With the holiday season rapidly approaching, I thought it might be a good time to discuss airline travel and firearms. Many folks will take to the skies to visit family and friends, while others will be attending some of the competitive shooting competitions around the country. Perhaps you may take in a little hunting while visiting the family farm, or deliver a shiny new rifle for a Christmas present (hint to my wife).
With air travel as efficient as it is today, we can get to just about anywhere in the world in a day and a half. That opens the door for worldwide hunting adventures that are limited only by how high you are sitting on your wallet.
About 30 to 35 percent of the hunters that come to Colorado for one of the many big game seasons are nonresidents, and many of them will fly here. If you are one of them, or if you travel out of our state occasionally to hunt, you will probably want to bring your rifle with you. Here are a few things you can do to make the whole flying with firearms process a little easier.
Despite all the horror stories you read and hear about flying with firearms, the process is really not as bad as you think, as long as you follow the rules. Those rules are so complicated that many of the TSA agents and airline personnel don’t understand them either, which does not always make the sojourner all warm and fuzzy.
Before you depart on your trip, print off the TSA’s firearms and ammunition policy and the same from the airline that you will be flying. Many times, the employee you are facing does not know his or her own rules. It gets much easier when you head up the food chain and speak to a supervisor. Start out by handing that supervisor a copy of their own rules, printed from their website, and usually the discussion is over. I might point out that often times the rules of the airline and TSA stand in direct contradiction to each other.
Pack your rifle in a really good gun case. The hard sided cases made by Pelican are ideal. The U.S. Government operatives use Pelican cases worldwide. If they hold up to the abuse of the military and government, they can surely stand my little hunting trip.
I remove my rifle’s bolt and place it in the case with the rifle. Some airlines require bolt removed while others do not. Obviously, any ammunition should be removed from the magazine and case. I believe that the ammunition should be packed in original factory boxes or the plastic cases made by Companies like MTM.
Secure the ammunition boxes closed with some packing tape, so they don’t open in handling and flight. It is best to then pack the ammunition in a separate checked bag and not in the rifle case. Some regulations allow ammo in the rifle case but it is just easier to keep them apart. Putting it in a different case may avoid a discussion with an airline employee that you would probably rather not have.
On a trip to Canada, the man in front of me was getting his rifle inspected by the Canadian Customs folks. When the officer opened the bolt of the man’s rifle, an empty brass flew out, giving everyone a start. Even though it was just an empty case, it still created some tense moments.
Do not allow anyone else to handle your firearm cases once you are at the airport. Walk your case to the ticket counter rather than using one of the luggage handlers often found at the entrances. Never leave your case unattended under any circumstances.
When you arrive at the airline ticket counter you must declare your firearm and sign a firearm unloaded declaration form in front of the ticket agent. Don’t just blurt out “I have a gun,” or something else to trip their alarms. I usually say, “May I have a firearm declaration form, because I have a firearm to declare.” I have never had a problem using that approach.
The rifle case must be locked. The TSA regulations do not say specifically that the case must be locked on every separate locking place, some airlines do. Again, I error on the side of caution and anchor them all. Most cases have 2 separate locking points. I have run into TSA agents who insist all locking points be locked.
Speaking of locks, I prefer combination locks. I set the combinations on something easy for me to remember and I don’t have to worry about losing the keys.
I have been in airports where TSA demands TSA locks, and others where regular locks are required. I usually opt for the TSA locks but carry a couple spare regular locks in my carry-on bag. If you use the regular locks, most of the time TSA will cut them off for inspection. Better to have both with you because you just don’t know who you are going to be dealing with. Carry a couple extra locks in your carry-on bag, just in case.
Make sure your gun case is labeled properly with a nametag. It is a good idea to use a paint pen and write your name, address and phone number on the outside of the case in a very conspicuous place in case the nametag gets separated. I do this on all the bags I travel with.
Carry your passport with you and keep it accessible when you get to the baggage pick-up area. Rifle cases do not usually come out on the luggage carousel because they are too long and must be given directly to the person who declared it at the departing airport. Usually a quick look at your passport to confirm the name and you are on your way.
You are usually travelling with 2 checked bags. The rifle case will have some extra space and you might as well take advantage of it. I carry my extra jackets, shirts, soft items that give extra padding and can be compressed when the case is closed. Don’t carry a bunch of little items that explode all over the floor when the case is opened for inspection, lest you seek some embarrassing moments.
It may sound like a big hassle, but it really isn’t, especially if you play by the rules. The feeling of confidence you will have from hunting with your own gun, the one you have practiced with and know so well, makes any inconvenience you may encounter worthwhile. Remember that TSA is there for our safety, and they do a pretty good job for us. Give them a thank you as you pass through the airport.
Mark Rackay is a columnist for the Montrose Daily Press and avid hunter who travels across North and South America in search of adventure and serves as a Director for the Montrose County Sheriff’s Posse. For information about the Posse call 970-252-4033 (leave a message) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For outdoors or survival related questions or comments, feel free to contact him directly at his email email@example.com