Dawn is still an hour away. You busy yourself with some final preparations for the day’s hunt, but anticipation and excitement make it hard to concentrate. You spent months scouting, clearing shooting lanes and hanging stands, and you’re hoping it will all pay off today.
You creep like a Navy SEAL to your treestand. As you approach the tree where you’ll be spending some quality time over the next few hours, all you find are a couple cut straps lying lifeless on the ground. Your treestand is gone!
Unfortunately, treestand theft is a very common occurrence.
“It [treestand theft] happens on a fairly regular basis, especially in areas with heavy hunting pressure,” said Dean Molnar, assistant chief of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) Law Enforcement Division.
Most stands are stolen by other hunters. As a result, many avoid talking about the subject for fear of casting negative light on hunting or our fellow hunters. Making matters worse, most treestand thefts aren’t reported to law enforcement.
“Hunters often don’t file a complaint because they feel foolish or believe nothing can be done about it,” said DNRE conservation officer (CO) Bobbi Lively.
States don’t keep records on treestand thefts, making it impossible to measure the problem. But talk to just about any CO or veteran hunter and you’ll quickly learn that many have had hunts ruined before they even began because someone walked away with their stand. Anyone who’s ever been a victim of treestand 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 theft, and what to if you become a victim.
The only surefire way to prevent treestand theft is to never leave a stand in the woods when you’re not using it (see sidebar). Otherwise, if a thief wants your stand badly enough, he’ll get it.
The good news is most treestand thefts are crimes of opportunity and not premeditated acts.
“Most people aren’t going into the woods looking for treestands to steal,” said John Louk, president of the Treestand Manufacturers’ Association. “They’re just in the area, and if they see one available, they’re going to take it.”
As a former criminologist, I can tell you a treestand thief is no different from any other thief: they tend to be lazy and don’t like working hard for anything, including your treestand. The key to preventing theft is to make your stand difficult to steal. Here are some ways to do this:
Conceal your stand. Set your treestand deeper in the woods, away from heavily used trails or places where it is easy to spot with a pair of binoculars. If a thief doesn’t find your stand, it can’t be stolen.
“Most bowhunters are avid hunters and conceal their stands well so the deer don’t see them,” added Lively. “But I still see a lot of hunters on public land who only walk in about 100 yards and place their stand where it’s easily found.”
Lock it up Place a good, strong cable lock around your stand and attach it to the tree. Today, many treestand manufacturers also produce treestand locks. Unfortunately, some of them are thin and can be severed easily with good bolt cutters. They’re also usually colored black, making them difficult to see from the ground. If a thief finds your stand, you want to make sure he sees the lock securing it to the tree. I personally use a heavy log chain to thwart would-be thieves. Those worried about noise can buy a $15 can of rubber coating and spray it on the chain.
Take your climbing aid with you. After prepping your stand, remove the bottom two portions of the climbing sticks or ladder and take them with you. Doing this will not only deter treestand theft, but prevent your climbing sticks or ladder from being stolen as well.
Set up a camera Trail cameras can provide valuable evidence of theft. A few years ago, Indiana hunter Glen Ransbottom had a ladder stand stolen off his small slice of deer hunting heaven. His camera caught the two thieves hauling the stand away. The defendants claimed they were just moving their stand and accidentally wandered onto Ransbottom’s property, but the jury didn’t buy it.
“It was satisfying that justice was carried out and they got nailed for what they did,” said Ransbottom. “I don’t care if you own one acre or 1,000, someone going onto your property and stealing something really burns you.”
The only problem with using a game camera to prevent theft is it’s also a highly desired item. So, it must be hidden and secured with a strong chain and lock. When setting up a camera, think like a thief to determine the most likely route he’ll take to and from your stand. Position your camera along that route, 25 or 50 yards from your stand.
Getting it Back
Next, let’s look at what to do if your stand is stolen.
Unfortunately, most stolen stands are never recovered. But there are things you can do to increase the likelihood of law enforcement finding your stand.
Mark it up Before hanging a stand, put your name, driver’s license number or some other mark on it to identify you as the owner.
“Place the identifying mark in two places on the stand: one that’s easy to find and one that’s not,” suggested Molnar. “Once they’ve found one and scratched it off, most thieves will stop looking for identifying marks.”
