MARION COUNTY, Iowa — A judge`s decision to clear Joe Franz Friday of hunting over bait charges was more than personal for the hunter of 40 years.
“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 said.
In August of 2014, Franz bought land outside of the Melcher-Dallas area in Marion County in preparation to hunt Palmer, a large buck many considered a lifelong dream. In October, Franz fulfilled that dream.
“I never imagined in a million years that I`d be so fortunate,” Franz said. “I thank God for the opportunity.”
Over a year later in 2015, the DNR accused him of killing the deer illegally, or hunting over bait. Iowa DNR spokesperson Kevin Baskins said they had enough evidence to charge Franz.
“Anytime bait is in the vicinity and obviously being used to attract wildlife to the area being hunting,” Baskins said.
Franz says the mineral licks were from the area`s previous owners and he made sure they were not an issue by calling the DNR well before the hunt and filming the the harvesting of the trophy buck.
“I contacted the DNR officer a week before hunting season and he instructed me to cover up the sites, which I did and I thought everything was good,” Franz said.
To Baskins’ knowledge, Franz`s victory was the first successful challenge against the DNR in a hunting over bait case. It has caught the attention of state legislators who now could change the way Iowans hunt.
Republican state Senator Mark Chelgren hopes to pass bills through legislation to put an end to what he believes are vague baiting laws.
“Across the state, it’s been handled differently based on the interpretation of different officers and that doesn’t do for legislators what we need done,” Sen. Chelgren said. “The DNR shouldn’t be trying to make it more difficult to thin the deer herd than it needs to be.”
The DNR says they are willing to change if it needs to.
“We want to be able to work with both legislators and hunters to come up with something people can understand in the field,” Baskins said.
It’s what Franz wanted to see, but now despite the victory, he’s no longer sure if he wants to be a part of it.
“I have no plans to go hunting anytime soon, it actually feels like part of my soul has been ripped out,” Franz said.
Another issue that Sen. Chelgren hopes to address is the DNR’s authority to take a hunters items before they are convicted of any charges.
Franz has been without his bow, rifle and trophy buck since the accusations were brought forward this past November. The DNR says they will return the items.