In 1997, while working as a counselor for the Manitou juvenile correction facility, Rico lost his eyesight. At the time, he was planning on retiring from the state.
But, on Dec. 31, friends from Hollis made one of Rico's almost impossible dreams come true.
Rico had listened to a special on disabled hunters on "Oklahoma Outdoors," hosted by Todd Craighead. He wanted to know if our area offered a service like this, so he contacted Craighead and asked if he knew of anything like this in our area -- because he really would like to go deer hunting again. Craighead then called Tim Tutten in Hollis, to discuss the matter.
Tutten, along with Harmon County landowner Garland Jones and their pastor at the Hollis First Baptist Church, Jim Westmoreland, began "J Bar J Hunting" in September 2003. Although they usually charged to take people on the hunting trips, they decided they could provide disabled hunting trips as part of their ministry. They took Rico, free of charge, and provided the gun and ammunition. The state of Oklahoma Wildlife Department waived Rico's license and deer tag requirements, which meant he paid nothing at all for the hunt.
Tutten and Westmoreland practiced spotting and sighting a deer - Tutten directing Westmoreland while he was blindfolded. Finally, they figured out the best procedure to spot deer for Rico.
Tutten said he was so excited about Rico's hunt, he could hardly sleep the month before. He had talked to Rico several times over the phone, but didn't get to meet him in person until the day of the hunt.
"I've never wanted someone to get a deer so bad," said Tutten. "Next to my son getting his first deer this year, this was the most exciting hunt I've ever been on."
Tutten said that they saw about 15 deer the day of the hunt, a pretty slow day for the area. Rico shot a total of three times, making bullseye shots every time. He shot the deer from about 30 yards away.
"They just didn't make my day the last day of 2004, but also gave me an outlook for the New Year of 2005," said Rico. "I've always enjoyed the early morning fresh air and nature, waking up for a new day, and also the beautiful Oklahoma sunsets that we all share in this great state of ours ... even though they did not ask for pay or recognition, I can't help but think why there is not more people like these gentlemen that care so much for others and want them to enjoy the great outdoors. I want to see every able-bodied disabled person in Altus have a great time and opportunity like I had."
Rico said it might not have bagged a trophy deer, but being in the outdoors and actually hunting again was worth it.
"The most important thing about a hunter and a spotter is the communication between the two," Rico said.
Rico and his friend, David Holder, who is also blind, are trying to start a group for blind or otherwise disabled area residents, so they will be able to enjoy hunting, fishing or boating.
"If you ever meet Avey," said Tutten, "he'll wear you out. He does a whole lot more being disabled than people without disabilities would ever think about doing. He's an amazing guy."
If you would like more information about the ongoing effort to start a disabled sportsmen's organization, you may contact Avey Rico at 471-9822 or David Holder at 471-5722. For more information about J Bar J Hunting, contact Tutten at 688-2114, Westmoreland at 471-3808 or Jones at 688-2695.