Hunters Experience Equipment Theft

As deer season continues in Georgia, state game wardens are receiving a lot of reports of theft of hunting equipment in Northwest Georgia. It is often a frustrating experience for both the hunters and law enforcement professionals who receive these reports.

Imagine you finally have an off day or holiday and plan on hunting your favorite spot. You have purchased your license, obtained permission to hunt private land or spent hard-earned money to join a hunting club lease, and purchased an expensive climbing deer stand (or ladder stand or pop-up blind) and a trail camera. You are capturing pictures of a really good buck on your trail camera and finally have a day to hunt. You enter the woods with your fluorescent orange safety hunting vest on and headlight for safety before daylight.You intend on using your safety belt and deer stand to climb a tree in a spot where you might be able to get a shot at that really good buck.

Then you arrive before daylight at your tree in the woods to find that not only has your expensive stand gone, but the trail camera within sight of the tree has also been taken. Not only have you lost over $500 of hunting equipment, but the only hunting day this month has been ruined!

You are so upset, you contact the sheriff’s office and complete a theft report. You happen to see your local game warden at lunch and mention the thefts. He tells you that he has also received other reports of thefts in the same area where you hunt. Then he asks, “Did you mark your stand and camera with identifying marks?” You respond, “Well no, but it was a Summit Stand and Bushnell Trophy Cam trail camera.” Then comes the really bad news. The Game Warden says: “If I develop a suspect, and maybe see a similar stand or camera while on patrol, how am I going to prove it is yours?”

Unfortunately, ethical hunters find themselves in this same situation year after year. Many stand manufacturers have started putting serial numbers on deer stands, but the serial number does no good on a reported theft if you have not recorded the number. Deer stands are running approximately $200 to $500 now depending on make and model. Trail cameras are running approximately $80 to $500 depending on the make and model. Losing these items to theft is an expensive loss. Thieves sell these stolen items for maybe $25 to $100.

Thieves have it easy. Most hunters leave an easy trail to follow to these expensive items left in the woods. Since most hunting takes place on weekends, thieves have five out of seven days per week to locate and steal these items. They simply enter onto hunting property, find a bright survey tape or trail markers that lead to the area where a hunter has left his hunting equipment, and quickly steal these items. They then sell these items for a fraction of their original cost or maybe use the items to illegally hunt themselves. Law enforcement wants to find and charge these criminals but proving the theft is difficult without positive identification.

So how do you protect your expensive items? First, if your stands come with a serial number, record the number in a safe place and take a picture of the stand. Use cables or locks such as Python security cables to lock your items to the tree if you intend to leave these items in the woods. Most trail camera manufacturers now offer security boxes which lag bolt to the tree and accept a Python security cable for more protection. When possible, keep your climbing stand in your possession and carry it to and from the woods after each hunt.

Most importantly, mark your items! Preferably with an engraver with your name and phone number in both an area that can be easily seen and a hidden area. Paint over the engraved area to avoid rust. You might also consider using a high-visibility paint in a small spot on the stand as a quick identifier--a bright orange stripe on the side of a deer stand would be visible for some distance. Keep a picture of the items in case they are stolen.

Use security codes if provided to access pictures on your trail camera. This locks the criminal out from using your stolen trail camera without the code. Keep in mind there are hundreds of popular brand deer stands and trail cameras in the woods. Help law enforcement prove items are stolen with identifying marks, serial numbers, security codes and pictures. Also, save your purchase receipts.

If you are robbed, who do you call? Contact your local sheriff’s office or police department to officially report the theft. This is a necessary legal step, and if a suspect is developed, investigators may have heard from other hunters with similar thefts in the same area. Most departments have seasoned investigators who keep up with the activities of the bad guys.

Also contact your local game warden. The warden, too, may receive multiple reports and be able to assist in developing suspects. Game wardens are active every day of the week and may spot suspicious activity in your hunting area while on patrol. They also have the full authority of a state peace officer and are happy to adopt your problem related to hunting while assisting local agencies.

Here are contact numbers you might find handy: Dade County Sheriff’s Office, (706) 657-3233; Game Warden Ranger Hotline, 1 (800) 241-4113; Game Warden DNR Regional Office, (770) 529-2424.

Be safe and good hunting!

Game Warden Sergeant Mike Barr

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