Play detectiveIf your stand’s gone, look for evidence that may help solve the crime.
“Nine times out of 10, there’s a footprint, garbage, a unique tire track or something else left by the perpetrator that can be used as evidence,” said Lively.
Be observant and try to remember anything unusual you saw in the area recently. Did you notice a parked truck that wasn’t there yesterday? Report it to the police.
Immediately report it There’s little authorities can do if you wait until the end of the season to report your stolen stand. File a complaint as soon as the theft happens, and include a detailed description of how your stand differs from others.
Keep your eyes and ears open Many stand thieves immediately turn around and use the stand for hunting. If your stand is stolen off public land, check out any stands you find while hunting to see if one is yours.
Like poachers, stand thieves love to talk about their loot. Listen for any scuttlebutt you may hear in the local coffee shop, sporting goods store or anywhere else hunters congregate.
By taking a few precautionary steps to prevent theft, or taking action if your stand gets stolen, you can significantly improve the chances your stand will wind up in the garage after a year of heavy hunting.
THEFT PREVENTION GEAR
The Lokit XTF from Tree-Lok ($85-$105; www.treelok.com) is heavy-duty and perfectly suited for bowhunters. Available in two sizes; 5 .5- and 7-foot lengths, the Lokit XTF features their SZ-Force, special hardened locking chain that is powder coated black. Resistant to bolt cutters, hacksaws and snips, it includes the Silent Sleeve outer cover, which is secured by a rivet and washer so it doesn’t slide back and forth on the chain. This helps buffer clinking chain noise for quieter use in the field.
To combat theft, simply remove your steps, sticks or ladder when you leave. Lightweight systems are ideal for such situations and Gorilla Treestands’ Silverback Predator Sticks ($119.99 32-inch 3/pk, $129.99 20-inch 4/pk; www.gorillatreestands.com) are constructed for packing in light and setting up quickly. Available in two lengths, 20 and 32 inches, Predator Sticks offer extreme portability thanks to a nesting design. Each stick locks to one another.
Providing safer installation and ensuring your stand never gets stolen, the Tree Stand Buddy ($99; www.treestandbuddy.com) is ideal for hunters utilizing multiple stand locations and for those who prefer or have to pack their stand out each day. Compatible with most hang-on stands that have a single back bar or double back bar not wider than 6 1⁄2 inches, this two-part, universal system features two brackets — one bracket that attaches to the tree and another that connects to the treestand. Simply mount one bracket to your stand and the tree bracket to the tree at your desired hunting height. Then, using the V-shaped hoisting feature, pull the stand up. Next, simply slide the stand bracket down onto the tree bracket and you’re ready to hunt.
Manufactured by Master Lock, Cabela’s Master Lock Python Camo Treestand Lock ($19.99; www.cabelas.com) is adjustable from six inches to six feet. The versatile 6-foot by 5⁄16-inch braided steel cable is advertised to be cut resistant and includes a Velcro Strap to secure excess cable in place. Finished in camouflage, the Python features a pin tumbler locking mechanism, which makes the lock more resistant to picking.
Reputable treestand manufacturer and climbing stick maker Lone Wolf offers its standard-sized Climbing Sticks and Mini-Climbing Sticks ($119 standard 3/pc, $154 standard 4/pc, $109 Mini-Climbing Sticks 3/pc; www.lonewolfstands.com). These easy-to-install lightweight sticks hit the scales at 2.5 pounds and 1.5 pounds respectively, and are designed to fit trees four-22 inches in diameter. Both models have a 350-pound weight capacity and reversible step design.
The Hang-On Buddy from Predator Innovations ($19.95-$94.95; www.hangonbuddy.com) takes stand setup and protection to the next level. This system features four parts; two hooks that attach to your stand, a mounting base that secures to a tree via their ratchet strap and a retention pin for added security. Using the Hang-On Buddy, hunters can quickly install and remove their stand from a tree. This provides quick setup, which is ideal for hunters on land that doesn’t allow leaving a stand overnight, for hunters who move stands often and even for those on public land where the possibility of someone stealing your stand is a concern.