JACKSON, Miss. — Jacob Baldwin of Canton and three friends went to Texas in January on the trophy deer hunt of a lifetime.
Baldwin killed a 150-class buck and a wild hog, and one of his partners got a good buck.
“It was a great getaway trip — good friends, good hunting, great service at the lodge and everything — right up until we were getting ready to fly home,” Baldwin said. “Then it went south in a hurry.”
Five miles from the San Antonio airport, the group stopped at a restaurant for a final taste of the area’s local flavor before heading to the rental car return and a return flight to Jackson.
By the time the last taco was eaten, thieves had emptied their rental vehicle of everything.
“Four rifles, a laptop, three cameras and every stitch of expensive hunting clothes in there was gone, that quick,” Baldwin said. “They cleaned us out. All we had was what we were wearing and had in our pockets.”
The group found out the hard way a lesson all traveling sportsmen should learn.
We make good targets, since our gear includes stuff — guns, rod-n-reels and cameras — easily converted to cash, or in the case of guns, used for more sinister reasons.
“The officer in San Antonio told us that it’s getting fairly common out there for gangs to target sportsmen,” Baldwin said. “I don’t know how they profiled us, because we weren’t wearing camo, all our stuff was packed in the back of our [SUV] and it was hard to see in the tinted windows.
“But, they did and they cleaned us out of about $8,000 or $9,000 worth of stuff.”
San Antonio police told the group it was likely the thieves targeted their vehicle because (1) it had a rental car sticker, (2) was a big SUV near an airport and (3) that a group of young men traveling in Texas during deer season look like hunters.
“Strange,” Baldwin said.
Even more strange was the thieves’ modus operandi, at least as described by the police.
“There were no marks on the car or broken glass from how they gained access,” Baldwin said. “I don’t know how they got in. The officer told us that it is becoming fairly common to steal the security code from an automatic lock on your key chain.
“All I know is that during dinner, I went back out to the car to plug my cell phone into the charger and when I hit the button to lock the door back, the horn didn’t honk like it usually does. That’s why the officer figured they had stolen the signal.”
Internet reports and emailed warnings of just such a practice have circulated for years but have been labeled myths by such websites as Snopes.com and urbanmyths.com. Modern security locks have revolving codes that make it difficult, but not impossible, to steal. It requires some high-tech gear to even attempt it, but with rewards so great from a big score it would be attractive to master.
Baldwin said his contacts in Texas told him of another way thieves target gun-owners — marking cars parked at hunting camps, hunting-related stores, competition shooting events and even gun shows.
“Apparently, criminals put identifying marks on cars so that when they leave gun-related events, they can follow them or look for them later at hotels,” he said. “Then they can break in, and steal any firearms left in the vehicle.”
Flowood police chief Johnny Dewitt, an avid hunter and fisherman, said he had not heard of cases of captured security code in Mississippi, at least not in his jurisdiction.
“That doesn’t mean it’s not happening or not possible, just that it hasn’t here in Flowood,” Dewitt said. “Most of our break-ins involve the ice pick or screwdriver stuck under the door handle to unlock the car. Most of the break-in cases we work, we will find that little tell-tale hole.
“Some [thieves] have gotten so good and quick with that technique, it only takes a few seconds. It’s quiet and quick and it doesn’t require that technology.”
Dewitt said that it makes sense that traveling sportsmen make good targets and that being inconspicuous is a good precaution.
That’s not always possible, especially fishermen who trailer boats heavily laden with electronics and rod-and-reel combinations strapped to the casting decks, or hunters with trailers loaded with obvious gear.
“I had always worried about that, either when I have my boat hooked up for fishing or my four-wheeler trailer hooked up going to deer camp for the weekend,” said Ron Jackson of Brandon. “That fear was realized one afternoon, when I stopped at a store on my way to deer camp.
“I parked way out near the edge of the parking lot because of the trailer, and locked the truck. While I was in the store, somebody smashed a window and stole all our guns. My sons and I were in the store maybe five minutes and it happened that quick. Ever since, one of us stays by the car and we park closer to the store, or we just don’t stop until we get to camp.”
It’s bad enough to lose guns, many of which are passed down from parents and grandparents, but it gets worse when you realize that one of your firearms could be used in a crime.
“Our homeowner’s policies covered our loss, but that doesn’t make us feel any better,” Baldwin said. “It still hurts.”