The Hunt For Achilles, A 13-Point Giant That Was Tough As Bucks Come
I got a call late one night in November from a client saying he just saw a picture of a giant bow-kill from Fulton County. I followed up and was fortunate enough to meet Lee Ellis, a first generation, self-taught archery hunter who takes chasing big deer seriously. In 10 years as a professional deer manager and 13 years as a B&C measurer, I can honestly say I’ve never met anyone so passionate about finding, patterning and harvesting huge Georgia whitetails with a bow. At 25 years old, Lee has been at it for nine years and has harvested eight Pope & Young trophies.
The story of this Fulton County giant, nicknamed “Achilles,” almost ended badly. But with diligence, prayer and a heap of good luck, it turned out a success.
On Jan. 14, 2014, Lee got his first trail-cam pic of Achilles. The buck’s 2013 rack was still intact. The buck was a solid deer in the mid 140s. The buck regularly visited a summer protein feed station and grew significantly. When he shed his velvet in September, Lee was elated to see he had put on 30 inches of antler from the previous year.
Two days before the archery opener, while checking cameras, Lee bumped Achilles from his bed on a hardwood ridge. Lee hung a set of stands to hunt the buck. The opening-morning hunt yielded no deer sightings and one coyote, which Lee immediately dispatched with his bow. Opening afternoon things started to pick up, and shortly after arriving on stand Lee passed a nice 130-plus-inch 10-point. He heard something walking behind the 10-point, and sure enough, Achilles was following down the ridge. The moment of recognition sparked an immediate adrenalin rush that Lee could hardly contain. Shaking violently, he did everything he could to not make noise as the buck approached. The process took nearly 20 minutes.
After the slow walk down the ridge, Achilles finally stopped broadside at 10 yards. Lee managed to reign in his adrenaline, come to full draw and release. The arrow hit higher than Lee wanted. An hour later, Lee returned to find very little blood and half of his arrow shaft. Things were not looking good, and Lee knew it. All he could think was that the buck of a lifetime was not even going to get the respect it deserved.
At the time, Lee was working on a deer farm in Alabama and only home in Georgia on the weekends. This complicated his search for Achilles, but he relentlessly scoured the woods instead of hunting for the remainder of September and most of October before finally giving up.
Heartbroken, Lee decided to get back in the saddle and try to find another buck to hunt. He hung cams on other tracts of land. One was about 7 miles from his encounter with Achilles, and on Nov. 2, Eureka! Lee couldn’t believe his eyes when he checked his cards and found Achilles very much still alive. With renewed hope and vigor, Lee shifted his cams to pattern the huge buck once again.
For reference, Achilles never returned to the original place where Lee first shot him. He got close a time or two, but generally he avoided the area.
After hanging eight more cameras, Lee narrowed his potential hunting spots down and finally went in and found a text-book pinch point that was loaded with big buck sign. Of the eight cams, there was only one that Achilles passed by with any pattern, and he was coming through one out of three days in the daylight. Lee put all his chips on this location and hunted eight consecutive days on the stand—without a sighting of Achilles. On day nine, Lee couldn’t hunt because of other obligations, and when he checked cards, he couldn’t believe his bad luck. Achilles came strolling right under his stand in broad daylight.
The funnel Lee was hunting was thick with cover and didn’t allow many shot opportunities on deer that he was consistently seeing, so on Nov. 16, Lee went in to the stand midday and cut a new shooting lane. This would prove to be an extremely good tactical decision. The next morning Lee was in the stand 45 minutes before shooting light, and 20 minutes later he heard the tell-tale sound of a running deer coming right toward him. The deer stopped at 10 yards. In the moonlight, Lee could tell it was a doe, and she was staring directly under his stand behind him. Every couple of minutes for more than 20 excruciating minutes, Lee heard walking footsteps behind him. He didn’t dare turn.
Finally, daylight began to break. When shooting light was well established, Lee glanced over his shoulder. He was astounded to see Achilles about to enter the newly established shooting lane at 20 yards. Lee came to full draw in anticipation, and Achilles stopped to make a scrape before entering the lane. Lee had to let down.
Achilles walked parallel to the lane toward Lee, who again drew his bow and locked on his top pin, only to have the buck change directions. For the second time in as many minutes, Lee had to let his bow down. Finally, the buck turned yet again and headed right toward the doe. Lee drew the third time and quickly released an arrow, which flew true and hit Achilles hard behind his shoulder.
The buck went 30 yards, laid down and lowered his head. Barely able to contain his emotions, Lee waited 30 minutes, climbed down and snuck out of the woods, deciding just to be safe he’d give the deer a solid two hours before claiming his amazing trophy. Unfortunately, three hours later when he returned to where Achilles was, there was no deer, just a pool of blood. Lee picked up the blood trail, bow in hand and began quietly trailing through the thicket by himself. After 300 yards and with the sun beginning its decent in the western sky, Lee saw some movement in front of him. It was his buck—laying down but with his head up and still alive! Lee crouched down behind a big tree and waited for just over an hour before he was finally able to draw his bow and send a third arrow through Achilles, this time in the neck. He finally expired, and Lee was able to go up to him, say a prayer of thanks to the good Lord for allowing him to harvest such a trophy and hold the giant 175-inch rack in his hands for the first time.
Nine years of hard work, patience, practice and diligence had just paid off and then some for 25-year-old Lee Ellis.
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