Annual hunting event provides safe, fun outing for disabled hunters

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By Alice Du Pont

It wasn't important how any of the nine men on the sixth annual Hunters Helping Hunters event reached their degree of disability. The only thing that mattered was that the hunters enjoyed a weekend in the North Florida woods hunting deer and enjoying the great outdoors.

It was the second time for 34-year-old Pete Herrick of Gainesville, who read about the sanctioned hunts in Buckmaster magazine. Before he was injured by a round of mortar fire in Iraq and lost a leg and the use of his upper and lower body, Herrick was an avid hunter. Now confined to a wheelchair, he and other hunters use special equipment to hunt deer.

The (drinking) straw-like device is placed in the hunter's mouth to fire the weapon. When fired, air is forced through the opening.

Another hunter, Ray Krolikowski, 42, was a former bull rider before he was confined to a wheelchair following a nasty accident in the ring. This is his fifth year and in 2007 he took a 9-point and a 7-point deer. Even if he doesn't land a deer he looks forward to coming to Gadsden County.

Truth is, because of the severity of their injuries, many don't know how long they will be able to come.

"There are so many complications that accompany these types of injuries that the prognosis isn't very good for a long life," said Mike Layerd who, along with his wife Laura, began the outdoor experience for the disabled 7 years ago.

The goal, he said, is to provide the opportunity for those who would otherwise be unable to hunt in a safe environment. The Layerd property in Mt. Pleasant is flat with two ponds and convenient for hunters and guides to access specially-constructed blinds built during the summer by local volunteers and Layerd family members.

 "I can't say why we do this except that for one weekend, they're pretty much normal. We have been so blessed in so many ways and we enjoy the outdoors. We wanted to give back," Layerd said.

He was extremely elated after this weekend because when the hunt was over everyone was happy.

“We had a 100 percent success rate. Everyone bagged a deer and one man bagged two. We clean them, quarter them, ice them down and they take them home. Nothing is wasted and no one has ever not wanted to take their deer home," Layerd said.

The annual weekends are sponsored by the Layerds and friends. Local businesses, he said, donated enough prizes to fill gift bags for the hunters. They like to plan hunts around Christmas during "doe days" when deer of either sex can be taken, which gives the hunters a better chance at success.    

The hunters arrived early Saturday morning at the Layerd Farm, 2 miles west of Mt. Pleasant. Bundled up for the cold, they made their way into the thicket and waited. By lunch time the hunters were ready for a hearty lunch of pulled pork, baked beans, cole slaw and an array of homemade desserts.

After lunch was when everyone got lucky and got what they came for – a weekend of good hunting and the payoff of taking a deer home.