I, Bill Funk, being of sound mind and body....
Although this story fortunately doesn’t go that way, it could have. It does go, in unique fashion, from West Michigan to Alberta, Canada, and then back again.
My friend Bill is a dedicated hunter and a Wilderness Journal TV pro staffer. And for several years now, he’s been hunting whitetails with Wayne Zaft of Wayne Zaft’s Hunting Adventures Ltd. Yes, the same Wayne Zaft whose huge Alberta archery typical sent shock waves through the whitetail community back in 2001. (That huge deer, which appeared on the cover of this magazine in Jan. 2002, was entered into Pope & Young as a potential world record, but the score later was reduced by a panel of P&Y measurers.)
Last year Bill headed back in Wayne’s camp in late August, just after the start of the weeklong bow-only season in the area. Bill planned to hunt the last few days of that season and then, if he hadn’t tagged out, participate in the start of firearms season there.
I say “planned to” because just five days before his trip, Bill’s bow suffered a limb failure. Fortunately, Ashely in the tech services department at Bowtech overnighted replacement parts to Grand Valley Sporting Goods in Allendale, Michigan, and the technician there burned the midnight oil to get Bill’s bow back in his hands with a day and a half to spare. As the hunter was flying to Edmonton, he couldn’t help but think how lucky he was to be making the trip.
Aug. 30-31 Bill spent in a bow stand in the North Country. Failing to fill his tag, he planned to hunt there with a rifle Sept. 1. I say “planned to” because of what happened on the way in from the field that night. The quad (ATV) Bill was using broke down. Quads are the only means of transportation into the far reaches of Wayne’s area. With no other option for accessing his stand, Bill drove back to Wayne’s southern property to hunt. He headed out just after 4:00 p.m. with his bow and video camera.
At 7:35 that evening, while hunting from a pop-up blind, Bill saw a huge velvet-antlered buck. The deer was easily the largest Bill had ever seen on the hoof. After taking some video of the monster at just over 100 yards, Bill called Wayne and declared he’d just seen the “biggest buck of my life, and it was well over 200 inches.”
Wayne’s predictable response was, “Sure.” But his thoughts changed drastically after dark, when he saw Bill’s photos and video of the buck. Friends, even in Alberta one of this size gets noticed, and neither Wayne nor anyone else they could find would claim to have seen him.
Bill understandably lived in that stand for the rest of his hunt but never saw the wide deer again. When he called me on his way home to tell me about the giant, I asked what I always ask: “Did you get him? And is it on video?”
Bill told me that no, he hadn’t been close enough for a shot — and what’s more, he’d somehow erased the live footage of the buck while playing it back. I replied, “Sure.”
After my friend’s return to Michigan, he showed me the trail cam photos he did have. And based on them, I had to agree he was after one of the largest wild whitetails I’d ever seen. But friends, when I told Bill how lucky he was to have even seen the buck with his own eyes, neither of us knew just how much “luck” — good and bad — he still had coming his way.
A week or so after returning from Alberta, Bill started noticing some vision problems: most notably, a serious case of double vision. Up next were trips to not one but two eye doctors and two new pairs of glasses. At this point, Bill was looking a good deal more modern — but he was still seeing two of himself in the mirror. It was time to get another opinion.
After talking with his daughter, who’s a nurse, Bill met with his family doctor. Several tests and eye exams later, there was some good news and some of the other type. Bill’s eyes, new glasses or not, were in fact just fine. But the other shoe to fall was more of a hob-nailed boot. The doctor was fairly certain Bill had an incurable neuromuscular disease: myas-thenia gravis.
Through several trips to a specialist in Grand Rapids, that unpleasant diagnosis was finally verified. Then, less than a week later, in addition to his constant double vision, Bill’s eyelids began to droop uncontrollably, and nearly constant fatigue set in. MG affects the muscle control pathways in the nervous system and affects not only the eyes and eyelids but also the arms, legs and diaphragm, leading to breathing difficulties and sometimes respiratory failure.
