CHAPMANVILLE, W.Va. — When the 2023 rifle season open up for whitetail deer in West Virginia, Nathan Thornhill of Chapmanville, West Virginia could not have been more stoked.
His life-long best friend had just moved back home and the two planned to hunt together on a piece of rugged land Nathan had access to in Boone County not far from the Logan County border. Nathan admitted he had concentrated most of his scouting and hunting efforts for the fall in an area he bow hunted in Logan County. However, a quick look at a camera he placed on the Boone County property got his blood moving.
“I’d been scoping it out since last year, but earlier this year I put out a camera. For the past month we had two 10-pointers coming in on camera. They came in almost daily. We got really excited for gun season,” Nathan explained in a recent conversation on West Virginia Outdoors.
Thornhill and his buddy, Scott Ellis, were ready to tackle the tough terrain on the opening day. Ellis, who had been the best man in Thornhill’s wedding, had moved to Beckley for a period of time, but recently had moved back to Logan County. It would be the first time the two had the opportunity to hunt together in several years.
“You have to take the mountains into account, but if we flattened it all out, we were probably 100 yards from each other. He was hunting down the hill in a bowl and I was up on the spine of the ridge,” Thornhill explained.
The two got to their stands an hour before daylight on the first day. They were brimming with enthusiasm and wanted to be the first in the woods, just in case there might be other hunters nearby. It wasn’t long before things started happening.
“As the sun rose I had to stand up and stretch. As I did I saw a tail flutter on the other side of the ridge. I was worried I had spooked him. I did jump him, but he wasn’t spooked,” explained Nathan as he recalled the initial encounter. “He just started slowly walking. I got my binoculars on him and realized he was the smaller of the two 10 pointers.”
Unable to get a shot, Nathan could only watch as the flickering tail disappeared down the mountain. Just a few minutes later the tell-tale sound of a loud BOOM roared through the coalfield hollows. Ellis had put down the deer they had nicknamed “Little Henry.”
Ellis sent Thornhill a text telling him to keep hunting, he was going to hold off on gathering and gutting the deer so as not to interfere with his buddy’s opportunity.
“So I kept hunting and about 30 minutes later I had a small seven point come off the pipeline at the junction where I thought the bigger one would show up. I let him pass because I knew that bigger one might be in there and to be honest there was a little bit of pressure now that my buddy had taken the smaller ten point,” Nathan laughed.
Within a half hour, the decision to let the seven point walk paid off. The other 10-point buck, nicknamed “Big Henry,” came into view.
“I didn’t expect him to be there because Scott was on the same bench, but on the other side of the mountain. At some point he had to have walked past Scott, but he wasn’t spooked or anything. He was just walking and checking things out,” Nathan said.
The position of the big buck was a bit precarious because Nathan was on a high perch on the top of the steep ridge and was looking down through a number of limbs. He had to be patient and wait for the shot, but when he squeezed the trigger the whole plan came together perfectly and the longtime buddies were able to take both “Little Henry” and “Big Henry” home.
“If you were to give me a notepad and ask how you want your opening day to go, I couldn’t have scripted it any better. We’re definitely blessed and it’s something I’ll never forget,” Thornhill said.