Cattle rustlers are now a growing menace in some rural areas, striking in the dead of night and sometimes selling their haul before the rancher or farmer discovers the animals are gone, the Associated Press reports. “It’s a low-risk, high-reward kind of crime and people figure that out very quickly,” says Joe Rector, an investigator who rides around the back roads of central Oklahoma, a pistol on his hip and a police scanner buzzing in his ear. Millions of dollars of stolen cattle have been recovered in the last two years in Oklahoma and Texas. In Missouri, thefts totaling more than $1 million since 2004 have led the governor to create a special task force as lawmakers have called for increased penalties for the crime.
Rustling may be on the rise because of a 25 percent increase in beef prices in last five years. Some criminals, including methamphetamine users, are looking for a fast buck. Cattle thieves exploit a world of absentee owners, busy auction barns, and a way of doing business that relies more on a handshake than paperwork. They usually prey on smaller ranches and farms. “It’s quick, it’s good money and it’s not hard if you know what you’re doing,” says John Bradshaw, a Texas cattle investigator. Cattle stolen in Oklahoma have shown up in Kansas, Missouri, and Colorado.