December 14, 2018

A local hunter suspected of poaching deer was caught, in part, because someone posted a photo of his most-recent trophy buck on Facebook, according to court records.

“WOW! Josh Snyder with a 220” SW Iowa giant!” read the post on the Trophy Bucks of Iowa page.

The accompanying photo from last month purportedly shows Snyder holding one of the largest typical-antlered deer killed by a bow and arrow in Iowa.

The problem is that state conservation officers who investigated Snyder found a bullet hole in the deer’s cape — the skin and fur that are commonly cleaved for display — leading them to believe that it had been illegally killed during a non-firearm season.

It’s unclear in court records what type of firearm they suspect might have killed the animal.

Snyder, 38, of Carroll, has not been formally charged with a hunting crime, but conservation officers confiscated a total of four of Snyder’s deer heads, and Snyder has asked a judge for them back, court records show.

Conservation officers’ use of social media to track poachers has grown in the past 10 years as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat have swelled in popularity.

“A lot of us are hunters, too, so we watch those sites,” said Matt Bruner, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources conservation officer in Boone and Story counties. “People who harvest a nice animal want to show it off to friends online. That’s kind of the culture these days.”

Three years ago Bruner investigated two men who ran a now-defunct, Fort Dodge-based company called ATM Outdoors that produced hunting videos that showed them shooting deer and turkey. When Bruner compared their kills with a state database of the hunting licenses they had purchased, he found that they had poached some of the animals.

In all, 10 people were convicted of hunting crimes associated with those videos, and they paid more than $15,000 in fines.

Bruner said most of his tips about poachers still come from face-to-face contact with hunters, but social media posts give him a lot of early information for his investigations.

“When you’re getting the concrete date — the timestamp date — and other information, that definitely helps jump-start the investigation,” he said.

A search warrant that conservation officers used to confiscate deer heads from Snyder last month shows that an officer saw a picture of Snyder on Trophy Bucks of Iowa that had been posted Nov. 13 and began investigating the kill.

Eric Kline, who manages the Facebook page, said it wasn’t Snyder who sent him the photo, but that he received it separately from dozens of people.

It’s unclear whether the officer, Andrea Bevington, saw the photo while browsing the site or received a tip about it. She has declined to talk about the situation because her investigation is pending.

A state database revealed that Snyder had purchased a hunting license to shoot a buck with a bow on Nov. 11 in Bedford, which is close to the Missouri border, court records show.

Bevington and another officer went to a taxidermy shop in a small town east of Bedford four days later and found Snyder’s deer.

“The officers looked at the cape and noticed a small bullet hole in the deer’s upper right lung area,” according to a search warrant application. The taxidermist “claimed to not have seen the hole when he was cleaning it.”

Days later the officers executed that search warrant in Carroll County. They confiscated a further three whitetail buck heads with large racks among other items.

Snyder declined to talk about the situation because of the ongoing investigation and his pending request in district court to have the deer heads returned to him.

In court documents he alleges that he was physically abused by conservation officers as they interrogated him as part of their search — which happened for about five hours overnight of Nov. 18 — and that they improperly took the deer from him before he was convicted of a hunting violation.

His West Des Moines attorneys William Kutmus and Trever Hook are well-known for defending hunters and intend to test a new state law that is meant to ensure that such items are returned to people if they are not convicted of hunting crimes related to the items.

Kutmus and Hook argue that, based on the way the new law is written, officers shouldn’t be able to confiscate deer without a conviction.

Carroll County Attorney John Werden argues that the heads are evidence in a pending criminal investigation and shouldn’t be returned.

A court hearing in which a judge will consider the return of the deer heads is set for Dec. 21.