Muley Freak’s Erik Van Woerkom Takes Cancer Survivor Hunting

Muley Freak’s Erik Van Woerkom Takes Cancer Survivor Hunting - Muley Freak

How The Passion of Giving Back Began

For the past 7 years, Muley Freak has had the opportunity to work with several non-profit organizations to get veterans, youth, and disabled persons out hunting. It all started back in 2016 when we had the opportunity to help Rick Werry, a chair-bound hunter and now good friend, harvest his once-in-a-lifetime Utah Shiras Bull Moose. Rick was extremely worried of how the hunt would turn out as he was limited to hunting from the side by side via dirt roads. Thankfully, the good Lord assisted with this hunt as a 50” wide bull moose stepped out from among the brush at 150 yards on the last evening of the hunt.

Chairbound hunter Rick Werry, a quadriplegic, sitting in his wheelchair on the mountain next to his shiras bull moose that he shot in Northern, Utah with Muley Freak

Since then, we have connected with other amazing disabled hunters like Connor (read Connor's amazing story, "Bend But Not Break"), who we took deer hunting, and other amazing non-profits like Hunts for the Brave. Hunts for the Brave has allowed us to connect with, and take dozens of veterans deer and elk hunting. You can read in a prior article we wrote, "Healing Through Hunting: A November Veteran Mule Deer Hunt" how hunting has offered healing for veterans such Carlos Muniz and Chris Harry.

"There's honestly not a greater thing that we do here at Muley Freak than giving of our time and sharing our passion with youth, veterans, and the community."

- Erik Van Woerkom

Marine Corps veteran Dane Riddle and Muley Freak

Youth Hunter’s Voice

Most recently, we were blessed to get to know Cory Rasmussen, the president of Youth Hunter’s Voice. The mission of Youth Hunter’s Voice is dedicated to empowering the next generation of hunters and conservationists. Founded on the principle of increasing opportunities for youth hunters to have meaningful experiences in the great outdoors, they are committed to working with public and private organizations to create and enhance hunting opportunities for young individuals.

Their mission extends beyond hunting; they are on a recruitment drive to foster future sportsmen and women who will proudly carry forward the time-honored traditions of hunting and conservation. They also strive to be a voice for youth in the hunting world, ensuring that every young hunter has the representation they deserve.

The target group to help for Youth Hunter’s Voice isn’t solely disabled youth, it’s any youth that has had any difficult time such as loss of parents, victims of abuse, or any sort of tragedy.

Muley Freak

Cancer Couldn’t Beat Jace

In early 2023, we reached out to Cory at Youth Hunter’s Voice letting him know we had a mule deer tag available for a deserving youth. After some searching, Cory told us about an amazing young man and cancer survivor, Jace.

In May of 2021 just before his 11th birthday, Jace noticed a hard lump on his right thigh. After x-rays and biopsy, it proved to be Osteosarcoma (Osteosarcoma is a kind of bone cancer that most often starts in the long bones of the legs or arms). Jace underwent chemotherapy that totaled 30 weeks. He then had surgery that removed 12 inches of his femur and surrounding muscle, a titanium leg bone and knee replaced to serve as an internal prostheses.

While it has been a long, painful, and grueling healing process for Jace - he is now doing incredibly well. He walks around with a slight limp and has a hard time bending, but that doesn’t stop him from doing anything that he wants to. He is an incredible example of staying positive through difficult times and enduring to the end.

Erik Van Woerkom Takes Cancer Survivor Hunting

At the beginning of November, Erik and our good friend Paul met up with Jace and his dad at the cabin on the property they’d be hunting. It was a crisp chilly morning with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees, a perfect morning that would hopefully get rutty bucks on their feet and cruising around. They loaded up the machines in preparation for the drive to the best glassing areas.

At first light, just in front of a group of bright burgundy maples, the crew spotted a handsome 4 point buck feeding in the tall golden grass at only 300 yards. It was almost too good to be true. Everyone scrambled to get cameras, Jace, and spotters set up on the buck in preparation for the shot.

As Jace settled in behind his rifle, he looked at Erik and said, “can I shoot?”. Erik responded, “go ahead if you are rock solid”.

Jace squeezed the trigger, BOOM! As the dust settled on the excitement the buck ran off into the thick maple grove appearing to be just fine.

At first glance it looked like the buck may have been hit, but after further review by watching the footage off the camera (a great perk of filming your kill shots), they realized Jace missed just in front of the buck. Jace was disappointed but also grateful that it was a clean miss and that he didn’t wound the buck.

The crew went back to the range and Erik handed Jace his TS Customs 7PRC so that he could shoot it and see if he wanted to use that instead of his rifle. After getting some reps in, ringing steel at 750 yards, and some getting some coaching from Erik, Jace was confident to head back out in the field in search of a buck.

Shortly after driving back into buck country, the crew crested the top of another favorite canyon where bucks like to occupy. It took but only a few minutes to find another buck, this time a good-looking 3 point.

Jace set up behind the TS Customs 7PRC, settled his crosshairs on the buck, and sent a Hornady 175 grain ELD-X bullet the buck’s way. THWACK! Was the sound that everyone heard as the buck hunched up and quickly stumbled to the ground. After cheers, hugs, and congratulations were given, the group headed over to admire Jace’s beautiful mule deer buck.

After getting photos, admiring the buck, sharing laughs, and reminiscing on the incredible day, the crew headed back to the skinning shack to skin and quarter Jace's buck.

You can watch the entirety of Jace's mule deer hunt at the link below - his smile at the end says it all.

Building the Next Generation of Hunters

Like Youth Hunter’s Voice, we believe it is our duty at Muley Freak to assist in introducing hunting to the next generation. We know there are youth out there that for one reason or another don’t have the opportunity to be raised in the beautful world of hunting - it is our duty, and it is your duty, to build the youth up. Our hope is that after reading this article you will take action and find an organization, or a youth in your community, and help kick start their passion for the great outdoors.

If you would like to donate to Youth Hunter's Voice and support getting under privileged youth out hunting, click here.

"If you have the ability to mentor a youth, donate to a non-profit like Youth Hunter's Voice, or otherwise serve in your community and help build up youth hunters - I highly encourage you to do so. There's few things more rewarding than seeing a kid's smile after accomplishing something great like Jace did on this hunt."

- Erik Van Woerkom


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