Shooting blanks 

The Ravalli County Sheriff's Department put a deputy on leave last week in connection to the theft of an undisclosed but substantial cache of ammunition from a secure county facility. State investigators continue to comb local shops hoping to reclaim the stolen material.

The theft raises interesting questions about a chaotic ammunition market. Retailers are suffering from a nationwide shortage, local manufacturers are backordered six to eight months, and September's hunting season is not far off. Arlyn Greydanus, lead investigator with the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation, says the .223- and .40-calibers stolen in Ravalli County are particularly hot right now.

"Everyone's a little bit scared out there—scared they won't be able to shoot, scared they won't be able to protect their home and family," says Nick Schiele, production manager at the Hunting Shack in Stevensville.

Despite that fear, Schiele says the market for pre-owned ammunition remains "very, very small." Several stores in the Bitterroot Valley say they do purchase unused cartridges from private individuals, but only on occasion. It's risky, Schiele says, as there's no foolproof way to detect tampering.

"A lot of people don't want to buy something that other people have had already," Schiele says. "They don't want to take the risk of possibly selling ammunition that's been messed with."

Investigators seized portions of the ammo in June from the Bitterroot Trading Post and Buhlgarts Guns and Camo, both of which say they don't normally buy pre-owned ammo from private individuals. Faver Buhler of Buhlgarts and Bitterroot Trading Post owner Bill Neustrom both said they knew the seller in question.

What small niche exists for flipping ammo in Ravalli County is lucrative. Schiele says remanufactured rifle and handgun ammunition–like that supplied to the Ravalli County Sheriff's Office by Bitterroot Valley Ammunition and Components in Florence–is valued between $180 and $240 per thousand rounds.

Schiele says someone pawning large amounts of unused ammunition should have raised suspicions among retailers. Personally, he says the Hunting Shack would–and did–shy away from such dealings.

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