An avid hunter, Stewart had an idea - buy the land and turn it into a world-class shooting and hunting private game ranch. In late January of this year, he closed on the property and construction began.
"We took advantage of the worst months of the year," Stewart said. "We worked in mud up to our ankles so we could have our dream."
Canoe Creek Ranch has a lodge capable of hosting 10 visitors, and manager Todd Johnson said the crowds thus far have "exceeded the expectations."
But it has not been without problems.
Canoe Creek Ranch is currently in compliance with Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations, but has been cited by Fish and Wildlife and the state Department of Agriculture for importing exotic animals without proper permit, said Jim Lane, wildlife program coordinator for Fish and Wildlife. A court case is pending over the alleged illegal shipment of animals to Canoe Creek from a wildlife dealer in Tennessee, Lane said.
Fish and Wildlife regulates the importation of exotic animals into the state, making sure they are not diseased and don't pose a threat to native wildlife, Lane said. The exotics must be contained by a game-proof fence that must be at least 8-feet high and constructed of woven wire, Lane said.
The state does not want to see hunting operations like Canoe Creek Ranch to take root in Kentucky, Lane said.
"It's not something we endorse or promote," he said. "I think most hunters would agree that this is not in the spirit of fair chase to go after animals contained by a high fence."
Hunters can test skills on sporting clay range
At the ranch, hunters can test their skills at various stations of the sporting clay range which meander along the creek and through the wooded creek basin. Each station seeks to recreate a natural hunting situation, Johnson said. From the station, a hunter shoots at clay discs launched electronically. Some clays bounce along in front of the shooter, while others may fly by.
A complete round includes 100 total clays divided among the 22 stations, and the highest number of clays broken at the ranch has been 91, Johnson said.
This sporting clay course sets the ranch apart, said TJ Klay, a sportsman and friend of Stewart.
"They've got the ability with the 22 stations to set a tough course for expert shooters, but it is flexible so they can put together an easier course for everyone else," Klay said.
The 3-D archery range presents hunters with artificial, life-sized targets such as bear or bison.
"You've got so many hunters that just pick up a bow and go into the woods, and they never get to practice," Stewart said. "(Using the 3-D archery) there's a better chance they'll harvest the animal in a humane way."
The ranch's stock of exotic animals and wild birds roam the facility's enclosure, a space bounded by four miles of fencing. In this space, hunters can track animals on a safari-style hunt or they can target animals from raised blinds that overlook feeders, Stewart said. He said the ranch offers "dream" packages that can be tailored to the hunter's skill level and desires.
With the ranch up and running, Stewart said he is content to sit back and enjoy watching everyone else.
"I've done so much hunting that I am kind of enjoying this part of it, sharing it with others," he said.
More about the ranch is available on its Web site, www.canoecreekranch.com.