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Have Gun, Still Travel at Cabela's

Have Gun, Still Travel

Author: Wayne Van Zwoll

If your hunting season involves traveling by plane, follow these tips to keep the friendly skies friendly.

If you're traveling with firearms, you'll have a smoother departure (and a better chance of arriving on time) if you heed these caveats.

The threat of international terrorism is unlikely to pack its bags anytime soon. More to the point, our collective apprehension of terror is probably here for good. The generation just now taking its first trips abroad or flying off to college won't recall an airport without security screening. Young hunters won't ever carry a shotgun in a soft case aboard a Greyhound bus, as I did once to meet a distant friend for a day of waterfowling. They won't traipse through downtown Seattle with a couple of uncased rifles as I did after a marathon deal at a pawnshop.

Concern can easily become paranoia. And regulation can be as much appeasement as deterrent. Security is unlikely to ease as legislators and administrators respond to public insistence on safe travel. Travel, of course, is never really safe. If we put safety first, we'd never start an engine. But automobiles are convenient and familiar. Strictures target weapons, and guns qualify, though sporting guns are no more designed to be used as weapons than are tennis racquets or golf clubs. Domestically, guns run a couple of laps behind automobiles in causing accidental deaths. Alas, it's hard to snuff paranoia with logic. I have dutifully broken the file off my nail clipper. No doubt everyone sharing the friendly skies breathes easier.

I remove the bolt of bolt-action rifles and wrap it in a sock and stow it separately in the gun case.

If you're traveling with firearms, you'll have a smoother departure (and a better chance of arriving on time) if you heed these caveats:

1. Pack your gun in a hard, lockable case. I prefer keyed case locks or padlocks, because they're easier for security people to open, and once they're shut, you pocket the key. Take spare keys.

2. Aluminum cases are strongest. If you do use a plastic case, slip it back in its box after clearing the gun at check-in, for extra protection. Tape securely. Be sure your address is on both containers.

3. Arrive early, with the case unlocked. Be prepared to sign an "unloaded" affidavit and slip it inside the case. Be polite to everyone. Do not joke about anything related to firearms.

4. I remove the bolt of bolt-action rifles and wrap it in a sock and stow it separately in the gun case. Do not put anything in the case that can shift and mar your gun! Detached scopes should likewise wear socks.

5. Pack your ammunition separately from firearms in their original boxes or hard plastic ammo boxes. Keep it near the top of the duffel so security agents don't have to empty your clothes to find it.

6. Note the nametags of the people checking your gear. If any asks to keep a driver's license or a passport while he consults a superior, politely ask that he leave the credentials with you.

7. Be patient. Other people (including me) have had to endure pointless delays. Belligerence will get you nowhere. Remember, too, that the agents, nice or not, are merely employees.

8. If check-in is going badly for you, for whatever reason, ask to see a supervisor. Arriving early gives you time for this. Dressing well and acting civilly will help ensure you a fair hearing.

Pack your gun in a hard, lockable case.

International travel calls for additional work. Before leaving the country, complete customs forms that describe the hardware you're taking abroad - mainly guns and cameras, but anything of value that could be subject to duty or restriction on re-entry. You can get these forms before your departure. As I live far from any customs office, I've also done the paperwork at the airport. But if you're connecting to an overseas flight, you may not have time to hunt for the customs people. Do it prior to travel; forms can be mailed. Many foreign countries require that you register guns before the trip. Do that with the outfitter, and don't switch guns! Guns without maker name or barrel stamp, or ammo that isn't what the headstamp says, can cause delays. Mexican police didn't know what to make of my modified Springfield, .30-06 Improved.

Canada has imposed taxes on firearms brought in for hunting. When I last crossed the border, a one-time registration allowed you to carry that firearm into Canada multiple times without additional fees for a year. But the agents couldn't agree as to whether the initial fee was good for a different gun owned by the same person, or if multiple guns on the same trip boosted the charge. Transporting guns outside the U.S. leaves you vulnerable to misinterpretations of the law by whomever checks you at the border - or on rural byways. I recall a roadblock in an undeveloped country. The officer obviously liked my rifle. Had he wanted to, he could have confiscated it. Not because of any impropriety, because there wasn't any, but because he wanted to. If you're used to everybody playing fair and by the rules, don't take your favorite smokepole abroad!

Surprisingly few guns come up missing when hunters travel in lawless places. Lost luggage is a common occurrence; however, you may not get that rifle until it's time to head home. If you're going to be with an outfitter, have his name, telephone number and physical mailing address (not just the P.O. Box) at hand. If your luggage fails to show up, you'll be ready with a forwarding location. If that isn't where you'll be (perhaps you'll overnight at Victoria Falls but come a week later to Windhoek for a go at gemsbok), say so. Think ahead. Zimbabwe isn't Minnesota. Your rifle may be days surfacing - and longer adrift if it must follow you to every port. For sure, you'll want to snare it before leaving for the States.

Be prepared to sign an "unloaded" affidavit and slip it inside the case.

Some other tips, whether or not you're traveling via commercial aircraft:

  • Bring your own soft case for hunts that require local transport in vehicles or small airplanes. You likely won't have room for a hard case in the back of a Super Cub. If you'll be hunting horseback, bring your own scabbard. Outfitters keep a handful around, but they're typically hoodless, sweat-stiffened boots that won't fit your rifle, especially if it wears a big scope. I had a saddle-maker fashion a scabbard to my pattern. It has a separate hood and straps that allow for the muzzle-forward, butt-over-flank carry I prefer. If an outfitter wants to manty your rifle in a tarp and pack it on a mule, supervise! He probably knows what he's doing, but it's your rifle.


  • Even transporting your gun in your pickup across state lines in the U.S. can be an adventure. The loaded magazine in your .30-06 may be acceptable in one state and bring you a fine in the next. Handgun hunters, especially, must check the law before traveling - not only in states, but in municipalities through which they'll pass. Nothing spoils your day like a speeding ticket, except a speeding ticket plus detention for illegal weapons transport.


  • When you've brought your rifle or pistol through the gauntlet to camp, check its zero, whether or not you think it's been compromised.


  • In cold weather, keep guns outside warm tents or cabins to prevent "sweating" (the condensation of airborne moisture on cold metal).


  • Keep ammunition in a pouch that's surgically attached to your hip, or at least connected to your pants. Dedicate each pouch to only one kind of ammo. Carry a short-jointed cleaning rod or cable with a slotted tip; you may have to clear snow or mud from your barrel in the field.


And, as the TSA agents suggest, have a nice day.