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Why You Should Be a Gun Serial Number Scribbler

Your gun serial number is the safest defense against burglary.

Many years ago an acquaintance of mine found himself spending the night in Miles City, Montana. When he walked out to his car in the morning he discovered that someone had stolen the radio out of his car.

While he didn’t hold out much hope for ever seeing the radio again, he still took the time to contact the local police, gave them a description of the radio and then headed down the road humming to himself for lack of a better option.

Several months later, much to my friend’s surprise, he received a call from Miles City. A sheriff’s deputy was on the other end of the line and he had found a radio during an unrelated arrest that matched the description of the one my friend had given up for lost.

Naturally, my acquaintance was elated, until the deputy told him that all that was required for him to get the radio back was the serial number, so that they could be certain it was in fact the radio that had been stolen. My friend had never bothered to take note of the radio’s serial number, and to the best of my knowledge it still resides on a dusty shelf in an evidence locker in Miles City.

Yes, it had been found, but its owner wasn’t getting it back.

A few years later the same fellow had still not learned his lesson. He parked his truck outside a casino, in a dark parking lot, with his rifle in a rear window-mounted rack. Apparently, this rifle held great sentimental value to him and had been a gift from his grandfather, though you’d never know it from the way he took care of it.

When he exited the casino he discovered that somebody had stolen the rifle. Once again he contacted the police, but this time around the only two things he could tell them about the gun were that it was a bolt action and it was chambered for 270 Winchester.

The next day he called me up because he had once shown me the rifle and wanted to know if I remembered anything about it. I informed him that as far as I could remember his rifle had been a Winchester Pre-64 Model 70 and it was, in fact, chambered for 270. He then asked me if I had happened to notice what the serial number was.

I had to tell him that I hadn’t. I like guns, but come on.

Needless to say, his rifle was never recovered, or maybe it was and it’s on the same shelf with his radio. Either way he’s not getting it back.

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Keeping track of the serial numbers of your personal firearms collection is a pretty simple thing and it’s not really a lot of work, but it is one of those things that a lot of us tend to put off.

I’m just as guilty as the next fellow in this regard. Just the other day it occurred to me that it had been quite some time since I’d updated my serial number list. When I finally got off the couch to take care of it, I discovered that I had piled up almost a dozen guns without having written the serial numbers down.

I remember the names of the shops I got them from, but going back through the files of a gun store to determine a serial number can take many hours. To make matters worse, shop owners usually spend that time asking you why you never bothered to write the number down, which gets a bit annoying after the first three hours or so.

The rub is that without a serial number, the police don’t really have to give you your gun back. Some departments might actually want to keep it, while others might just be tied down by protocol. On a personal level, this might seem like a bunch of bureaucratic BS, but in the long run a firearm is like any other piece of stolen property; if you can’t prove it belongs to you then you can’t prove it was stolen and you’re not getting it back if it’s recovered.

As far as I know, I own the only two left-handed 411 Ryan chambered rifles in the world. In addition to being incredibly rare, these two rifles literally have my name stamped on the barrel.

Even in this extreme case, though, I’d be willing to bet I wouldn’t get them back if they were stolen and recovered without a serial number to match up. My only comfort would be that whoever bought them at auction would have to come to me for brass and load data.

Personally, I’ve never had a gun stolen, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. That’s why I do my best to keep track of my serial numbers in several different places. I keep a paper copy of the list, a copy on my computer and a copy on a friend’s computer in case of fire or some other catastrophe that would destroy the first two lists.

The list on my friend’s computer can be accessed remotely in case I have to report a gun stolen on a road trip, which is always when a person runs the greatest risk of losing a gun. I never really worry too much about my guns being stolen out of my house because I’ve invested in several very serious safes, but traveling is a different story.

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If you’re on the road for a hunting trip you can’t exactly carry your rifle around with you. Even normal road trips where you bring a concealed weapon along may require you to occasionally leave the gun in the car. This is when you run the highest risk of getting your gun stolen and you’ll be needing the serial number if you want to harbor any hope of getting it back.

It’s been said that it’s the little things in life that make the biggest difference. In the case of serial numbers, this is absolutely true.

Having a list of serial numbers is something that, if you’re lucky, will never come in handy, but when your luck turns you’ll be glad you have it. Write them down, keep copies and make them accessible even when you’re away from home.

It’s a small bit of work you’ll never regret.

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Why You Should Be a Gun Serial Number Scribbler