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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Not Even a Burglary Can Spoil Hunt at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge

   Teen with rifle wearing camo and orange safety vest behind a buck

The festive air that surrounds preparation for a hunt are part and parcel of the ritual. That ritual was crushed for Colin Berg and his son, Preston, when they arrived at their home near Tulsa, Oklahoma, last November to find their entire house ransacked by a burglar.

There is, of course, no good time to be a victim of a crime. But this event was particularly unwelcome; Preston was due at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge early the next morning. 

He had a coveted white-tailed deer tag in a youth hunt—a tag is essentially a license for a type of game. But now his rifle and all the accoutrements of the coming hunt were gone. All of it: from his license and paperwork to his rifle and ammunition. The thieves ransacked the house, and then stole the truck from the garage that was loaded up with all the Bergs would need for the next two days at the national wildlife refuge.

“You feel violated when someone kicks in your front door,” says the senior Berg. “But when bad things happen to you, you find out how many great friends you have out there.” Berg had several offers from friends to take Preston hunting if his dad had to stay behind and tend to matters of the crime. The Bergs got from friends most of what they needed to make the hunt.

Investigating police officers left the Bergs’ home at 1 a.m., and on little shut-eye, the two made the two-hour drive to Salt Plains—but without the check-in paperwork and licensing.

“Shelby Finney, a federal wildlife officer, helped clear up the paperwork and licensing concerns,” says Berg. “The refuge staff was very accommo­dating to get my son checked in; they even loaned us binoculars and some other essential gear, last-minute.”

Says Finney: “We wanted to make sure the young man had a means to hunt following the terrible ordeal. We weren’t going to let anything spoil the hunt—and this was probably one of the more memorable outdoor experiences the young man will ever have considering the circumstances and outcome.”

The refuge’s hunting regulations require a hunter to harvest a doe before taking a buck. Preston did both. After taking a doe on the first day, the young man, 13 years old and seven years a hunter, was able to fill his license—he rattled and grunted up a nice buck (see photo; Courtesy of Colin Berg) for the freezer on day two, and learned more about conservation in the process.

The senior Berg learned something himself. “The hunt was a success on many levels,” he says. “Being outdoors with my son cleansed my mind of the awful event at home. The only thing I got back was my truck, but really what I got in return is faith in humanity.”

CRAIG SPRINGER, External Affairs, Southwest Region

A version of this story appears in the upcoming summer Fish & Wildlife News.

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