The Beast From Independence

The Beast From Independence

On opening day of the 2006 Wisconsin firearms season, John Filla shot the buck of a lifetime while engaged in a deer drive with his brothers and nephews. But the most unbelievable part of his story came after the deer was down.

Reading about a 200-plus-inch whitetail is always fun, but it's not often that the story behind the deer makes you sit down and really think to yourself, Wow, what are the odds of that happening? Well, the story behind the huge Trempealeau County buck that John Filla of Independence shot on opening day of Wisconsin's 2006 gun season might make you think just that.

John's group planned to do some deer drives shortly after first light on opening morning. John was joined by his 11-year-old son, Kyle, brothers Tony, Ben and Richard, and Ben's three sons -- Joe, Tim and Andy. The 2006 opening day hunt would be just a little more special for John than usual. That's because it was Kyle's first real deer hunting experience. John and the rest of the group planned to teach Kyle how they conduct their deer drives, so that he would be prepared the following year, when he would be old enough to hunt himself.

John was chosen to be one of the "drivers" that morning, and he walked across a hill to the highest spot on the far side of the woods. This spot had been his starting point for the group's deer drives over the last five years.

Shortly after daylight, John heard a noise in the woods. He turned to see a doe come running out of the woods and into the field. His initial thought was to let her go, since she was heading toward some of the "standers."

But then John spotted a buck come out behind her. He knew the deer was a buck, but because of the background of the woods behind the deer's antlers, he couldn't tell exactly how big the buck was. However, after the buck got farther into the field, he could tell it was a big one.

"I tried to stay as still as possible so he wouldn't turn back," John recalled. "He was on her trail, and when he got halfway to the woods, I got off four shots at him with my Remington 1187 Special Purpose Deer 12 gauge. When I saw him run into the woods, my heart was racing, but then I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach."


There was no indication that the buck was hit, but when John reloaded and ran down to the spot where the buck had gone into the woods, he found plenty of blood. After getting together with some of the others and discussing things as a group, the hunters decided to put Andy on the blood trail while John paralleled him out in the open at the top of a ridge. The other hunters repositioned themselves so they could follow the blood trail and conduct a drive at the same time.

They had just gotten started when the doe got up and ran across a finger of woods where Kyle was. Not knowing it was the doe, Andy ran down to the edge of the woods to see if it was the big buck. It wasn't. Andy went back to take up the blood trail and began following it. Suddenly, he came upon the buck, bedded down right at the edge of the woods.

As the buck took off, Andy got off two shots and John got off one. They each got a better look at the buck and now realized that he was a giant.

"Andy and I were both yelling to the standers, who were about 150 yards in front of us down in the flats," John recalled.

Tony was in a spot where he could see several of the

typical escape routes the deer usually took. Suddenly he spotted the buck running. Tony watched in amazement as the deer jumped off a rock cliff that dropped down to a road about 20 feet below! The big buck's feet landed just off the shoulder of the road while his chin smacked onto the asphalt!

Appearing to be in daze, the buck got up and ran around for a few seconds. When John reached the scene, the buck was lying with its head on the ground in some marsh grass about 60 yards off the road. John circled about 100 yards around him and put a slug into the buck's vitals. The hunt was over.


After tagging the buck and admiring the huge rack, the group went back to finish the drive in the area where Kyle had kicked up the doe. Joe ended up shooting the doe about 100 yards away from where the monster buck already lay dead.

Needless to say, word of the big buck spread fast. People began flocking over to see it. The 18-point non-typical buck carried a rack that was simply stunning. The mass and number of points were part of the reason why, but the most obvious and notable feature was the buck's unbelievable inside spread -- 29 4/8 inches!

If you're familiar with B&C's scoring system, you're probably wondering if the rack's entire width counted toward the buck's final score. Yes, it did! (A B&C scoring rule states that the credit given for the inside spread may equal but not exceed the length of the longest main beam.) With John's buck, the right main beam measured a whopping 30 2/8 inches, so the rack got credit for the entire 29 4/8-inch inside spread. Unfortunately, the tip of the buck's right main beam had nearly 4 inches broken off, so it only measured 25 inches. Nonetheless, with the broken main beam the big Trempealeau County monster carried a net non-typical score of 206 4/8 inches.


Several weeks after shooting the buck, John received a visit from a local hunter who had seen pictures of his big buck on the Internet. The visitor had both of the buck's sheds from the year before. Amazingly, they were found 3 1/2 miles, as the crow flies, from where John shot the deer!

But that's not the only unusual twist. In April 2007, another local deer hunter, Brian Zastrow, went out for a walk in hopes of finding a shed antler or two. He was walking along a grassy fencerow when he stepped on something that didn't feel quite right. He looked down, and under his foot was an antler. It was a small one, with 3 points. After taking a moment to admire it, Brian turned around and started to walk back the way he had just come.

Twenty feet later he stopped for a moment, looked down and couldn't believe what he saw lying in the grass just a few feet away. He knew immediately it was a piece of antler. Actually, it was the tip of a main beam. It had nice mass and was about 4 inches long. Brian wondered how the piece of antler had gotten there. Except for a few small saplings, there were no big trees around that a buck might have run into, causing the beam tip to break off. How did it get there? Who knows, but fighting with another buck seems to be the most plausible explanation.

That afternoon, Brian was at home when his 14-year-old son, Dylan, came home fro

m school. Brian was excited to show Dylan what he had found. After looking at the piece of broken antler, Dylan put two and two together and told his dad something that Brian probably never would have thought of.

"Dad, the buck that John Filla shot had a broken main beam," Dylan said. "Do you think . . . ?"

Brian knew that his friend Ben Vazquez had taken some pictures of the Filla buck, so he called Ben and they got together to compare the photos with the piece of antler. Based on the photos, it looked like the piece of broken antler indeed matched the broken right main beam of John's record-book bruiser!


Several days later, Brian and his son drove over to John's house and knocked on the door. John answered, and Brian introduced himself and told John why he was there. The hunters then took the piece of broken antler over to the mounted head and held it up to the end of the left main beam. It was a perfect match!

John learned from the official scorer, Craig Cousins, that a recent Boone and Crockett Club rule change now allowed a broken antler to be scored and entered in the record book, if it could be proved that the two pieces belonged to each other. Rulings are made on a case-by-case basis. Detailed photos must be taken of the two pieces both together and apart, and then submitted to the Boone and Crockett Club for approval. John followed this procedure. And just as this story was going to press, John was notified by the Boone and Crockett Club that the broken piece of main beam had been accepted for entry into the record book! This raised the final net score of his awesome trophy to 214 2/8 non-typical points.

The color of the broken piece of antler is a little lighter than the rest of the rack, but that's to be expected since it had been exposed to the sun and elements for at least four months.

The property where Brian Zastrow found the broken main beam was adjacent to the property where the sheds were found. Again, that is 3 1/2 miles (in a straight line) from where John Filla shot his record buck.


Shooting a 200-plus-inch whitetail buck is an incredible accomplishment. And the fact that John's buck didn't break part of his rack when he jumped off the cliff and hit his head on the asphalt is quite amazing. Moreover, a whitetail with an inside spread of almost 30 inches is absolutely phenomenal! On top of that, what are the odds of someone finding the piece of broken main beam more than 3 miles from where the buck was killed, and then connecting it to a buck that had been killed the previous season by a total stranger? Truly, John's larger-than-life story has more twists and turns to it than a NASCAR road course. Only in Wisconsin!

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