Joe Franz on left.
Iowa hunter Joe Franz, 55, catapulted into outdoor Internet fame after killing a 261-inch whitetail—purportedly the largest fair-chase whitetail ever killed on video—on October 12, 2014. The Internet hunting show Trophy Pursuit filmed muzzleloader hunt of the gargantuan deer on Franz’s Marion County farm. Trophy Pursuit posted news of the deer first: “We are very excited to announce that [we have] filmed the harvest of what we think could be the largest wild, 100% fair-chase whitetail to ever be captured on professional video.”
Other outlets quickly picked up the news, and Franz offered some interesting quotes about the hunt, including this one to WHOTV: “The main reason we filmed the hunt was to let people share the distinct honor of being a part of this buck’s life,” said Franz. “And to dispel the naysayers that may be out there.”
A little more than a year later, however, The Des Moines Register reports that in late October the Iowa DNR charged Franz with four counts of illegally hunting over bait. Page 22 of the Iowa hunting regulations defines bait as “grain, fruit, vegetables, nuts, hay, salt, mineral blocks, or any other natural food materials, commercial products containing natural food materials, or by-products of such materials transported to or placed in an area for the purpose of attracting wildlife.” IDNR didn’t give specifics about what type of bait it suspects Franz used, but it contends that he illegally attracted and held deer on his property with it. If convicted, Franz faces fines of $195 per charge.
Franz is fighting the charges and blames hunter envy for the accusations. “I’m outraged,” he said. “There’s always jealousy. There’s always accusations, innuendo, and I am completely innocent of these charges.”
IDNR officials began their investigation after receiving an anonymous tip when the story of Franz’s buck ran in The Des Moines Register last year. William Kutmus, Frans’s attorney, blames the charges on vague regulations, claiming that the laws make no mention of required distance between a hunter and the bait, and believes that the rules leave too much room for subjectivity and interpretation. Also, Kutmus claims that IDNR officers acquired soil samples—a common procedure in finding mineral supplements used for baiting—from Franz’s farm without a search warrant. “These charges amount to a black eye for the state of Iowa,” he said.
Apparently, Franz killed the deer, nicknamed Palmer, after years of buying and selling choice Iowa whitetail property in search of a trophy-buck-producing farm. Also, Franz reportedly purchased the farm where he shot Palmer only after viewing photos of antler sheds found on the 80-acre spread.
We have reached out to Trophy Pursuit for comment but have yet to receive a response. We will update this article if we do.