Iowa hunter Joe Franz has been exonerated of all charges after a court ruling found that he was not guilty of harvesting a Marion County buck—believed to be the largest ever taken on video—over bait. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) also announced that it will be returning to Franz the mount of the deer and his hunting equipment. The buck was greenscored at 258 and 7/8 inches.
“I think the verdict that was handed down is a victory not only for my family and me but also for all the hunters in the state of Iowa because I think it`s been a landmark decision,” Franz told WHO-TV.
DNR officers charged Franz last year with four counts of hunting over bait for the buck, which was harvested on his 80-acre acre property in 2014. Officials said that Franz knowingly hunted near a mineral lick set up by the property’s previous owner. Franz however, said he contacted the DNR prior to hunting specifically to ask about dealing with baited areas. He said he was instructed to cover up the mineral licks, which he did.
In the end, the video of the hunt proved to be Franz’s greatest defense. It showed that before it was harvested, the deer had little interest in the mineral lick, and neither approached it or inspected it from a distance. Due to this, District Court Judge Thomas Mott found Franz not guilty of the charges.
You can see the video of his hunt below:
Franz’s lawyer, Bill Kutmus, says Mott’s ruling backs up his assertion that Iowa’s baiting law is worryingly ambiguous. The law does not specify how far a hunter has to be from a baiting site, or in some cases, even how long ago bait was in the area.
“They’ve got to show, in essence, that you used that bait specifically and with the intent to violate the law,” Kutmus told The Des Moines Register.
The case also drew significant criticism, even from lawmakers, after it was reported that DNR officers took soil samples from Franz’s property without a warrant.
“Going on private property without a warrant, that is questionable. If they remove anything while on private property, then they really could have problems,” State Representative Clel Baudler told Raccoon Valley Radio.
Baudler and State Senator Jake Chapman are two of the lawmakers currently making an inquiry into the DNR and its enforcement policies. Other legislators are in favor of amending Iowa’s laws on baiting to make regulations more specific.
A DNR spokesperson said the department was receptive to both new laws and changes on its end. The department plans on working with both lawmakers and hunters more closely moving forward.