How To Prevent Your Bowhunting Gear From Getting Stolen
Posted on May 14, 2012
Last year I had the pleasure of taking my nephew on his first bow hunt. We spent the summer glassing fields, trimming shooting lanes and hanging stands. As we got our gear around during the pre-dawn, both of us felt as giddy as schoolgirls in anticipation of opening day of deer season.
We doused ourselves with scent-reduction spray and then slowly made our way to my nephew’s treestand that we’d hung in a 75-year-old red oak devoid of acorns that year.
As we approached the tree, I patted my nephew on the back and whispered, “Good luck.”
“Are you sure we’re at the right tree?” he asked. “I don’t see the stand.”
Never hang a stand without a good, strong chain and lock–even on private land.
Shining a red light up the tree, I could see the marks the stand’s gripping teeth had made in the bark, but the treestand was gone. Someone had stolen it.
“Having your stand stolen is probably the most frustrating thing a hunter can experience,” said Ohio deer hunter Trey Davis. “I’ve had three stolen, and for me, it feels worse than missing a buck.”
Sadly, thefts of treestands and other hunting equipment such as game cameras are common occurrences, especially in areas with heavy hunting pressure. To make matters worse, most stands and trail cameras are stolen by other hunters.
According to Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Conservation Officer (CO) Bobbi Lively, hunters often don’t report a theft, because they don’t want to cast a negative light on other hunters–or they believe nothing can be done.
“Hunters should still report the incident, because we do recover some stolen equipment each year,” said Lively.
States also don’t keep records on hunting equipment thefts, making it impossible to measure the problem. But talk to just about any CO or public-land hunter, and you’ll quickly learn that many have had their hunt ruined before it even began because someone walked away with their stands; alternatively, all the information they had gathered about deer in their hunting area suddenly vanished because someone lifted their trail cameras.
Anyone who’s ever been a victim of treestand and/or game camera theft knows the heavy toll it takes on a hunter’s wallet, hunting plans and sense of security. Let’s take a look at how to prevent treestand and camera theft, as well as what to if you become a victim.
An Ounce of Prevention
The truth of the matter is that the only foolproof treestand theft-prevention method is to never leave a stand in the woods when you’re not using it. Like any other piece of property, if a thief wants it badly enough, he’ll get it.
As a former criminologist, I can tell you that most larcenies are crimes of opportunity and are not planned out. Treestand thefts are no different. John Louk, president of the Treestand Manufacturers’ Association, agrees.
“Most guys don’t go into the woods looking for treestands to steal,” said Louk. “They’re just in the woods, see one available and take it.”
I can also tell you treestand thieves are no different from any other thief: They tend to be lazy and don’t like working hard for anything, including your treestand. Since it’s not practical to hang and remove your stand on every hunt (unless state regulations require it), the best way to prevent theft is to make your stand hard to steal. To do that, hide it, hang it high, lock it up and remove your climbing aid.
Hide it. Place treestands deeper in the woods, away from heavily used trails or places where they can be spotted easily from the road with a pair of binoculars. If a crook doesn’t find your stand, it can’t be lifted.
“I still see a lot of hunters on public land who only walk in about 100 yards and place their stands where they are easily found,” noted Lively.
Hang it high. Remember that treestand thieves are lazy. If they come across one stand that’s 12 feet off the ground and another one that’s 20, which one do you think they’ll steal? Those few feet can make a crook think twice about taking your stand. So hang your stand 20 or 25 feet up, and you’ll make it harder to steal–and also harder for deer to spot you.
Lock it up. Put a strong cable lock around your stand and attach it to the tree. When choosing a lock, pick one that’s thick and manufactured to resist severing by bolt-cutters. Most treestand manufacturers also make cable locks and color them black, making them difficult to spot from the ground. But don’t hide the lock: If a thief finds your stand, you want him to see the lock securing it to the tree. I like to use a heavy log chain, a can of rubber coating spray and a bulletproof lock to quietly keep my stand in the tree.
“Treestands found on private land are often easier to steal, because people don’t think they need to chain or lock them up, “said MDNR Sergeant Jon Wood, hunter education program supervisor.
Take your climbing aid with you. After prepping your stand, remove the bottom two portions of the climbing sticks or ladder. Take them with you or hide them nearby. Doing this will not only deter treestand theft, it will also prevent your climbing aid from being stolen.
If you’ve been a victim of theft, set up a game camera to catch a thief red-handed. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. What better way to prove someone stole your stand than to have a picture of the perpetrator carrying out the crime?
This worked for Indiana hunter, Glen Ransbottom, who had a ladder stand stolen from his private property. His camera took photos of the two thieves hauling the stand away. The defendants claimed they were just moving their stand and accidentally wandered onto Ransbottom’s property–the jury didn’t buy it.
“The trail camera photo was the key piece of evidence,” said Ransbottom. “I don’t care how many acres you own, it just burns you when someone goes on your land and steals your stand.”
The only problem with using a game camera to prevent treestand theft is that thieves love to steal those as well. Let’s look at how to thwart trail camera thieves.
Preventing Camera Theft
As with treestands, hide your cameras and secure them with a good, strong chain and lock. When determining where to place a camera, try thinking like a thief. What’s the most likely route he’ll take to get to and from your stand? Place your camera along that route about 30 or 40 yards from your stand.
A few years ago, Iowa bowhunter, Matt McConnell, had two stands stolen on the same day. Determined to prevent a third theft, he placed a nonworking game camera near a beech tree that held another treestand. He then placed a functioning camera 50 yards away along the trail leading to the stand. The thief stole both the treestand and the decoy camera but didn’t realize the real camera had taken a photo of him holding both the stand and the other camera.
“It turned out the guy had stolen my other two stands, and the police found them in his garage,” McConnell said. “I got all my stands back.”
Another way to prevent camera theft is to hang cameras 15 feet off the ground and point them downward. Most thieves don’t think to look for cameras so high up, and it’s a great way to get panoramic photos displaying how deer use your hunting areas.
Finally, place a small, laminated sign next to the camera that reads, “CAUTION: Area under video surveillance.” Research shows that if a would-be thief thinks there’s a possibility that he’s being recorded, he’s less likely to steal an item. Gas stations often do this to prevent gasoline theft. Oftentimes, owners don’t have any surveillance equipment, but customers don’t know that.