Imagine this unfortunate scenario for just a moment. You have been looking forward to getting back into your deer hunting camp all summer, and now that it’s late August, you figured you better stop by and check on things. It’s also time to start getting the camper ready for the upcoming bow season. As you drive in and unlock the gate, you notice some tire tracks that divert around your gate into the ditch and several small trees have been cut down to allow vehicle access. Now you’re really worried.
As you hurry into camp, you can’t help but notice that your camp chairs and tables are gone, as well as your nice bbq grill. The nice camper that you just renovated has several broken windows, the door is destroyed, and your TV, microwave and generator are all missing. The .22 camp rifle that you hid under the bed is gone. There is an empty space under the shed where your ATV used to be. The low-down scumbag thief did not miss anything of value and even stole the spatula for flipping hamburgers.
Your outdoor castle away from the main castle has been violated, and you’re hopping mad! You realize the burglary happened weeks ago because there is water damage in the camper, and you wished you had never left the valuables in the camper and regret never writing down the serial numbers.
The above scene plays out all too many times across Georgia, primarily in the summertime when camps are abandoned. Criminals know that hunters are rarely in camp when hunting seasons are closed, so that’s when most break-ins occur, says Chief Deputy Sammy Purvis, of the Warren County Sheriff’s office.
In Warren County, for example, GON subscriber Phil Kelly recently reported that his camper was broken into and several thousand dollars of goods were stolen. His was one of several area camps burglarized, which is a felony offense with penalties of one to 20 years in prison and heavy fines. To reduce your risks from burglary, consider these actions:
1) Try to keep your camp away from the road so it can’t be seen, and then gate and lock the entrance.
2) Do not keep valuables, like guns, ATVs and generators, in the camp during extended absences.
3) Write down serial numbers and take photos of all your important gear so you can have details should it be needed by law enforcement, be used to trace stolen goods in possible selling locations or for insurance documentation.
According to Chuck Williams, the owner of Chuck’s Bait, Tackle, Gun and Pawn in Warner Robins, some hunters think that their stolen goods might end up in a pawn shop, but he says that happens less than 1 percent of the time. He says that pawn shops require positive ID on all sellers, and they are required to report all items taken in to the local police within 24 hours, which deters criminals from using pawn shops. Chuck works closely with the police and is always on the lookout for suspicious items or anything that has an altered serial number. He says most criminals try to sell goods at flea markets, on craigslist or other unregulated places or keep the items for themselves.
For routine items like deer stands, Chuck suggests that hunters use an electric engraver to write their names or other id mark on the item.
4) Get to know your neighbors, and look out for each other. Ask your closest neighbor to give you a call if he sees any suspicious activity. Don’t overlook asking the local DNR ranger or local sheriff’s department for assistance if you are having trouble with trespassers or other problems.
5) In the off season, check on your camp occasionally to verify all is well. The quicker you can report a break-in to the local sheriff’s office, the better the odds of finding the criminal, says Chief Deputy Sammy Purvis.
6) Install trail cameras around the camp which might help identify a burglar. Cameras at ground level are easily stolen, so put at least two well-hidden cameras around the camp and a couple near your entrance roads and use infrared cameras. Put the camera high in a tree, by using a ladder, and don’t leave the ladder around where it can be easily found. Better yet, consider a remote security system that can be linked to your cell phone for instant access to your camp. Lawrence Pruitt (478-935-3432) with “Protection Services of Georgia” says that a simple system costs about $500 with monthly monitoring costs of about $25, but you must have electricity to the system.
7) If you have tractors or other equipment, consider removing the distributor rotor button or other electronic part in your absence to make the equipment harder to steal. Consider using a heavy chain and cut-proof lock on your food plot equipment, and anchor it to a very large tree.
8) The best time to insure your property is before you need it, so contact your home insurance agent to see if you have personal property insurance as an extension of your homeowner’s policy. Most policies provide some limited “away from home” coverage, minus your deductible, says Jason Collins with State Farm Insurance. You can also get a supplemental insurance policy under your home insurance policy for your hunting equipment for a low cost.
9) If your camp is broken into, contact your local sheriff immediately, and be prepared to provide a list of stolen items and serial numbers. Be sure to follow up often to see if any progress is being made in the case. Don’t be shy about placing any available trail-cam picture on the bulletin board of any local store that will allow it. Local customers can be quick to offer tips on vehicles that other locals drive. Offering a reward for tips leading to the arrest of the criminal in the local paper is a good idea, but be sure to let the sheriff’s office do the investigating. Be on a first name basis with the officer handling your case
10) If an arrest is made, contact the local prosecutor, and don’t be shy about asking for jail time for the offender, since this is a residential burglary, and request restitution be made to you for your losses. You can be sure that the crook’s attorney will be asking for a light sentence because they were depressed, out of work, on drugs or a host of other useless excuses. You must contact the local DA’s office to request restitution, or the information may fall through the cracks of the system.
If convicted and placed on probation, contact the probation/parole officer assigned to the case and request that restitution be collected promptly, and if you don’t get a monthly check from the probation office, call the probation/ parole officer and complain, as a warrant will be issued for failure to pay restitution.
This writer has a law enforcement background and served many years as chief probation officer for the Houston Judicial Circuit, and I know that actively involved victims who follow the progress of their case will have a more positive impact on the outcome.
All this assumes a burglary has occurred, but if you happen to drive into your camp and discover someone is staying in your cabin, use extreme caution because they might be a fugitive from justice, a meth head, illegal immigrant or some other situation that could expose you to harm. In this situation, protect yourself and call 911.
Although we worry about damages from our fellow man, the greatest damages to hunting campers are caused by Mother Nature. Water leaks cause more damages than all other causes combined. Trailers tend to spring leaks after five to 10 years, so seal all roof seams with a good coat of Black Jack brand white siliconized elastomeric waterproofing. Spend $20 at Lowes now, and prevent thousands in future potential damages.
One last threat you should be concerned about is forest fires. If you have a lot of debris and leaves around your trailer, it could be destroyed if a forest fire gets out of hand. Try to keep leaves and debris raked away from the trailer to be on the safe side.
Hopefully these tips will help hunters protect their outdoor castles in the off season.