On October 12th, 2014, a friend of mine, Joe Franz, killed a whitetail that most of us only dream about. One of my best friends, Derek Wilkerson, who has been a team member of Trophy Pursuit since day 1, filmed the hunt. A few weeks later, we aired the footage of the Franz buck, one of the largest whitetails to have ever been killed on video. This deer was special, and we felt very fortunate to have had the opportunity to share the story with the world. This deer deserved to be seen everyone, those who hunted as well who those who did not.
Nearly a year later, in September of 2015, Joe was charged with baiting by Iowa DNR Officer, Eric Hoffman. Obviously, this was a huge shock to me. Not only had I seen the footage of the whitetail being shot, but I knew that one of my best friends, Derek, would do nothing to put himself in an unethical or illegal situation to kill a whitetail.
Being a certified law enforcement officer myself, I knew not to jump to conclusions, but to instead look at the facts from both sides of the case. Those of you who follow Trophy Pursuit understand that filling tags are just a small portion of what we do, and that ethics, morals, teamwork, education, and introducing youth are what we truly base our company standards on.
As the weeks went by, I used my resources to gather facts about the case from both sides of the spectrum (IDNR & Franz/Derek). It was a short time later that I fully realized that the Iowa DNR overstepped their boundaries, and charged an individual without any clear cut evidence days before the statute of limitations expired. Even more disturbing is that they continued to investigate the case for weeks and months after the charges had already been filed! Keep in mind that this was a simple misdemeanor. This is poor law enforcement on many accounts.
I spoke with officers from police departments, sheriff’s departments, and officers employed by the state patrol and even IDNR, who all agreed that the IDNR made a mistake and that there was not even close to enough evidence to garner a charge. Until today, I have chosen to bite my tongue. I have chosen to stay silent. However, the time is now for the truth.
Joe Franz purchased an 80-acre farm in the summer of 2014. There were two mineral sites on this farm. Joe never once put mineral in these sites. In fact, Joe placed a camera on the mineral site closest to where he later killed the big buck and that showed that the buck he later killed had never once visited it, and the other site, had only been visited twice and that was in August.
However, Franz still wanted to do things the right way, so he contacted the INDR. Franz contacted IDNR Officer Eric Hoffman multiple times in the coming months, and in late September, Franz asked Hoffman what the best course of action would be to legally hunt a food plot that had a mineral site near it. Hoffman stated to cover the site or to fill it in, and that all would be fine.
A few days later, Franz purchased two tarps as well as tent stakes, and Franz and Derek covered up the mineral sites with the tarps before the season started in Iowa. The receipts for these items were provided to the judge, as were the phone records of the conversations with IDNR Officer Hoffman. On October 12th, nearly two weeks later, Franz killed the giant buck that was feeding in a clover food plot that was planted months before.
Seven days went by after Franz harvested the deer before he returned to the farm. Franz noticed that water had collected on the tarps and they were stressing the corner stakes so Joe decided that it would be best to add additional coverage in the form of plywood to the tarps to add to the structural integrity.
In March, Joe brought his son-in-law down to the farm to shed hunt, and they uncovered the mineral sites as he realized that the deer would once again benefit from the mineral after the rut and a hard winter. Sometime in April, the IDNR tip line received a statement that there was an uncovered mineral site near the box blind in which Joe shot the buck from. It is still unclear as to where this complaint came from.
After receiving the anonymous tip, the IDNR went to Joe’s property and found the plywood that was now pulled off of the mineral sites. The plywood had barcodes on it that told it’s purchase date, which was after the buck was killed, however, they did not take into consideration or BELIEVE that tarps were over the mineral sites prior to the deer being shot. This was information that both Joe and Derek had previously disclosed in their initial testimony to IDNR officers. In fact, google earth shows the tarps covering the mineral sites near the same time frame that the deer was shot. The IDNR Officers also took soil from Joes’ farm without a search warrant.
I want you all to know that I sat through the entire court trial. I heard testimony from both sides and I am stating the facts of the case. In fact, there were three other law enforcement officers at the trial that day that spoke to me later and stated that they could not believe charges had even been filed.
I also want all to know that the majority of the IDNR is full of good employees, who care about the resource and the outdoorsman. However, the time is now for these IDNR employees to step up to the plate and to show leadership and stand up for what is right. It’s discouraging to me how many employees of the IDNR spoke to me as well as other friends of mine during this process and stated that they did not believe in the decision of their own department or the fact that charges were pressed against Joe. My question for those employees is this; If you knew the outcome now, would you have voiced your concerns more publically to your department then?
Each and every one of us make our own beds. The court has spoken. Justice has been served, and Franz is innocent. The IDNR and many others have not only tarnished Franz’s name and reputation but have created a financial hardship for him and his family throughout the process, which forced him to sell his land to pay for the costs associated with this trial.
Also the whitetail he killed is still not hanging on his wall, but instead is in the hands of the IDNR. It’s time that his buck returns home, and that Franz can once again admire what is rightfully his. It’s time that we as sportsman stick up for one another, and that the IDNR fixes the issues within their department so that no Iowa Sportsman will ever have to go through a situation again like Franz has endured. It is also in my humble opinion that Franz should receive an apology from the IDNR, as that at minimum will show that there is some remorse in the current situation that they created.
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The Hunting Game is an outdoor news source for hunting, fishing, and the outdoors in Texas and around the world.