age of 8. He had since enjoyed reasonable success, killing some nice bucks but no real trophies.
"When I started hunting, it was rare to kill a big buck," he said. "Since then, though, deer hunting in Lincoln County has gotten pretty good. There's less poaching now than there used to be. People are starting to value the resource, and that's bearing fruit in the form of some really nice bucks."
Still, living in a deer-rich area doesn't guarantee anyone a wall filled with trophies. Adkins had killed bucks before, but none that could be considered exceptional.
"A friend's dad killed a monster 12-point near Milton, and that seemed like a giant to us," Adkins said.
Partly due to his never having killed a real wall-hanger, and partly due to the hectic lifestyle that comes from being a middle-school principal, a church minister and the father of two young boys, Adkins hadn't done any scouting or set up any tree stands before the 2011 buck opener.
"There is a piece of land I have access to, and I was just going to hunt there," he said. "I had never had much success there, but I always felt something worthwhile was there. To get to the place I wanted to hunt, I had to drive my four-wheeler across the property. I was still a pretty good distance away from my spot when I saw a tree blocking the trail."
With the tree too big to move and with daylight approaching fast, Adkins punted. He picked up his rifle, shouldered his tree stand and made tracks to find the first hunting spot that looked promising.
Other hunters might have spent an entire morning fuming over such a crummy start to an otherwise promising morning, but Adkins was and is a man of faith. He climbed into his tree stand and got his rifle and gear arranged. As soon as there was enough daylight, he pulled a Bible from his pocket and started to read.
"I was sitting there reading when my eye caught a movement down low and to my right. It was a doe," Adkins said. "Then I heard a grunt. I turned to see if it was a spike or something. I heard another grunt, and then a grunt from behind me that was like a grizzly bear growl. I knew that last one wasn't any small buck.
"I turned and caught a glimpse of him standing behind two scrub oaks. I just saw the deer, not the antlers. I put the scope on him, and then I could see he was a shooter."
With the buck just 70 yards away, Adkins couldn't decide whether to use his .30-30's open sights or its scope.
"The scope was set on 9X, and I was having a hard time locating the buck in it," Adkins recalled. "About the time I got a decent sight picture, the doe spotted me and bolted. The buck twitched, and I knew I couldn't wait any longer. I saw the white patch on his neck, put the crosshairs on it and pulled the trigger."
The buck went down.
"I got pretty excited," Adkins said. "I had an awful time trying to climb down from my tree stand. I had forgotten my safety harness, so I had improvised one from my drag rope before I climbed up. Well, when I went to climb down I was all tangled up in rope. I was a mess."
Adkins' brother, Seth, came over from his hunting spot to investigate. He got to the buck before Jonah did.
"Seth said, 'Oh my God, it's huge!' I said, 'I thought he was pretty good.' And he said, 'No, man, it's huge!'"
The fallen buck had a tall, wide 12-point rack - a 10-point frame with two "kicker" points.
"We high-fived and took pictures for a few minutes, and then Seth said, 'Good luck gutting it. I'm going hunting.' And he took off," Adkins said.
The buck created a stir when Adkins pulled into the parking lot at the game-checking station in West Hamlin.
"We had several people stop and take a gander at it," he said. "Later, when it was at the taxidermist's, people who had heard about it dropped in there to check out the rack."
At the West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show in Charleston, a Division of Natural Resources scorer measured the rack at 175 gross inches, with a net score of 163 1/8. The score easily qualified for entry into the state's Big Buck Contest, and earned Adkins the award for the year's largest gun-killed whitetail.
Adkins acknowledged that the award was nice, but he added that he was more proud that it was what he called a "completely legitimate trophy."
"One of the most rewarding things about that buck was that I went into the woods with no idea it was there," he said. "It wasn't lured with bait, and it hadn't been fed any [game food plot] supplements to grow those big antlers."
Reach John McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1231.