I moved to Kansas in 2017 specifically to pursue whitetails. I left behind everyone I knew including all of my family and lifelong friends to follow a dream I’d had since I started bow hunting at 12 years old. I took a leap of faith and it’s paid off in multiple ways. In less than a year, I was fortunate enough to be managing roughly 2,000 acres of prime hunting land split between several properties. The entire management process captivates me: finding a deer worth chasing, helping it reach its potential by using various types of minerals, supplements, and food plots; learning the nuances of each individual deer; patterning it throughout the season; and managing the age structure and land specifically for optimal deer hunting.
In July of 2018, I was able to persuade a neighboring farmer to let me hang some cameras on his land. It’s important to note that all I had asked permission for was to hang cameras. This piece of ground in particular is about 600 acres and it hadn’t been hunted in years.
This is where the story of Athos begins.
Shed hunting has become an integral part of the management process for me. Some folks collect coins, art, or Christmas Santa’s; I collect sheds. I believe that each one tells an important part of the story, that you can learn a lot about the individual deer from their sheds, and that finding them gets you one step closer in the ultimate chess match.
Only because I wanted to find Athos’ antlers, a good friend of mine named Craig walked over 20+ miles with me in two days, in 40+ mph wind gusts, rain, freezing temperatures, and knee-deep mud.
Despite knowing how tough the next few days would be in terms of weather conditions and how far we would be walking; Craig, running on very little sleep from managing a newborn, takes a redeye flight (6 hours) Friday evening after work, and is in Kansas for the start of Shed Rally 2019 Saturday morning.
After enduring all of that, we finally found the antlers we were after. Correction, he found them, both sides actually, along with the majority of the others. To sum up the character of this man, I offered him the antlers and he refused to take them. These are the largest antlers he and I have ever held in our hands, scoring 191” (with an estimated 17.5” spread) and he didn’t even consider the offer to take them home. Shed Rally 2019 was a success; not because of the sheds we found, not because of the photos we took, not because of the contest that Whitetail Properties puts on, it was a success because of Craig.
At the start of the youth rifle season in 2020, Athos disappeared but showed back up about 10 days later with his velvet gone. Athos went from being a giant whitetail, to an absolute once in a lifetime deer, a dream; a legend. I never once believed or thought I would have a buck like this on camera just three years after moving here. Athos has captivated my mind since the first picture over two years ago, actually causing me to lose sleep on more than one occasion. The chance to see a deer like Athos is the sole reason I left everything and began this quest. Watching him progress and live for three years is simply something I could never have dreamed of – something out of a hunters’ fairy tale.
A cold front took effect and deer were on their feet early on October 23rd. There was plenty of action with smaller bucks and does during the evening despite my pessimism. While it was still an enjoyable hunt, the one I was after continued to elude me. So I decided to pack up my equipment, load my bag, and began to close windows so I could slip out before anything else showed. Midway through closing the last window, I caught a glimpse of antlers and within a true millisecond, I knew without a doubt which deer it was. I pulled the bag off my back, sat down, and quickly began to unpack my camera gear. Tripod up, camera out; opened, on; facing the direction I knew he would pass through; record. I grabbed the bow, loaded an arrow, got the release out of my pocket and hooked on the d-loop.
At 27 yards, he heard me draw and picked his head up looking towards the blind. For the first time in three years, I was able to finally lay my eyes on Athos. With the light fading fast, I took an extra second to confirm that my peep sight and anchor point were in position. I squeezed off the shot and saw the red lighted nock find home.
I’ve seen numerous TV shows where the hunter speaks of how bittersweet it is when you finally catch up to the deer you’ve been chasing for so long. I can now say it’s a feeling that is both one of happiness and sadness. Bittersweet, might actually be the perfect word to describe the feeling.
I was able to catch up to Athos on the night of October 23rd, 2020, laying my eyes on him for the first time in person, but also the last.
Bittersweet, for sure.
- Cody Larrimore, RACK HUB® Customer