On the bright side, one medicine has shown positive effects on some people with MG, and after 10 days on it, Bill began “seeing” some improvement. He still had to fight double vision, but at least his eyelids and fatigue seemed to be under control. On the not-so-bright side at present there really is just this one medicine for MG sufferers, and often it grows less effective over time.
Bill’s neurosurgeon finally suggested he undergo a special surgery that has helped many other MG patients. According to him, while it’s true nothing cures MG, this operation — which involves cutting open the chest at the sternum and taking out the thymus gland from under the breastbone, right above your heart — is worth the risk. With no other real options, the surgery was scheduled for Oct. 6, and Bill set about preparing his family and himself for the 6- to 12-month rehab.
At this point, the last thing on Bill’s mind was trying to shoot a bow, let alone hunt the big buck he’d seen in Canada. That is, until the Friday before the surgery, when Wayne called to tell him the giant buck has showed up again. He was now in “hard horn,” and the trail camera pictures were jaw-dropping.
Wayne then told Bill he knew of his struggles with the disease and that he felt Bill’s first hunt was interrupted by the quad failure and the loss of time moving back south. He wanted Bill to come back to Alberta to finish his hunt and hopefully at least get another look at the buck.
Bill called me that day and told me of Wayne’s generous offer. Then he asked what I thought he should do. As the thoughtful, caring friend I am, I responded, “Do you need me to bring you airfare?”
Bill next contacted his surgeon. Much to his surprise, the doctor told him that happy, calm patients do much better on the operating table and in recovery — meaning he should go back to Wayne’s camp. The surgery could wait.
With his friend Bob along for the hunt, on Sunday, Oct. 5, Bill was back in Alberta. After arriving at camp, Bill decided to take a few shots with his bow but found that a challenge, to say the least. Bill’s double vision, fatigue and arm weakness were making it nearly impossible for him to hit a 30-yard target at all. Even with one eye closed, he was missing at 20 most of the time. It was so bad that Wayne had to ask him, “Are you sure you can shoot?”
Bill called me later that day to tell me of his difficulties and ask what I thought he should do. Again I summed up all my empathy and told him, “So get closer.”
That afternoon Wayne led Bill to a climber just 10 yards from the fence crossing where recent trail camera pictures of the huge buck had been taken. A nice 10-pointer came by that evening, but not the monster. The next morning Bill started out extra early, and by 6:30 a.m., he was back waiting at that crossing.
At 7:15, movement 40 yards out caught even Bill’s double vision. A monster buck was walking slowly right at him! Bill immediately bumped the “record” button on his camera but never bothered to check to see what was in the field of view. All he cared about was that the buck was about to be in his highly limited range.
With one eye clamped shut, Bill drew a ragged breath along with his bow. The sound of his arrow hitting home was the next thing he clearly recalls.
“I could clearly see the deer just standing at 10 yards behind me, looking back and forth,” Bill says of the moments that followed. “And I could clearly see a hole in its left side above the shoulder.”
Just then the buck crashed forward out of sight. But within seconds, Bill heard him go down and then gasp his last.
After about 30 emotional minutes, my friend mustered the strength to get down from his stand. Once on the ground, he looked out about 40 yards away and saw his magnificent buck. After getting his hands on the deer, Bill called Wayne with the unbelievable news. I wish my words could do justice to the celebration that followed, but I’m sure you really had to be there.
After 7 7/8 inches of deductions for asymmetry on the typical frame, Bill’s awesome 20-pointer officially nets 201 7/8 non-typical for the Pope & Young record book. The inside spread measures 23 1/8 inches, and each base has a circum-ference of 5 4/8 inches. At his entry score he’s reportedly the new No. 8 Alberta archery non-typical ever.
But in the end, as big as the buck is, he really isn’t what’s at the heart of this story. That would literally be Bill’s heart: the one that, on the operating table the day after his return to Michigan, stopped for 11 seconds before he could be revived. But as this is being published, he’s doing well enough and is hopeful of enjoying another deer season.